Monsterworks is the kind of band you want to root for, a group of underdogs bursting with creativity. Their music blends countless sounds and influences into music that is utterly unique. No one else sounds like Monsterworks, which is a statement fewer bands can make with each passing year. Their latest work, the EP "Man: Instincts", contains three masterful tracks culled from their upcoming "Album Of Man". Singer/Guitarist Jon took time recently to talk about the band, their music, and how it all comes together.
We play metal with a range of influences that we are not afraid to draw upon. It has been termed "supermetal" which is some kind of hybrid of thrash/death/stoner/prog and trad metal. The genre-switching is our greatest strength but also our downfall because it seems to turn a lot of people off that need to have a label to put on something.
For quite a long time I have written music before writing lyrics, i.e. they don't go hand in hand. This is good and bad; good because you don't have to force a mood based on particular lyrics, but bad because sometimes the lyrics are written just before recording with no vocal practice at all.
Technology has allowed great advances in home recording, which is where the demos are arranged. We are not much of a jamming band (in the early days it was more that way) which I kind of miss. Mind you, jamming in the classic sense is time consuming and sometimes fruitless. Writing music alone is still time consuming, but it is probably less frustrating (except for times when you just can't nail that elusive awesome outro riff - but that happens in any creative process).
However this is metal, so don't take it too seriously. I just thought "The God Album" sounded cool as a title. That was how it started.
It's probably better to talk about the music/lyrics in terms of what it means to me, but of course it's open to others to draw their own conclusions. This set of songs (of which the EP is only three and intended as a taster for "Album of Man") does focus more on the "individual" side of humanity, but The God Album was about religion which is also man-made so they are still fairly closely related.
Album of Man is more introspective for me as it starts off with thoughts about conception and what fetuses dream about through childhood, loss and development, to the freedom of death and the probability that it is the end of your existence....but it carries a message not to be too depressed about it. Its as deep as you want to make it. Obviously I think the music is interesting and weaves a tale without being a direct narrative.
So the short answer is, yes, now it is a conscious choice to aim for that kind of sound but it began as an experiment a few albums ago. Ironically the one where we started using the tape machine was "Singularity" which had the most complex and overblown song structures of our career to date (one song ended up with about 64 tracks which nearly killed the computer during mixdown). In other words, that album was anything but simple. Then Ian, our "guitar layer supremo", left the band which was a disappointment personally (because we started the band together in New Zealand years ago) but freed me up to turn back the clock and simplify things that I probably would not have done otherwise. As a guitarist Marcus, "the new guy", has an old school approach and is content to let the music breathe where it needs to.
I think the "vintage aesthetic" does fit our music, probably more so than a "polished" sound. That is not to say I don't like modern metal production values. I was listening to Nevermore's "This Godless Endeavor" (RIP?) the other day and marveling at its clarity/clinical preciseness. It is a great album of technical thrash. Andy Sneap is a popular guy nowadays for producing that sound and it is good to my ears...but sometimes I wonder how it will stand the test of time. What makes me skeptical is the terrible sound, in retrospect, that records had in the 80s - surely someone noticed at the time that the drums sounded shit? Also, remember the Death Magnetic debacle....Metallica finally produced a good album and ruined it in the mastering stage by compressing it to the point of distortion. I read an interview with Lars who tried to explain it away by saying "that is what they told us was the modern sound". That is no excuse; as an artist you must have some input or willingness to fight for the sound quality. Surely someone sitting round the boardroom table with the band listening to the finished product (perhaps this is a fictionalized situation) said "but doesn't that sound bad to you?" It's like the Emperor's new clothes.
Some great albums came out of the 80s which are good despite the production. Judas Priest's "Screaming For Vengeance" (having its 30th anniversary this year, so is topical) has some great songs but the production is not as good to my ears in 2012 as Priest's 70s albums (most notably "Sad Wings of Destiny" which is my favorite all time album).
That said, if it works then great. Is Opeth too melodic? I wouldn't change a thing on almost all of their albums. However, the great thing about metal (and maybe what Monsterworks strives to achieve) is that there can be a beautiful melody BUT there is the threat that something darker could be around the corner. A pop song is not going to have a blast beat or a demonic howl after the next chorus. To me, that is what sets metal apart (and above) from other styles of music.
Metal is so diverse overall that I don't think there is a single expectation for a metal band these days. Although some people do pick out that we are too diverse for one band. I always take it as a compliment especially by critics that conclude they hate it.
We had a manager once who tried to have some influence on image (i.e. having one at all) and even suggested changing the band name - which admittedly is no longer very representative of the music - but it didn't feel right. Needless to say we eventually parted ways, but that is no reflection on who was right or wrong....in fact he probably was correct on both counts. But no one was waving a million dollars in our face so there was nothing at stake to convince me it was worth selling out.
The rest of Album of Man will be unveiled in the coming months, then there are a further two albums already completed. You read that right. Two albums. There should be a steady stream of new material for a few years even if I died tomorrow - and I do not plan on dying tomorrow (oh the irony if I do). A few demos are complete for the next set of songs already; almost before mixing of the latest album was finished.
I think the proliferation of our brand of metal is possible partly because we do not tour ourselves into the ground and are always hungry to make new music in the vein of our heroes. It is a shame we cannot contribute as much to the live scene, other than a few gigs here and there, as we would like (believe me we would if we could make a living out of it) but the grind of touring does take its toll. Also, bands fall out and break apart from living out of each others' pockets whereas we never get together often enough to hate each other!
Thanks very much for the interview and thanks for not asking "what are your influences", otherwise my answers would be twice as long and tedious as they already are. Cheers!