I love this album and, as the title of the review suggests, I also feel it to be Monarch's most accessible work to date.
Don't get me wrong - "Monarch's most accessible work" is perhaps a misleading statement, as it is still incredibly obscure and abrasive; just less so than their earlier releases.
If you are new to doom metal entirely, than I'd say save this one for further down the road and start off with the classics. However, if you are relatively well-versed in your doom, and particularly if you appreciate extreme sludge and drone like Burning Witch and Khanate, then you could definitely do worse than to give this a whirl.
So how does it sound then? Well, bleak and oppressive are definitely two adjectives that spring to mind. To briefly describe Monarch's sound generally; think walls of thick, low end bass and guitars sometimes playing really slow riffs and other times just droning, drums playing at 10bpm, occasional subtle noise and electronic elements, and a (rather attractive) young lady just absolutely losing her s*** over the top of it. Special mention to Emilie Bresson's vocals, actually - if you like your Alan Dubin (Khanate) and your Edgy59 (Burning Witch, Birdeye) tormented howls, then Emilie should do you a treat. It's actually so strained and painful, it kinda gets past the point of doing it for cool scary metal effect and just seems like genuine agony, however, she does have a lovely clean singing voice in addition to this.
Track by track then (I wouldn't normally break an album down into each track, but this only has 3...) :
Blood Seeress sets the mood well for the album, and is quite a standard sort of Monarch composition (although I personally find it a bit more musical and easier going than their earlier endeavours); absolutely punishing guitar riffs pummel away forever, drums do the same, and Emilie screams her lungs out for the vast duration - again, the screaming is extremely strained and painful sounding on this one.
Transylvanian Incantations is basically either an extended outro for Blood Seeress, or an Intro for Black Becomes the Sun - it is both foreboding and ponderous at the same time, and is mainly eerie slow synth and reverb drenched effects. Keeps the mood and is a nice addition to the album, if only for variety's sake.
Black Becomes the Sun is my favourite track from this album. It starts off with a really cool slow riff with a little bit of melody and harmonised guitars - it reminds me a bit of Forest of Equilibrium-era Cathedral actually (so, praise indeed!). The riff changes, but stays melodic and Emilie pops in with clean vocals on display this time which are an absolute treat - distant, ethereal and actually quite beautiful; like a doom metal Kate Bush (she actually sings in a similar high register).
Around 7 minutes in the music drops out and builds back up into a different beast altogether - but the 10 minute mark we have droning feedback and raspy harsh vocals - different from the clean vocals, and from the shrieking - this is now sort of grim and black metally. The guitars build up into a pummelling riff as per Blood Seeress, and Emilie's vocals build with them until she almost sounds like Nathan Misterek from Graves at Sea with the absolute agony she is expressing. The riff becomes funereal and melodic, and the vocals remain really harsh for a while until the clean vocals rejoin the mix for the close of the album.
Overall it actually turns out to be a really varied album for this style of music; the first track shows the brutality and anguish, the second one the atmospherics and the third rounds the album out nicely with the melody and beauty, with a reminder of the brutality that the album kicked off with.
Definitely recommended to fans of doom - especially sludgy and droney doom :)