Islington Assembly Hall, London, 30 April 2022
Lead photograph by Karolina Malyan
Those that listened to the new Monuments record will be keen to see if vocalist, Andy Cizek, can exhibit his stunning range in a live environment. As a YouTube star and vocal coach with 118k subscribers, it made sense for Monuments to invite him into the band after the abrupt departure of Chris Barretto on the eve of the 2019 Tech Fest. Cizek’s arrival opens up new possibilities for the prog metal heroes, and I half expect to see members of Tesseract and Vexed adorning the outdoor benches of the pubs on the high street as I make my way to the Islington Assembly Hall on a busy Saturday evening.
First up, after I buy my first plastic pint for £7.50, are metalcore supergroup, Kill the Lights, featuring former members of Bullet for My Valentine, Still Remains and Threat Signal. A large collective build near the front while I stay at the back supping my ale. Vocalist, James Clark, knows how to work a crowd and displays a commanding tenor range through his microphone, but the sleeveless bassist-cum-growler to his left steals the show with his hyper aggressive presence. It all sounds a bit too indebted to Killswitch Engage with a smattering of progressive elements, but I see heads circling in front of me and arms raised with pointed hands at the front. Maybe I should check out their 2020 album, The Sinner, for a better appreciation of their craft. The extravagant shredding guitars glow like heat sensors among the dark lighting. I could listen to this all day for the musicianship alone.
The atmosphere ripens as each minute moves closer to the 20:30 start time for Monuments to make their entrance. A pinkish-red projection of light makes the irises in my eyes contract as John Browne and Adam Swan walk on to the stage with drummer, Mike Malyan, to a heroes’ reception. Two lovers to my right let out a woo-hoo, and the beanpole five yards in front nods his head as if sizing up a sparring partner. A large banner of the In Stasis album artwork illuminates the three members of the rhythm section like de-suited NASA astronauts in front of a moon display. A Greek chap I spoke to thirty minutes earlier tells me they’ll open with ‘Cardinal Red’ – and he’s not wrong – but we breathe in and wait for Cizek to arrive with a mixture of intrigue and celebrity awe.
“Good evening, London!” yells the lean frontman, in a plain black t-shirt and jeans as the lights grapple with the outlines of his body shape like an Anton Corbijn visual. Malyan attacks his snares like a seal-clubbing hunter, and Swan’s bass ripples through the venue. You wonder how Cizek will make himself heard over Browne’s dexterous guitar chugs, and you can see why they decided to open the set with the third track on their new album. The first verse allows the singer to ascend to his natural tenor range after a monstrous death metal roar. A glance to my right confirms the two lovers next to me know every word, but the woman is the one that sings it from the heart. I feel my head circling in the chorus and move forward with another pint in my hand to concentrate on the finger shapes of John Browne’s impossible chord choices.
To my surprise, they follow it with 2019’s standalone single, ‘Animus’, and blast through the solo in the absence of recently departed guitarist, Olly Steele, as if he never existed. Here, Cizek demonstrates his unique technique of holding a sustained scream and then ending it with an abrupt growl. I realise at this moment the importance of this song in the transition of the band’s sound from 2018’s Phronesis album to the new one. The current Monuments are heavier and more prone to berserk forays into extreme metal. They treat the die-hards to a double header of ‘Degenerate’ and ‘Regenerate’ from their 2012 debut, and I find myself crouching to the floor in harmony with the people around me as we wait to leap up for the spectacular groove metal bounce of the latter’s iconic riff. Is there any other song like this from the last decade that demands a sharp intake of breath before the main event? I’ve not had as much fun since watching the Russian army retreat from Kyiv with the tail between their legs.
I thought the band might dig into the Phronesis record with more alacrity given Cizek’s similar range to Chris Barretto, but ‘Leviathan’ is the only cut from this underrated album. I can’t even remember the name of the song until I hear the chorus. “Oh, this is a fucking, banger,” I say to the person closest to me. They don’t hear me, and I don’t repeat it.
It makes sense to showcase as many new tracks from In Stasis as possible. Cizek is a busy man as the singer for dream-rock outfit, Makari, and screamer for Nik Nocturnal’s Termina project. The English members of Monuments don’t have him for much of the year, and the American understands that time is precious, tonight. He wastes not one note on the microphone for the chaos of ‘False Providence’. I’m eager to see if he can deliver the sensational chorus to ‘Makeshift Harmony’, and I might even give a nudge to the woman next to me when he announces it as the penultimate song before the encore. “Let’s see if he can pull it off,” I say to her. We’re talking Mike Patton standard here for the expectation levels, and I mean Faith No More at Download in 2009 and Helfest in 2015. I close my eyes with a gasp when the moment arrives. My shoulders tense, and the skin tightens on my skull. My God, he did it! He went through the octaves in perfect formation and followed it with an inhumane flip to a raspy death metal roar as if operating on a flick-switch. I’m in a state of wonderment when they rip through ‘Lavos’.
The first wave of djent bands have the best singers in the world and the most imaginative guitarists in prog metal. Cizek stands tall as he looks to the back of the room and steps into the crowd like a messiah walking on water. It’s easy to get carried away by the religious symbolism when you’ve had five pints of lager, but I know this is a special night. The people around me bare the widest of grins when the lights come on. “Now, that was a show,” says one of the people on the way out.