MonsterworksMonsterworks are a London based four piece who originally hail from Wainuiomata, New Zealand who admit themselves that their style is a mixture of other sub-genres which they have ‘stolen’ to create their sound. The best way to describe them is a progressive metal band who lean heavily towards death metal and black metal to help create an intensity and atmosphere which is rather unique and technically sound. Without further ado, let’s crack on with this.

“Higgs Field” opens the album up with a very droning like intro which gives off an unsettling vibe and when the harsh sludge-like vocals come in, it really creates an atmosphere which works well. There is a lot going on in the track. Layered guitars drone over each other, creating a hypnotic effect, the drums shift continually but always stay in time, the beauty of a well executed polyrhythmic approach and the bass is deep but clear. The song retains that sludge-like feel to it, but at times it does have a slight black metal style approach in the vein of Ishahn’s solo work, especially in the vocals and the dynamic mood changes in the song.

“Ripple Effect” on the other hand comes in hard and heavy right off the bat. The harsh vocals remain, but musically this one sounds like Mastodon and Gojira mashed together. Thick chugging riffs, heavy rhythm section work and precise leads all merge together to create a real aggressive sound suited to the modern progressive metal genre tag. The surprising thing about this controlled burst of heaviness is that it is the shortest track on the album, but the time constraints don’t stop some terrific lead work and multiple shifts in musical approach which all flow together well.

“Engine” starts off acoustically before it’s joined by a cello and some stripped back percussion work. The clean singing is low in the mix, but this helps give it that mesmerising effect which works so well with the simple stripped back approach to the song. It comes to life round the 2:30 mark when the acoustic guitar picks up and the distortion kicks in. Thick chug like rhythms with fills give way to a lead section which then turns into a frantic paced section with plenty of rawness behind it in the way Tombs do things. This dynamic approach and aggressive edge works well, and the switching between melody and controlled musical chaos does work wonders once you get accustomed to it.

“Temple of Distortion” starts off slow with a simple build up and clean vocals which set a more relaxed feel than previous tracks. As the sound kicks up a notch when the distortion is flipped on, the vocals take a very strained King Diamond styled falsetto approach and it gets more pace behind it before it calms again. Round the mid-point of the song, it changes feel completely to a more moody sounding section with some very hypnotic rhythm section work which lasts till the end of the song. On the whole this song is more subdued than the previous tracks, but it really spells out what the band are trying to put over with this album – atmospheric, dynamic sounding metal which does require you t actually sit and listen to.

“Tapping the Void” starts off with a lead line over a slow passage before it kicks in with a raw sounding feel. Harsh vocals return and a very thick sounding guitar riff laden with harmonics comes in. Shifting constantly between heavy and melodic, the track continues on. One thing of note yet again is the terrific work of the bass and drums, two things which have remained constant throughout the album, somehow keeping it all tied together as it continually shifts about.

“The Ride” is the last track of the album and it clocks in at just over thirteen minutes. Opening up with a short clean intro, it transitions into a distorted variant of the clean melody which makes it sound quite crushing as the lead melody lightly dances across the crushing rhythm guitar riffs. Vocally, to begin with it starts off cleanly with a slight rawness to it and as it starts to sound darker, the vocals go darker, adopting that low growl and dramatic harsh rawness present earlier in the album. The powerful bass and precise drums keep it all locked down as it goes on and you can’t help but admire the rhythm section as it drives on the vocal/guitar mood changes. Round the 4 minute mark it changes completely, almost like a new track has started. Slow paced, clean ringing guitars and deep bass are accompanied by soft sounding vocals, something which hasn’t really featured much on the album and it’s a shame because they work well in the more melodic parts. The clean part gets more upbeat round the 7 minute mark with a bright sounding melody over a more upbeat feel from the rhythm section but it doesn’t last long as the distortion kicks back in. Vocally the power comes back with the increase in the gain levels and this build up feel works brilliantly. By the 8:30 mark its back in full swing with a hypnotic groove and some heavy chugging. Some lead work helps build the moment and by 10 minutes the lead is overpowering the vocals and the heavy rhythm, really given a sense that the music has taken the forefront once again. Eventually it calms down once again, going back to a more moderately paced feel for the last minute of the song. The clean vocals come back in, the aggression in the sound is curbed and the song certainly lives up to its title – it was quite a ride. A fitting way to end the album.

An interesting note – the non-physical release only gets these tracks, but if you can get the physical one, its mixed in 5.1 surround sound and it has an addition 5 or 6 tracks too which are worked into the track listing, not just tagged on the end.

On the whole, “The Existential Codex” is a good example of progressive metal. It pushes itself to expand on its inspirations and whilst it does seem quite complex with lots of things going on at once, you need to take the time to sit and listen to it, it cannot be treated as background music. The main problem with the album though is the accessibility. Even as a fan of prog metal, it took me a while to get into it fully and at times the mix of influences borrowed works, at other times it just doesn’t. Still, it is an interesting album.

(6/10 Fraggle)