Album: The Empty Black – EP
There is a reason humans have a natural fear of darkness: there is absolutely no way to know with certainty what it contains. While logic tells us the darkest corners of the room are nothing but that—empty, boring corners—our overactive imaginations tell us otherwise, whispering a trillion potential terrors into our heads. Out of all the most horrifying possibilities—hellish monsters and hungry werewolves—there is one that makes all the others seem tame: the UK’s latest and greatest technical deathcore outfit, Monasteries. These Birmingham brutalizers are what nightmares are made of and what goes “bump” in the night, as they snap every bone and shear every square inch of flesh in the listener’s body with precise technicality and relentless aggression that only true musical mastery can provide.
The instrumentation behind ninety percent of modern technical deathcore acts normally falls into one of two categories. The first is monotonous, over-dense songwriting that focuses so much on wow-ing the listener that it completely sacrifices flow, songwriting and accessibility. Surely you’re familiar with these artists—like Rings of Saturn’s debut release, which sounded cool for a song or two before it became impossible to discern where one riff ends and another begins. The second category is arguably better, but ultimately leaves the listener in want; this occurs when bands find a fair balance between shred and song structure, but fail to give their overall release any structure. As a result, these releases sound like a thoughtless collection of tracks rather than a comprehensive album. Fortunately, Monasteries reside in the ten percent that avoids either pitfall. The Empty Black is the product of talented and intelligent musicians. Percussionist Daniel Hill is pulverizing without relying on entire minutes of nothing but blast beats and unintelligible fills. Hill works in excellent dynamic with bassist James Blackwell to create a foundation for Monasteries’ musical endeavors that is interested as opposed to strictly functional. Hill’s hellacious drumming and Blackwell’s beefy, low bass are the fertile soil from which the band’s trifecta of terrifying guitarists spring forth. Guitarists Toby Carter, Sam Mitchell and Ben Standley are a Cerberus-like demon that give The Empty Black an enormous majority of its instrumental density without coming across as boring or pointlessly technical. While Hill kicks off “Metempsychosis” with a bang, Carter et al take the lead on “F(r)iend,” treading the tightrope between furiously fretted riffs and crushing, heavy breakdowns with cavalier recklessness. The trio keep it up throughout Monasteries’ debut, while Carter shreds and sweeps away, Mitchell and Standley groove and pulse beneath him—trading places as each song transitions to another, flowing together to provide a comprehensive musical tale rather than a collection of haphazard songs.
Even a majority of bands that find themselves in the same category as Monasteries’ musicianship manage to blow their musical supremacy with a vocalist who may be talented, but have no power or endurance to keep up. Again, Monasteries avoid that problem entirely. Jack Kinsey is a tank, worth his weight in gold as one of the most talented vocalists the genre has seen (even as he springs out of nowhere). While he might not have the infamy behind his name that Dan Watson or Ricky Hoover do, it’s only a matter of time before that changes. Kinsey’s range on “Dreadwaste” or “Fawkes” is only matched by his intense power. This becomes especially true as he manages to keep up with Feign’s Devin Sockwell with relative ease, making “Flatline” an anthemic example of aggressive, unstoppable deathcore. Kinsey prominently displays his brilliant, burly gurgles and shrill screams, linked together with a masterful mid range yell and stamina to drop them all on the listener in seconds. Even in an era when every band seems to have a “great” vocalist, Kinsey still prodigally breaks his way into the top one percent.
The Empty Black is as mysterious and murderous as it is blitzing and bone-snapping. Deep, dark and dismal at times, Monasteries’ trio of talented guitarists can easily conjure magnificent light and atmosphere a la The Afterimage even during the EP’s darkest segment. “F(r)iend” shows this off expertly, as a quick, hair-raising harmonic is all it takes for the band to shift from sinister evil to surreal ethereality. All the while, Kinsey not just “keeps up,” but crushes it, going above and beyond the call of duty to add immense vocal performances and intriguing lyrics into the mix. The Empty Black is a powerful display of punishing technical Deathcore that melts the listener’s mind NOT with boredom or hyperdissonance, but with a catchy, corrosive and flat out crushing dynamic that obliterates the efforts of their peers as well as the listener’s cognitive function.
You are right to be frightened of the dark—to live in constant fear of the things you can’t see. Because what looks back at you from the shadowy, silhouetted shrouds of your home is more fearsome than any horror movie would have you think. It is The Empty Black, Monasteries’ debut that has daydreams of feasting on your flesh and sipping on your sanity.
For Fans Of: The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, (the) Plasmarifle, The Acacia Strain, Acrania, Boris the Blade
By: Connor Welsh