When I first heard Monsterworks' unique brand of 'super metal', it was one of the most staggering things I had heard in years. Their music sounded like the aural equivalent of putting pieces from different jigsaw puzzles together, and yet somehow ending up with a beautiful picture when you were done. “Album Of Man” is still one of the more interesting albums I have heard, on an intellectual level, and one that gave me hope that I may have found a band that could both surprise and please me. But now that we are on the third album in two years, the novelty has worn off, and all that's left to judge is the music.
As the albums progress, the themes get more epic. After exploring humanity on “Album Of Man”, next came an overview of the world on “Earth”, and now we arrive at the largest topic possible, the entire universe. What's strange is that as the scope has gotten broader, the music has not adjusted to fit the theme. If anything, Monsterworks' music has become a bit more reigned in over the course of these three albums. I'm not sure whether it is the result of simply hearing enough of their music, or if it is indicative of something in the songwriting, but Monsterworks has failed to surprise me on “Universe”.
In and of itself, that's not a bad thing. I don't need music to be innovative all the time, nor would I want it to be. But because of that first experience listening to “Album Of Man”, there is a spark missing when listening to this album that I wish was there. All the requisite pieces are present in the opening title track, but they aren't as sharply honed as before. The extreme metal parts aren't as furious, and the melodic parts lack the sticky energy that made “All Suns Die” one of my favorite songs of the year. The melodies here are pleasant, but the shift from the heavier sections isn't radical enough to make the point the band is trying to.
“Grandiose” works more effectively, by being what the title promises. The riffs bring more hints of doom into the equation, the soloing is bluesy, and the hook tries to scream to the outer recesses of the universe, even if it isn't the strongest message. Likewise, “Voyager” makes a stronger impression with its dreamy, subdued mood leading into the more frantic chorus sections. The songs don't swing as violently as in the past, which is usually indicative of improved songwriting, but somehow feels out of place on this album.
“The Bridge” is interesting for its use of black metal riffs, along with a chanting chorus that manages to be memorable, although not at all the kind of melodic hook I was looking for. That is the story throughout the record, songs that do the most with the parts they are built from, but feel like they are all missing the key element. For an album that is trying to tackle the enormity of the universe, the songs feel too small. The melodies need to reach for the stars and tower over the music, but it never comes together that way.
“Universe” is a good album, and I like it more than I did “Earth”, but neither one can capture the same magic as “Album Of Man”. If “Universe” was the first time I was hearing Monsterworks, I would consider it a compelling blend of all things metal, but having had experience with the band, I can't shake the feeling that I know they can do better. Don't get me wrong, “Universe” is a good album, it just won't be competing for a spot on my year-end list.