Monuments’ latest is a masterclass in prudence, taking the title of their third record very literally.
The exact meaning of the Ancient Greek word “phronesis” is unknown, but people in suits with elbow pads (and more well-read than I, no doubt) believe it referred to a type of wisdom and intelligence relating to an excellence in character and habits; it’s often described as mindfulness or awareness, as well.
Now this seemingly pointless etymology lesson relates to why Phronesis is so wonderfully successful in harnessing Monuments’ strengths after a four-year unofficial hiatus. None of this tutorial can do the sheer fun factor any sense of justice.
Seriously, this record is a literal definition of a damn great time. The interplay between vocalist Chris Barretto (good ol’ U.S. of A) and guitarist John Browne (U.K.) is on full display throughout, as both put on the best performance of their lives. It all makes sense after a couple of spins through Monuments’ latest.
Their keen understanding of what makes them unique and interesting–the idea of soulful djent–is amplified. Djent is a style overwrought with musicians with who know how to play guitar but can’t write a tune to save their lives; however, the time between albums has helped Monuments hone in why they are the best in the business at writing djent that is more memorable and melodic than it is technical–and Phronesis is no walk in the technical park.
It also doesn’t hurt that each of these 10 songs has its own identity, though the particularly excellent middle third of the album seems to build on itself as it goes along. “Mirror Image” is the most symphonic tune in Monuments’ history, as the hip-shaking rhythmic interplay works wonders with a slithering sense of melody.
The only tune more instantly memorable is “Stygian Blue,” a truly monstrous jam that contains the group’s best hook–and that’s saying something. That is until the even better one-two punch of “Leviathan” and “Celeste” ever-so-gently introduce themselves. Aside from a relatively underwhelming beginning and ending to the record, Phronesis truly is the pinnacle of melodic djent; these songs are as large as they are memorable.
That all gets back to the part that’s Greek to me; Monuments wisely doubled down on the melody (both in the vocals and instruments) to create music that is less interested in low-end riffing than it is creating songs with lasting impact. The group have harnessed their best impulses to craft one hell of a comeback record.