Posted by & filed under Features, Live Report, Music.

Monuments bring new tunes and new verge on the cusp of their second album’s release

Monuments Brutai Canvas show poster 2014

We Londoners are a funny bunch sometimes. Sitting just outside the M25, we largely consider Hatfield to be off the usual gig circuit, but in reality the door-to-door travel time from my North London home to Hatfield’s Forum isn’t really any greater than a trip to Hammersmith Apollo or The Windmill in Brixton. But, enticed by one of the few opportunities to catch Monuments prior to their Download appearance, and encouraged further by the prospect of an early curfew due to the room playing host to a nightclub immediately after the show, I set out on my first expedition to the venue.

Of course, an early finish means an early start, so after picking my way across the somewhat deserted university campus in which the venue sits, I didn’t have long to wait before opening band Canvas took to the stage – and it was encouraging to see that a fairly respectable number of punters had also made it down in time to catch their set.

The Bedfordshire quintet definitely play like they mean it. Both guitarists shout along with their vocalist, who spends pretty much the whole show up against the crowd barrier. The barrier itself, incidentally, seems rather over the top considering the size of the venue and stage-side pillars mean it has to be positioned quite some distance from the stage itself. But I digress.

Canvas’ sound is probably best described as being a more abrasive Devil Sold His Soul. Slower tempos, grinding riffs counterbalanced by high, fast-picked post-metal atmospherics and howled vocals. But as the set progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the tracks apart. The similarity of pace and tone is also not helped by the absence of any truly memorable riffs or vocal hooks.

With the tempo, the band fall into an odd middle ground. The tracks aren’t quite fast enough for moshpit action, but they aren’t quite slow enough to be doomy, either. The net result is rather unsatisfyingly dirgey, with tracks feeling a little over-long considering their general lack of progression. The last song of the set definitely has the best riffs, but I am left thinking that they would be best served by upping the speed they play at by 10bpm or so.

It is all change in the Brutai camp, however. Tonight they are playing with a temporary stand-in drummer, Michael Pitman, who can usually be found smashing skins for Xerath, who are largely inactive at present. Additionally, this show is the second they have played with new keyboard player and backing vocalist Alex.

This is at least the third time I have watched a Brutai, with the last being their support slot with Centiment in February, and their sound feels considerably fuller than it has previously. Part of that is due to Michael’s considerable drumming talents, but Alex’s keyboards also bring more than one might expect to the party.

Things seem to be falling into place for Brutai. Their blend of more traditional, hooky choruses and guitar solos with meatier metalcore crunch gets better each time I see them. Even the performances of the three pre-existing members seem bolstered by this new line-up, however transient part of it may be.

Vocalist Felix certainly has a strong voice, but – as Chris Baretto proves when Monuments take the stage shortly afterwards – it would probably be wise for him to invest in a set of in-ear monitors to guarantee he hits the higher notes with confidence.

The band save “Flood” – the title track of their EP, and probably the heaviest of their set – for last, ending their set on a high which almost certainly won them a few more fans from the crowd tonight.

Despite this being, by my count, the fifth time I’ve seen Monuments perform, events have conspired against me in recent times; resulting in this being the first show I have seen with Chris Baretto in the line-up, despite being in the band for around a year.

Fresh from a short European run that marks the beginning of the touring cycle in support of their hotly anticipated second album, The Amanunensis, the band confidently hit the stage and burst into a new track. Capturing all the elements that put Monuments in the vanguard of the UK tech scene, this first track bodes well for the future.

Setting up the pattern for the set, a couple of Gnosis favourites follow before the next new tune. Having taken a little time off since last year to write and record, the band seem refreshed, energised and clearly loving playing tracks old and new, a world away from the last set I caught, on what proved to be their last tour with their previous vocalist. The band are Rizla-tight and often wearing big smiles. Drummer Mike Malyan and bassist Adam Swan prove themselves to be one of the most compelling rhythm sections in metal at the moment, locking together to provide the groove-driven foundation for the riffs of guitarists John Browne and Olly Steele. Adam’s dreads are virtually becoming the sixth member of the band, and if they get much longer, his headbanging will start to be a danger to air traffic.

It is probably old news for many, but the set shows just how ideal a frontman for the band Chris Barretto is. It doesn’t take long for him to have the crowd absolutely under his command, leading them in a spot of arm-waving through a particularly melodic bridge. He asks the crowd to crouch down during a quiet passage, ready to explode when the track kicks in again – and demonstrating the general friendliness of the tech scene, he playfully calls out members of the crowd by name for not joining In the fun. Chris fully takes ownership of the Gnosis tracks, but it is on the new numbers where he truly comes into his own. During “Horcrux” he seems to be channelling Michael Jackson – which might be a little surprising, but it fits perfectly.

Increasingly, Monuments are looking like the complete package, blending big fat grooves, interestingly technical riffing and hooks big enough to hang a cross channel ferry on. Many bands are trying, but few succeed in blending all of these elements together so completely and immediately. On tonight’s showing, it is not going to take long before the new tracks are as warmly received as the likes of “Regenerate” or “Blue Sky Thinking“.

The band end the main set on “I, The Creator” and after the most perfunctory of stage exits return – as if there was any doubt – to finish on “Admit Defeat“.

On tonight’s showing, it is perfectly clear that this is the time to shine for Monuments. With a summer of touring and festivals ahead if them, the chances are strong that they won’t be playing venues of this small size for much longer. It feels as though it has taken the band an agonizingly long time to get here, often through no fault of their own, but now the moment has arrived, they are absolutely ready to grasp it with both hands. With a fearsome collection of tunes and as energetic and hugely enjoyable performers, the future is bright.