Living around the Pittsburgh area means the spoils of heavy, overcast riff rock are always within my reach. The area around me seems to be thriving harder than ever in terms of punishing rock n’ roll groove and here to set that example in concrete is Monolith Wielder. This mutinous crew of scene vets aren’t all fast nor all slow; treading the waters between classic early 70s burners (Sabbath, Pentagram, Buffalo and Bang), the Maryland and old school Iron City doom codas and the rotten underbelly of Seattle (Jack Endino mastered this beast) for a record chockful of tight, rubber wasting turns. Despite a feral haze of suffocating, doom-choked exhaust, a killer creative approach to songwriting allows the listener to get a few last gasps before the next big riff comes huffin’ and a puffin’.
Opener “Illumination” lays down a hard spread of twin riffs courtesy of the honorable riff judges Justin Gizzi (Molasses Barge) and Gero von Dehn (ex-Von Dane) while drummer Ben Zerbe and bassist Raymond Ward deal irreparable damage to the ear canals with a feral low grind. The pacing is upbeat and the band’s agility allows for some spitfire lead bits and later on a fireball solo break. To top things off Gero has a great voice capable of expressive range with earthy, gravelly grit singing giving way to higher summits of acid spiked melody. Take the thickness of good, melodic doom, merge it with vintage hard rock and spice it up with some Skin Yard and Gruntruck for an idea of where these behemoths dwell. Running the tempo roughshod through sinkholes filled with quicksand “Best Intentions” drags the Wielder’s wagon into a craggy mid-tempo that tremors beneath the weight of a hypnotizing, mantra-like riff beaten into place by Zerbe’s steadfast pocket thump. It’s all about a fully fleshed out, carnal tunnel of rock with chorus dips into dastardly doom rock deviance. Again the vocal phrasings have something unique about ‘em; they’re gruff but superbly aerated by a rise/fall dynamic of highs and lows. Gizzi shoots his riffs from the hip, allowing his gunshots to ricochet off of Wino and Terry Weston (Penance) as he eventually turns golden riffs into golden licks.
The basslines roar like a pack of starving wolves during the lead-in, airplane glue intro of “Angels Hide.” Feedback howls, cymbals crash and a storm congeals in the form of throbbing doom riffs which boom like thunder then mute appropriately for the vocals to stretch their legs. This was the first Monolith Wielder song that I heard and it still stands as a favorite. The corn huskin’, crop killin’ dirt boogie and rhythmic dread are nearly as heavy as something like Crowbar but the smooth leadwork, varied vocals and restrained/unhinged volume sweeps make for both memorable songwriting and song execution. 4:39 storms the gates of Valhalla with dizzying solos, thrash-y guitar workouts and hammering drum gallops which echoes fondly of Trouble or Pale Divine circa Cemetery Earth’s nimble 80s thrashings. The title cut (derived from the band’s namesake) is a human cigarette stamping of molten blues lava that crawls up from the mouth of Pompeii and takes down everything in its path as the boogie woogie thunder turns straight metal. It’s that difference split one could find with Hellhound Records’ finest cretins. When Gero launches into the lyrical diatribe stating, “You will deny me, three times before sunrise,” with his voice both plowing downward and upward at the same time alongside a NOLA-style sludge riff the impact is felt like a Macho Man elbow to the fuckin’ chin. They follow up with some fretwork lightning as the sheer groove anchors this boat to the coral reefs of damnation and the drumming capsizes the whole thing like a locked-on torpedo. The songwriting on this record is fuckin’ consistent as hell and never has to rest on the ropes from being winded.
“Lift your Eyes” further sludge slaps the riffage (some of the deadliest on the album can be found right here) but they offset the skin-scraping surgery with some cool counterpoints; Gero’s double-tracked, high-register, soaring vocal harmonies add grace, introspective open guitar notes yield Maryland’s sky high third eye and a heartbreaking outro lick make for a beyond satisfying excursion. Still, the focus here is on Herculean riffs, Talos-tailored skin pounding and vocals with more prongs that Poseidon’s trident. Reminding me of COC’s Wiseblood daze “No Hope No Fear” buckles at the knees with the blues but bends beneath a doomier burden. Only a handful of riffs are utilized and that’s all the band needs because they change and warp in all of the right places with lip smackin’ licks spicing the proceedings with plenty of hot sauce. Stuttering and staggering like a drunk headed for self-destruction “Chains” is all about staccato, lockstep riffs and byzantine dirge coalescing into a chunky soup of the soul. Gero stretches his vocal chords to near falsetto, Ben blazes his beats across a sky swirling with starfall snare fills and black hole tom-tom abandon and the guitarwork interjects wah-addled commentary to the begotten pummeling. If Tad’s 8-Way Santa was cultivated in 90s Maryland, you’d probably end up with something this punishing yet catchy.
Bringing things back to the upbeat “Into Madness” wades its way across a river of Wild Turkey in a captivating, spiritual 70s swing that can outdrink the reviewer any single day of the week. The fuzzy, mouth-watering riffin’ splinters off into multiple lead trades and overall yields that blue-collar stoner soul vibe of Abdullah’s Graveyard Poetry. It’s a bullfrog bellow from the bayou triumphantly emerging from the swampy murk of doom into an open air transcendentalism that will appeal to fervent hard rock heads looking for the real article. Corey Roth guests on this track, lending a third axe to the Gizzi/Dehn French connection. If “Into Madness” is a bright sun on a burning hot day, “King under Fire” draws the curtain of night for suitcase carrying eyes that hold only the tomb in focus. Numerous musical elements are still present in terms of the heroic verbal sprawls, Zerbe’s percussive shape-shifting and nightmarish doom riffs. Seamless harmony vocals guard Gero’s flank and the tune’s demonic presence pays tribute to Iron Man’s darkest doom-y slab breakers. Closer “Electric Hessian” filters ethereal psychedelic atmosphere through a sewage pump of filthy sludge coagulation where riffs are the equivalent of death sentences and every drumbeat is like the sound of a firing squad with your head as the only target. Cutthroat rolls and harried snare/tom fill transitions trigger a schizophrenic episode of riff-thrash before the song plummets down a bottomless well of toxic melodic doom. This is easily my personal pick for the album’s best tune…it encompasses literally every inch of the band’s sound while mixing in a few different flavors to boot. Jason Jouver’s work behind the mixing board really shows its stuff on this jam, rendering a scuzzy ambience to the more spacey parts and a fatal death blow to the booming doom bombs; his careful hand always adapting to the Wielder’s cosmic change-ups.
Monolith Wielder’s debut is nothing short of a smash n’ crash success of heavy rock n’ roll that isn’t afraid to veer towards flat out metal or godless doom…the mood switches on the drop of a dime and fine songwriting standards render each cut a tuneful affair drenched in hooks. There are no drops in quality when glancing back at the album’s 10 tracks and it’s great to hear a band distinctly embrace a vast gamut of influences not nailed down to one specific genre. The sturdiness of Jason Jouver’s production gives the record an extra bite with major presence on the guitars, drums and vocals. He doesn’t cover up the warts or filthiness but ensures the tunes are big n’ clear with the guitars appropriately defined for headphone jamming. Since the album’s recording, bassist Raymond Ward is out and the hole has been filled by Amy Bianco of Motorpsychos, Molasses Barge and Lycosa…I’ve seen Amy throw down in all three bands and there’s no doubt that she will give Monolith Wielder an even more toothy low-end growl. All in all, this is a great record that was certainly worth the wait.[Visit the band's website]