I’ve always found instrumental bands and albums quite difficult to fully appreciate, as whilst I enjoy good musicianship it is more often than not the vocals that really capture the imagination, be it through good lyrics, a decent voice, or if nothing else fails drowning out everything else in the mix to massage the frontman’s ego. For an instrumental band or album to really capture the imagination it has to not just hold your interest but your subconscious as well, and Monkey3 understand that in order to do this it doesn’t need to be about how technical you can be or how fast you can play, it’s about the mood and the groove. This Swiss stoner quartet grab your attention with gentle persuasion and win you over with a mixture of groove and melody.
Whilst instrumental bands are generally less accessible than conventional bands, it does enable greater musical freedom to those with the creativity to exploit it. Gone are the accepted song structures and styles and there is far more room to manoeuvre. Of course some explore this space with all the patience and finesse of a child that has started to run. Monkey3 are far more composed than that and patience is very much the name of the game so far as ‘The 5th Sun’ is concerned. Take the opening track ‘Icarus’ for example. This builds up through a beautifully paced intro over the first 90 seconds before we launch into the main riff; however it is the melodic guitar lead that really grabs the attention which has a Porcupine Tree crossed with Pink Floyd vibe about it. There is a 5 minute edited version of this track doing the rounds on You Tube at the moment as part of the album promotion, but as good as it is it really does not do the album track justice which takes you through an uplifting journey over 15 minutes.
The quality of the musicianship is right up there alongside the songwriting prowess, with everyone playing an equal part in the overall sound. The beautiful guitar work of Boris naturally takes centre stage, however the prominent and artistic bass line of Picasso really elevates the overall sound. It’s actually refreshing to find a band that is confident enough to make the bass an active part of the sound rather than just have it as a neglected area in the bottom of the mix. The keyboard elements are used intelligently and sparingly to the benefit of the pervading atmosphere of the album. Tracks such as ‘Suns’ and the wonderfully atmospheric ‘Birth of Venus’ really benefit from the additional depth that the keyboards provide.
The trick to making a decent instrumental album is to make it engaging, and Monkey3 certainly know how to do that, which is all the more remarkable when you consider the length of some of the tracks. Not once did I ever feel my attention wander whilst listening to this, which is more that can be said for some of the more conventional artists out there. Their songwriting skills are absolutely first rate and I heartily recommend this to people who appreciate hearing a band with total mastery of their instruments. Those seeking outright metal brutality should look elsewhere, but those who enjoy kicking back, relaxing and enveloping themselves in music and mood will find much to enjoy here.
(8/10 – Lee Kimber)