Monumental: Songs of Misery and Hope is the debut full-length by UK quintet Serotonal, an act about which there is surprisingly little information online – at least, information that doesn’t directly relate to the band’s vocalist, Darren White, formerly of doom/death legends Anathema and gothic rock act The Blood Divine. One source described the band as being a drone/doom act, but this description seems out of place on listening to the album. Opening track ‘Self Control Seizure’ rockets out of the speakers with pretty up-tempo pace, roaring, full-throated guitars choking out pretty modernistic, aggressive riffage, while the see-sawing power chord progression of second track ‘Now It’s Over’ suggests a more commercial, hard-rocking baseline. White’s vocals recall his output on Anathema‘s Serenades album – morose, gravelly spoken-word erupting into more guttural roars as the intensity of the instrumentation spikes.
The musical landscape opens up to show more of Serotonal‘s full range on third track ‘Unseen’ – beginning with a languid bassline, shimmering clean guitars and a more restrained pace before exploding into a powerful chorus, a simple, vibrato’d lead guitar melody soaring over walls of distorted rhythms and White’s agonised roar. This dynamic between gentle, atmospheric guitar lines and driving, aggressive choruses is used to good effect throughout Monumental‘s running time, seeing the band firmly placing themselves in a sort of hard rock/metal/alternative mode. There’s no rampaging double-kick patterns, no tremolo-picked death metal runs, no breakdowns – just solid, well-written metallic anthems from beginning to end.
The production serves the material particularly well, placing White’s vocals firmly up front and centre (with the curious exception of the chorus of ‘Isolated’, which sees the billowing riffage drowning out the singer somewhat) and providing guitarists Gary Hill and Jon Francis-White with an array of gleaming clean tones and ripping, full-bodied rhythm tones on command. Andrew Heath’s bass throbs away throughout, giving the music a satisfying low-end rumble, while Wayne Denny’s assured drumming is given suitable weight and heft in the mix.
My main criticism of Monumental is that despite the uniformly consistent songwriting quality and equally invariable quality of the instrumental and vocal performances, this kind of material demands maddeningly catchy hooks, which this album sorely lacks. The whole album washes over the listener pleasantly enough, encouraging air-drumming and stolid headbanging throughout, but even after several start-to-finish listens, there’s no one part of any of the songs that really stands out and captures the imagination, and no one particular song that leaps out as a highlight. That said, if you’re looking for an album that’s heavy without being extreme, topped by a vocal performance that is fierce without making the vocals illegible, you could do far worse than this.