Goth rock in excelsis. I could really stop this review right now and have said everything I needed to say but you expect more from Sentinel Daily and so, quite happily, I’ll expand a little.
Finland’s Sleep of Monsters, formed around the stentorian croon of former Babylon Whores man Ike Vil, are now releasing the second album of what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career, and, quite frankly, it’s a corker. There’s nothing here as immediately joyous as first album Produces Reason’s standout cuts – Nihil, Nihil, Nihil and Murder She Wrote are about as good as it gets in this field – but there’s an awful lot of high quality material to take in of a more slow burning and thus possibly more ultimately satisfying type to absorb.
Poison King kicks off in suitably grandiose style, massed choirs bringing the gothic whilst Vil talks his way through the song in a spectacular vocal melange of Bauhaus alumnus Peter Murphy and ol’ curled lip himself, Billy Idol. It’s a potentially head-fucking mashup, but it works to create a resultant, swirling maelstrom of eighties-styled rock that sets the pulse racing from the get-go. A cinematic tale of ancient kings and intrigues, it sets the tone for the rest of the album in fine style.
The slinky and hermetically-inspired Golden Bough features sultry female vocals (from one of The Furies – I’ve no idea who as the album came with only sparse written accompaniment) alongside a nicely twanging James Bond-type guitar figure but it’s small beer compared to the album’s first set piece stormer, the titanic and very special The Art of Passau.
A tribute to the magical quality supposedly lent to swords made in the German city of Passau in the renaissance era, the song is a beautiful mix of The Easybeats’ Friday on my Mind and Swedish esoteric metal lunatics Therion; In such unlikely clash and dissonance is the most luxurious harmony forged, and this song, easily the album’s standout, is one of the best slices of driving hard rock you’ll hear from anyone in 2016. It’s breathtaking stuff and no mistake.
Babes in the Abyss is uxorious and languid by comparison, though it’s tale of doomed children like Hansel, Gretel, Jack and Jill loses nothing in Vil’s studied telling; Again it’s his voice that gives the song it’s lurching, otherworldly charm, a dark, noisome take on children’s fairy tale and nursery rhyme that unsettles as much as it enchants. Next track Beyond the Fields We Know takes time to get into its stride but is worth the wait as it twists and turns towards another musically verbose crescendo of multi layered voices, pounding drums and another grade ‘A’ vocal from the mainman. Vil then turns in his most Idolesque performance on the excellent The Devil and All His Works, which mixes an ear-tugging, sixties pop sensibility to the Finngoth fantasia, with a resultant sound swathed in filigree yet packing the sort of punch we require as fans of heavy music. A heady mix indeed, executed perfectly and boundless in ambition and verve.
The final three tracks – Our Dark Mother, Foreign Armies East and closer Land of Nod – form a brooding, ghastly final triumvirate, all three being stately, doom-laden processions guaranteed to unsettle and stimulate in equal measure. Our Dark Mother employs a sort of spaghetti western twang that Chris Isaak would be proud of added to a naggingly familiar chorus that snares you almost in spite of itself, whilst sleepy-eyed Foreign Armies East continues the spaghetti western theme whilst injecting faint – if worrying – hints of the Call the Midwife theme tune into the mix. Hypnotic closer The Land of Nod ends matter sin suitably grandiose, epic style, leaving the listener satiated but still wanting more of this headily esoteric mixture.
Sleep of Monsters have stumbled on a near-perfect formula here, and practice their art in irresistible fashion – If you have an inkling for the dark arts, for those things hidden to the mainstream eye, there’s a fair chance you’ll be utterly captivated by the Poison Garden…