For the most part drone music tends to embody certain aesthetic characteristics that make it a rather oblique and metaphysical genre. It isn’t always the case, but the ambient heaviness of the music often lends itself to mystical artistic themes. Mourn At The Grindstone, the debut album from Arizona act Monstruwacan, bucks that trend somewhat by putting a rather socio-political message behind the myths. Inspired by the experiences of living on the poverty line, Mourn At The Grindstone feels like it comes from a similar creative place to that which inspires crust-punks to make noise music, more than it might inspire metalheads to make drone-doom.
Sonically Monstruwacan produces atmospheric guitar focussed drone-doom in the vein of Sunn O))) or Earth, but with their own distinct touches. The vocals, in particular, throughout most of the album are quite unique. They’re raw and uninhibited, reminding me tonally to noisey punk & hardcore acts like Pissed Jeans, Unsane or (early) Ceremony. They are however filled with incredible amounts of passion, and it’s important that the lyrics are taken into context here too. They’re deeply personal and emotive, but also flecked with the left-leaning themes that guide the record. They’re also vital to understanding this album, and crafting them in such a way is as much of a skill as creating the music itself.
The socialist workers theme that guides the record is laid bare in the opening track, a version of the mining strike classic Which Side Are You On? performed with New England’s Windbourne, a group of phenomenal harmonic singers. I’ve heard this song done many times before, but never quite like this. The huge atmospheric guitar drones underline the powerful melancholy of the vocal performance, and although there’s nothing else like it on the record, it sets up the tone for the album perfectly.
Mourn At The Grindstone is a genuinely harrowing album, while the pain and sorrow that inspired it is really brought out in a striking way…
The title track, Mourn At The Grindstone, is a swirling mix of reverberating drone, deep rattling guitar chords and creeping abstract synths that provide a base for the throat-shredding vocals. Towards the end there is a thumping bass drum that provides a deep timbre more than a tangible rhythm. Pupils Like The Hole In Space Where It Sings introduces some subtle clean guitar moments with acres of space and silence. It crafts an atmosphere of pure sorrow in between the walls of massive fuzzy guitars, while the roaring vocals are drowning in echo. Feast In The Dark twists together pitch black lines of dark ambience, subtly grating noise and thunderous strikes of percussive sub-bass, slowly building it into an anxious and fearful atmosphere.
A Song For The Dead utilises some quite hypnotic tones and is crafted using a more meditative structure. The vocals have an incredibly cathartic feeling to them, perhaps even more so than previous tracks. As the track progresses it organically moves into a slow and very doomy final movement. The final track What Keeps Us In This Wretched Place is even more hypnotic in its ambience. It progresses through layers of cavernous sounds that feel like the aching cries of some terrified being lost in the ether of mourning.
Mourn At The Grindstone is a genuinely harrowing album, while the pain and sorrow that inspired it is really brought out in a striking way. It takes on a very astute form in the lyrics, while the music provides a more abstract and impressionist way of expressing these emotions. It’s easy for drone music to fall into the trap of lacking originality, but Monstruwacan provides some deeply unique flourishes. Some of these are slowly revealed through the album, but some of them remain intangible, and it is this feeling that draws you back into the record repeatedly.
Scribed by: Will J