MonstrO debut pays homage to hard-rock greats

Eli Watson

MonstrO is heavy. Whether or not they have a strange fascination with the whale of the same name from Pinocchio, this psychedelic hard rock quartet goes up to 11 and then some. They are masters at manipulating dynamics, going from subtle and soft, to heavy and forceful. Throw into a blender the sludge and grunge of Soundgarden, the brutality of Mastodon and the eeriness of Black Sabbath, and you have MonstrO, a group that leaves a lasting impression with their self-titled debut album.

Right off the bat, it takes some time to get used to Charles Suarez’s vocals. He shows a sense of vulnerability that can be distracting, taking away from a song’s delivery. Unlike that of the late and great Layne Staley, Suarez has yet to reach the level of haunting captivity that the Alice in Chains frontman succeeded in mastering, but what Suarez lacks in vocals, he makes up for with his guitar.

Suarez, along with Juan Montoya, provide the riffs for the group, with one guitarist strumming heavily underneath the elongated melodies of the other. They create an almost flawless partnership; these guys also pull off some well-done harmonies, especially in “Concertina.”

What truly enhances the band’s sound, though, is the driving, powerful drumming of Bevan Davies. He has the accuracy and stamina of modern rock drum gods such as Taylor Hawkins, and the frenetic, power-driven hitting of Keith Moon, resulting in parts that will immediately grab your attention.

“Olympia” showcases Davies’ eclectic style as he transitions from soft, splashy cymbals, to roaring, thunderous toms that give impetus to blistering guitars and soaring vocals.

Album closer “April” nostalgically nods at ’90s art rock groups, its otherworldly atmosphere beautiful and strange like Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song.” Suarez even seems to channel his inner Perry Farrell in this track, too, taking a chance at projecting his voice in ways that actually end up working in his favor.

When your musical resume includes working with bands such as Danzig, Bloodsimple and Torche, your music will be held under intense scrutiny. Confidently, MonstrO combines these experiences with other ideas and influences, to create a psychedelic abyss that will leave you intrigued until the very end. The band intricately weaves technicality and simplicity together, making a balance that will have musicians, listeners and everybody in between amused.

MonstrO’s self-titled debut album is a really strong release; it takes notes from the greats of classic rock, alternative rock and even progressive rock to create something that is enjoyable and fulfilling. The boys in MonstrO are well on their way to rising to the top of the rock food chain, and their self-titled debut album attests to that.

Listen to MonstrO's "Solar" here.

Printed on September 13, 2011 as: MonstO's hard-rock debut borrows style from past masters