MonstrO will take you on a trip.
Their self-titled debut album for Vagrant Records twists and turns through a psychedelic hard rock haze that's as hypnotic as it is heavy. That heady combination is embodied on "Stallone" which glides from a guttural stomp into a resounding refrain, while "Concertina" rises and falls with a dark elegance, and album closer "April" blasts off on the fumes of a final ethereal hum. Four individual sonic personalities converge to make this music. There's bassist Kyle Sanders [ex-Bloodsimple], drummer Bevan Davies [ex-Bloodsimple, Danzig], guitarist Juan Montoya [ex-Torche], and vocalist and guitarist Charlie Suarez, and they're ready to take flight.
MonstrO came to life in early 2009. Post-Bloodsimple, Sanders had been itching to start a new band. He ran into Montoya at Torche's final gig during The Melvins-hosted All Tomorrow's Parties, and the two discussed jamming back in Atlanta. They linked up with Davies behind the kit and began playing for three or four hours at a time. The trio immediately started generating song ideas, but it wasn't until Montoya contacted Suarez in 2010 that Monstro was truly born. The band members shared a desire to start fresh, and their collective fire had been lit.
"Everyone has been through this a few times, and we're completely focused on leaving all of the bullshit behind," declares Sanders. "We got straight to business once Charlie came in. It's a different kind of chemistry than I've ever had. We can get into a room, and the ideas flow out. We didn't waste a moment, and it worked like a band is supposed to work. We were brought together for the right reasons, and we knew where we wanted to end up."
They wanted to end up with a sound that reminded them of their heroes without blatant imitation. What they arrived at was so much bigger. The quartet conjured a style that draws upon everything from '60s psychedelica to shoegaze to heavy metal.
"The music has elements of everything we grew up with—Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Queen, Soundgarden, Jane's Addiction, and Metallica," says Montoya. "However, we don't follow trends."
Instead, MonstrO set a precedent of their own. Without any regard for the zeitgeist's whims, the band entered an Atlanta studio with Alice In Chains vocalist William Duvall in the producer's seat and, over the course of 14 days in 2011, they recorded the entire album. The sessions were split up into five-day periods so the band had ample time to reflect and tinker with each part.
Duvall proved the perfect producer for MonstrO. Sanders exclaims, "I've never seen anyone work in the studio with that kind of passion. He was the first one there and the last to leave. He was so involved and passionate, and his feelings spread throughout the band. He had a vision of where the songs should go, and he didn't expect anything but perfection."
That perfection caught the attention of Vagrant Records. The label saw the band three times—twice in Los Angeles and once in New York—and knew that there was something very special there. They partnered with MonstrO and set the wheels in motion for the release of this debut.
MonstrO introduces the band on a grand scale. "Stallone" buzzes with an intense thunderous guitar just before exploding into a massive chorus. It packs a serious punch just like its namesake did.
"We didn't even think we were going to keep that title," laughs Sanders. "It was based on Rocky at first, but it became more about the struggle of life and coming out on top. It's something we all go through, and there's a classic vibe to the song."
Montoya adds, "It's balls-to-the-wall and intense, and it just hits you."
Sonically, the album covers a diverse spectrum. "Anchors Up!" charges at full-speed with an abrasive guitar gallop, while "Concertina" embraces listeners with its lulling and lilting swell. Duvall even adds a backup harmony on "Concertina" that wraps around Suarez's voice seamlessly.
"I wanted to make something mystical but thumping," reveals Montoya. "I'm big into movie soundtracks from A Clockwork Orange to Amadeus, and that ambiance is an influence. I'm always listening for something hidden that creates the mood. Charlie and William came up with this awesome harmony, and it gels nicely."
Everything culminates on "April", the album's final dreamscape. Sanders adds, "It's the most dreamy, psychedelic song. People take their own meaning from it. It's deep, and it seals up the thoughts and feelings of the album."
Like all of the great records before it, this one is based on feeling. That feeling will spread as soon as listeners dive into the whole thing. Montoya concludes, "Music is something that's great for the soul, and it's the most beautiful thing in the world. You can always find new worlds with music. Hopefully, our songs will create a universe in your head."
Sanders echoes that sentiment. "This record gets spacey, dreamy, and tripped-out, and then it gets straight-up heavy. We've all been through tons of struggles, especially being in this damn business. If this music can help anybody overcome any struggles and get through the day-to-day grind everybody goes through, that'd be incredible. Hopefully, it can be some kind of escape. I want people to walk away from it happy and feeling completed in some way."
After this trip with MonstrO, you may never be the same.
-Rick Florino, May 2011