Monarch sets new lows when it comes to depressive, harrowing doom. Often only sparsely populated with what you might dismissively call music and more often bordering on ambient ‘noise’, this is a band that is intense, emotionally testing but clearly rewarding for those willing to venture into its broken soundscapes. I caught them while doing a bit of random room hopping at Damnation Festival three years ago and found myself struck with utter admiration but pretty much unable to bear the full set as the distortion and screams emitted by the female vocalist clawed at a brain inside my head which probably needed a little more preparation for the sonic razor blade coming from the stage. I chalked it up as one I needed to check out at a later date and headed for the comparative warmth of whichever black metal band was on in the basement. So Never Forever was my chance to at least do the band the courtesy of getting to know them properly.

Monarch is not overtly a doom band but rather an extreme version of one fed through the medium of the mother of all comedowns. This is tectonically slow, as you might expect, but the aesthetics owe almost as much to punk as doom (they recently recorded a Misfits cover for an EP) venting ugly and complex emotions from a distraught psyche’s black box. Eurogirl’s (aka Emilie Bresson) tortured screams are clearly a strong centrepiece for the band and will either hook you in with their depressive shrieks or send you scurrying for the door. They’re mixed with an eerie, softly spoken vocal and at other times heavy whispers that do nothing to lift the mood but provide the album with a growing range of textures right from the opening track and which feeds off the void left by the often barren musical arrangement. Bass chords hang in the air like an ominous, whirring drone while ultra distorted guitars buzz through any shelter you might have been hoping to find in any passing quiet hole of lull. It all provides the perfect backing for Bresson’s anguished poetry.

There are times when you feel as though the grey clouds are about to part and give way to something fleetingly uplifting (the trick often pulled in funeral doom). While that almost always ends with more crushing musical punishment, it’s only after a few listens that you begin to appreciate the few morsels of light that Monarch offers you. There, while trapped in the claustrophobic wrap of ambient chords, you must seize whatever looms out of the darkness of Monarch’s sound and clutch at it in the hope that these shreds of hope might be enough to stop you from drowning. You begin to appreciate that in this barren landscape there are highs and lows – it’s just that the highs are really just fleeting moments of hope that the depressive forces at work might release their pressure for a moment before slaying your emotions all over again. The only part of the album which threatened to break the spell for me was Diamant Noir which felt like gothic-tinged 1980s art pop breaking through. But, overall, the result is an album of darkly lit drone that delivers something which at times is undeniably spellbinding.

(7.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)