23 June 2014
by Ruth Booth
Aside from the whole “music” thing, djent bands are known for two more err things: conceptual exploration – usually of the spiritual or philosophical bent – and, unfortunately, an inability to keep a vocalist for longer than two minutes. Both of these can handle like double-edged swords for a band – certainly that’s the case with The Amanuensis, the second album from progressive supergroup Monuments.
On the one hand, The Amanuensis is a fairly solid mash-up of progressive tech, post-nu-metal pop and hair metal anthems – with a dash of Eastern melody and spiritual philosophy to taste. There’s the gorgeous Arabian swing of ‘Origin of Escape’, the bubbling transcendent melodies smashing headlong into walls of roar on ‘Horcrux’ – and some scuzzy proto-Primus guitar in ‘Quasimodo’, intriguingly enough. In other words, fans of Gnosis won’t be disappointed.
Naturally, there has to be more to it. Do a little digging (okay, it’s in the band’s bio) you’ll find that while the records’s title comes from David Mitchell’s lauded novel Cloud Atlas (and certainly that sounds safer than building, say, a multi-million dollar box office flop around it), the lyrics are based around the concept of Saṃsāra. This part of the press release is oddly specific – as if they’re hedging their bets on how important the concept is to the record. Saṃsāra, by the way, is the idea of the rebirth or reincarnation cycle, the idea of what are loosely defined as personality templates, reborn across time. Yes, fans of Cloud Atlas, it’s the same concept the book is based around.
And there’s the catch. Because we all love a meaty metaphor, and templates being the thing here, the obvious question is whether The Amanuensis is just a rehash of the last record. Well, of course, it’s the same core of John Browne (Fellsilent) and Josh Travis (Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza), though listening to it, you’d be forgiven for thinking Paul Ortiz (Chimp Spanner) had stuck around too.
More changes elsewhere: Chris Barreto (formerly of Periphery) is a sterling replacement for Matt Rose. A similar, yet far stronger voice, he doesn’t take himself too seriously, resulting in some sweet Patton-esque moments – the delicious soulful doo-wop intro to ‘Saga City’, the sub-KoRn moment in ‘Atlas’, the title track’s textured harmonies, the odd cheesy glottal stop. Yes, the overall effect does get a bit Periphery at times – on ‘Horcrux‘ in particular – but then that’s always been a tendency in Monuments. Barreto slots right in, and yet it doesn’t feel like he’s even begun to stretch himself here. Fingers crossed their fourth vocalist in two albums actually sticks around so we get to see what that looks like.
Barreto’s fit actually makes a handy encapsulation of the record here. Is The Amanuensis simply a copy of the template Gnosis laid down? After such care’s been taken over what means what, it hardly matters – if the concept wasn’t there you’d still be left with a very solid Monuments record. It’s not a game-changer but indicative of a band that’s tightened its game, and so settled more into itself. Funnily enough, that makes saṃsāra an even better metaphor for this band. Plus ça change, then.
Standout Tracks: Horcrux, Atlas, Samsara.
Sounds Like: Monuments shored up their foundations.