Monks of Mellonwah - Turn the People
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Record Label: Gatcombe Music
If I had made a list of the most promising artists of 2013, Monks of Mellonwah, a four-piece alternative rock band hailing from Australia, would almost certainly have been near the top. Rather than simply unleashing a full-length album and trying to earn buzz for it with live shows and different single releases, the Monks went an interesting route, breaking their full-length record into three different EPs. From my angle, it was a genius move on the band’s part. When the first EP – a slim, three-song collection called Ghost Stories– arrived in my inbox last summer, I was taken with the grungy, 1990s garage rock feel of the songs. The material felt classic in a way that I don’t think most alternative rock has in years, and it was aided in its impact by the outstanding voice of frontman Vikram Kaushik, a gifted individual who recalls both Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis and Incubus’s Brandon Boyd in vocal tone and delivery. I was hooked.
Autumn brought another – and arguably, better – EP to my inbox in the form of Afraid to Die. The songs on that collection were darker and slower, losing some of the straight-ahead 1990s rock ‘n’ roll feel of Ghost Stories in favor of more potent and powerful classic rock sounds. Yet again, I was hooked, though I found myself wondering how Monks of Mellonwah were going to be able to translate these EPs, both of which had very distinct styles and feels, into a single cohesive full-length. Simply listening to the two records back to back, I was at a loss for how they would ever be able to truly fit together.
Yet here we are: another season, another email with new Monks of Mellonwah songs waiting to be heard. I currently have the final version of the full-length record, titled Turn the People, pouring out of my computer speakers, and suffice to say that I now understand fully what the band was going for when they decided to break their vision into three separate parts. I’ll never have the benefit of hearing the third EP – named Pulse, after one of Turn the People’s finest tracks – as a standalone as I did with the other two. If I had, I would probably have gauged the new material – including the piano/synth slow-burn of the title track, the brass-burst bombast of “Escaping Alcatraz,” and the ringing grandiosity of album closer “Sky and the Dark Night” (which, without blinking, features both a cinematic string section and a scathing centerpiece guitar solo) – as yet another step toward darker, more experimental territory.
Hell, “Tear Your Hate Apart,” the album’s harrowing first single, feels more like something that would have appeared on the second part of Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience than it does like a classic rock song. In general, these new songs find more basis in percussive rhythms, soundscape synthesizers, and chilly piano chords than they do in walls of guitar, though there are certainly exceptions to that rule. See the symphonic layers of distorted guitar that chime in halfway through the title track and continue to build toward a breaking point throughout the song. This is the kind of territory Muse was aiming for (and mostly missing) on their last record.
Interestingly enough, the new songs reside mostly in the middle of the record, serving as the adhesive that glues the Ghost Stories songs and the Afraid to Die songs together. The record begins exactly as the first EP did – with the raucous one-two punch of “Ghost Stories” and “Vanity” – and groups three choice cuts from Afraid (the pyrotechnic “Downfall,” the sludgy Bond-esque “Afraid to Die,” and the stirring blues-folk ballad “I Belong to You”) into the penultimate slots before making a deep dive into glorious self-indulgence with “Sky and the Dark Night.” The other two songs from the introductory EPs – the road-trip southern rock of “Sailing Stories” and “Alive for a Minute,” still the band’s catchiest song and best bid for mainstream success – are grouped into the middle of the record with the newer material.
Ultimately, Monks of Mellonwah do a remarkable job of balancing their disparate styles (their 1990s grunge elements, their guitar-heavy classic rock songs, their dark synth-based experimentalism, and their horn-laced Bond themes) and putting them all together for a single full-length record. Only “Sailing Stories” and “I Belong to You” stick out of the texture, the former because its bright, harmonic style feels at odds with the darkness of the rest of the disc, and the latter because it’s the record’s lone true ballad. While Monks of Mellonwah excel beautifully at bringing the wild guitar displays and the foot-pounding rhythms, “I Belong to You” is an unqualified success in slower tempo, sparer arrangement, and more restrained performance. The band might consider exploring that haunting folk style a bit more on a future EP or something. For now, however, Turn the People is a fantastic set of songs that makes good on a pair of 2013’s finest EPs. I didn’t find room for these guys on my “Best of 2013” list, mostly because I couldn’t pick which EP to put on the list, but suffice to say that I don’t think I’ll be making the same mistake come the end of this year.
Thanks for reviewing this Craig, they are a terribly underrated band. I can't wait to get my hands on this, as im sure it will figure prominently in my year-end conundrums. I've had the chance of catching them live and they are equally as impressive!
The Brandon Boyd comparison is absolutely spot-on also.