It’s not often that you can describe someone as ‘a one-man musical movement’, but Maurice de Jong is about as close as you can get. I’d list all of the acts he’s been associated with (past and present), but this review would get awfully long, and we’ve got some meaty ‘90s style death-doom to listen to. Suffice to say that The Sombre is de Jong’s solo project allowing him to fully immerse himself in his death-doom origins and remind us all just how good some of those old Peaceville albums were.
Monuments Of Grief is The Sombre’s third full-length, and it was released on Chaos Records earlier in August of this year. It follows on from the debut album, 2019s Into The Beckoning Wilderness, and 2020s Shapeless Misery. Clearly, from the three album titles, you will all by now have realised we are not talking about records that should be filed in the motivational self-help section any time soon. Instead, we’re talking about that cathartic misery that we all love to revel in every so often.
I often measure the impact of a new album by the nature of the records that I start going back to as a result. A while ago in these bile-filled pages I reviewed the debut album by Shun – and it was so good that it sent me gleefully spinning into a revisitation of pretty much every one of the classic stoner-rock albums in my collection – it reminded me what I loved about the genre. And so, it has been with The Sombre’s Monuments Of Grief; the McLaren household has been awash with early ‘90s death-doom, so you can imagine how cheerful everyone has been.
From The Depths Of Misery starts the album with a slow and melodic pulse which totally unsurprisingly combines peak-era Paradise Lost riffs with a lead guitar line over the top which will instantly also bring to mind My Dying Bride’s haunting violin parts. At the three-minute mark, we get further riffs which echo Warning at their best – so I think it’s fair to say that The Sombre come out of the gate strongly here!
The vocals are of course going to be where your relationship with this album is either cemented or dashed. We are firmly in gruff and low cookie-monster territory here. There are a few passages where the vocals are clean and spoken, and this adds some welcome texture, but if the vocal style isn’t your bag, then you may struggle to get past it. For me personally, it’s not my favourite vocal in the world, but it is delivered well, and the riffs are so good that I’m as happy as a 14-year-old in corpse paint at a wedding.
The tempo is achingly slow, and the harmonic dual guitars are some of my favourite on the album…
I should also mention that the mix and production are spot on. Huge swathes of echo and reverb, which is exactly what an album like this needs. The vocals are mixed to be part of the whole sound, and the drums in particular sound massive.
The Mourning Gloom goes full-on Warning from the start. The tempo is achingly slow, and the harmonic dual guitars are some of my favourite on the album. My one gripe (and this kind of goes for all six tracks) is that it could have gone on longer! And I don’t remember saying that too often in the past! Most of the time at the moment I’m yearning for a more judicious producer who gets the band to edit their songs down so they aren’t all fourteen-minutes long, but in the case of The Sombre, we really are talking about bite-sized doom. In my book, being left wanting more is infinitely better than being bored to tears, so I’ll not complain too much.
The title track introduces some subtle keyboards into the mix, which to my ears serve to lighten the mood somewhat (ironic given the tracks title!). The spoken vocals are most prominent here as well, and together with some clean guitar work, further goes to give this a slightly different feel to what has gone before.
Paradise Regained leads the album to a close with the most upbeat riffing that The Sombre bring to the table. However, it is possibly the least fully realised track on the album, which is a shame when compared with the mini-epics that have gone before. Maybe the final track was the one place where de Jong might have really opened his wings and left us with one of those fourteen-minute epics that I mentioned earlier – it would have been a fitting ending to what is a really strong album.
The Sombre’s development across their three albums since 2019 has been significant, not in changes to their style, but in the quality of the songwriting and the cohesion of the records. Monuments Of Grief is certainly an album that I’ll be revisiting as the cold and dark nights draw in, and the next step in The Sombre journey is one I’ll definitely keep an eye out for.
Scribed by: David J McLaren