*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #21 of the SBR Album of the Week.
Irish sludge quartet, Raum Kingdom, have a wise mantra: “Face your demons…. Don’t blame them.” Their music combines the emotional fervour of post-metal with the brutality of ugly drop-tuned guitars and vitriolic hardcore roars. Now on their sophomore record after the sudden passing of original bassist, Ronan Connor, in 2021, the band’s latest album contains his last recordings with the group. If you expect a riff salad of stoner doom motifs, you’re in the wrong place. Monarch is the audio equivalent of grief and guilt in the pursuit of a self-examination that can only lead to harm.
From day one in 2013, Raum Kingdom wanted to create a soul-crushing sonic experience for the listener, and they don’t abandon this primary objective on opener, ‘Red Admiral’. The delicate amp feedback at the beginning gives way to belching low-end guitars and visceral hardcore screaming within twenty seconds. You know this will be an all-encompassing experience of empathic mental turmoil as soon as vocalist, Dave Lee, cries, “What have I done?/ This isn’t me/ Is this you/ Pulling my strings?’ It will remind you of the immortal opening line in KEN Mode’s album last year: “I am a student of predators – it was a mistake to ask me for help.” Raum Kingdom make it clear that it’s an inclusive gesture to thrust you into their nightmare world of self-reproach, the same way an SAS officer assumes the journalist entrusted to his care for the day will have all the skills to follow him through a war zone unharmed.
On first listen, Monarch is the face-smasher LP your heart demands and your brain does not even bother to reject. But Raum Kingdom reveal many subtleties and explore new dimensions when you’re ready to add them to your list as a contender for the most extreme album of the year (and we’re only in February!). Listen to the tip-toeing piano bass notes of ‘Hairstreak’ as it leads into a monstrous crunch of palm-muted chug riffs and inhumane bass guitar rotations. You can hear a sober post-rock introspection in the quieter moments where Dave Lee switches to a Maynard James Keenan/Layne Staley register of wailing voice movements. If not for this moment of respite, you’d have to say that Raum Kingdom go out of their way to avoid melody. Imagine Will Haven teaming up with Neurosis for a split EP – this is how you write bone-crunching music at a mid-tempo intensity.
The accepted definition of sludge metal is a hardcore take on doom metal, but the band’s brooding passages of atonal post-rock and grinding down-tuned guitars bring them closer to the hysteria of contemporary artists like Terror Cell and Throwing Bricks. It takes a heavy soul to write something as harmful as ‘Swallowtail’ despite its attempt to break free from pessimism with a positive message: “If I could only balance/ Just one personality/ But I can’t let go of the better man I could have been/ And I won’t give up/ I’ll keep on trying till I win.” These are admirable thoughts, but the unsentimental ferocity of the music leaves you under no illusions that Raum Kingdom see the glass half-empty rather than half-full. Guitars writhe in agony like grinding machines under the hammer of a demolitionist. Tensions reach breaking point on ‘Comma’ until everything collapses under the weight of shame and guilt. If you find yourself laughing, it’s because you’re in shock and you have no way of dealing with the grief that they impose on you. Repeat listens to this track will reveal a Gojira guitar tone assaulted with the nastiest chord shapes bleeding through the amps before the tom drums take control with a simpering hypnotic pattern. It would calm your nerves if it didn’t fall back into line with a ritual of savage down-picking and remorseful vocal harmonies at the end.
There’s no doubt Raum Kingdom will be just as pulverising on a live stage. ‘Gatekeeper’ is proof that you can make the earth rumble at 80bpm in the hysteria of screamo vocals and bass-heavy distortion. You reach closing track, ‘Pieris’, in the expectation of one last blast of pain expulsion, yet they second-guess you with a trippy piece of psychedelic doom. Dave Lee’s vocals are of the auto-didact school, which means a singing coach would ruin the personality of his unique style if he tried to smooth over the edges. Like Chino Moreno, he has a knack for hitting the emotive notes in a suspenseful borderland between pain and pleasure. His words ghost through the speakers like a blurry hallucinogenic drug: “There’s beauty in murder… anticipate what I… anticipate what I… anticipate what I can do” It’s a trip you’ll soon escape from when the band ramp up the bruising guitar frequencies and smash through cymbals in a murderous frenzy at the end.
Raum Kingdom do their former bassist proud on this record, but let’s hope they honour his memory with another album after this one. Monarch is the emotional turbulence that leaves you with shattered nerves and the feeling that you’ve just experienced an epiphany. It will not leave your playlist until the winter gloom lifts and the first signs of spring arrive. Why bother with anti-depressants when you can exercise your demons through the power of music?
Release Date: 27/01/2023
Record Label: Argonauta Records
Standout tracks: Red Admiral, Swallowtail, Pieris
Suggested Further Listening: Terror Cell – Caustic Light (2022), Will Haven – Voir Dire (2011), Erdve – Savigaila (2021)