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Stonelake - "Monolith" (CD)

Stonelake - "Monolith" CD cover image

"Monolith" track listing:

1. Fanatical Love
2. You Light The Way
3. End This War
4. With Someone Like You
5. Double Life
6. Hater
7. Will You Be Loved
8. In A Freezing House
9. Notorious
10. Desolation

Reviewed by on April 24, 2013

"Not so far removed from the classic metal world, but not exactly anachronistic, the Swedes of Stonelake create a sound that is equal parts 1983 and 2013."

Much like creating a play for the theatre, constructing an album of music in the hopes of being both timely and timeless almost entirely depends on a careful balance of relevance, novelty, specificity, and unfamiliarity. It's best to approach Stonelake as a band attempting to do just that with this sixth album, bringing to the table something of theatrical complexity under the guise of the easily accessible. As a whole, the album title describes the end result: "Monolith."

Not so far removed from the classic metal world, but not exactly anachronistic, the Swedes of Stonelake create a sound that is equal parts 1983 and 2013. Riff sensibility and serving the song rather than the individual musician has become paramount over the band’s discography, easily drawing comparisons to Iron Maiden and Stratovarius. Progressive and power metal are the core of songs like "End This War," "Fanatical Love," and "With Someone Like You," leaning more progressive toward the end of the album.

The prog staple of synthesizers has set into the combination of sounds in a delightfully balanced way, refusing to overwhelm even during solos. Annika Argerich's playing is largely supportive, with the key parts usually adding nuances to the soundscape rather than acting as a voice unto its own. Songs like "Will You Be Loved" and "You Light The Way" are where the band excels, between large-scale chorus anthems and a carefully-built and maintained theatrical energy level. "Double Life" rides this balance especially well. Guitarist Jan Åkesson's riffs are playfully wild without going off the map, and his solos show both technical prowess and fun spontaneity.

With such a powerful voice, it would take a concentrated effort to avoid connecting with the energy in Peter Grundstrom's searing clean vocals. Like a demon shrieking out in the night, Grundstrom commands high tenor vocal cords as capable as Avantasia's Tobias Sammet, with extended range in his vibrato-laden falsetto. The pairing of Grundstrom, backing vocals by Åkesson, and lyricist Adam Bard, whose work touches each song except for "Notorious," is mostly a fine fit. Clichés are avoided and fresh topics are written about, with even the word "schadenfreude" impressively making an appearance (referring to pleasure derived from the misfortune of others).

To complete the total picture of the album, Fredrik Joakimsson's drumming avoids the bad extremes of both the power and prog genres - common plodding and the disregard for the musicality of a fill, respectively. He establishes technical prowess and a penchant for the straightforward in equal measures and is given a shining mix job by recording, mixing, and mastering engineer Jan Åkesson. "Monolith" lives up to its name, cutting a fine form up through and beyond the super-saturated stratosphere of the heavy metal world.

Highs: "End This War," "Will You Be Loved," "Notorious"

Lows: Neither prog nor power takes the reins completely, which may dismay fans of indulgence.

Bottom line: Towering over much of the genres of prog and power metal, a true "Monolith" of balance.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)