My top ten list last year was incomplete, because Monsterworks' “Album Of Man” straddled the new year and now exists in it's own little world, unattached to any year in particular. It's a shame, since that album was a schizophrenic joyride through some of the wildest and most daring metal I've come across in a long time. It was, and still is, a bit of a confusing puzzle, but the pieces were so tantalizing that not seeing the big picture isn't really a problem.
Less than a year later, Monsterworks is back again with a new album, one that brings with it a question I'm afraid to answer. When a band is as unique as Monsterworks is, and when they're able to catch me off-guard the way “Album Of Man” was, how in the world can they follow it up with something equally exciting?
The short answer to that question is that they can't. “Earth” is not “Album Of Man”, despite the similarities the band obviously brings to anything they do. What made that album special was their ability to throw death metal, thrash, and prog into a blender, and coat it with enough pop to make the whole thing infectious, even if you didn't understand what it was you just heard. Those pop tendencies are what's missing from “Earth”, and are now revealed as a crucial element to making this experiment work.
Everything else is still in place; the thrashing riffs, the various forms of growled vocals, the songwriting the goes beyond verse/chorus. That should set the album up to follow the path “Album Of Man” took, but throughout the whole thing, I found myself waiting for the uppercut to hit me and knock me to the floor. Only it never came.
Don't get me wrong, “Earth” isn't a bad album. There's still plenty to like about Monsterworks' take on whatever it is you want to call this style, but the impression I get from the album is that this is a more focused version of the band, which ironically makes the results less effective. I can hear that there's a rhyme and reason to every left turn the band takes, they are telling the story of the earth after all, but the focus has robbed the band of one of the things I was looking forward to. Nowhere on the album does the band veer so wildly off-course I wonder if I'm still listening to the same piece of music.
“Last Universal Ancestor” is the closest thing to hitting the mark I had set. There's some nifty melodic guitar playing, the song shifts moods, and the vocals bring just enough raspy pop to the table to appeal to both sides of the musical spectrum. It's exactly what I wanted to hear, and it makes me wonder why the rest of the album wasn't able to bring that same spirit to the table.
Another welcome turn of events comes in the form of “Aeon Of Man”, a half-acoustic, blues-influenced song that stands apart from the maelstrom as something unique to itself. It's a refreshing change of pace to hear, and reminds me of how Monsterworks' curve balls either weren't as sharp this time around, or I saw the spin before it even left their hands.
“Earth” is one of those albums that I have little opinion on. It's fine when taken on it's own, but when I remember the experience I had listening to the songs from “Album Of Man” not long ago, I'd be hard-pressed to not recommend anyone reading this start with that album.