Release Date: 14 December 2018
Format reviewed: Digital
Here’s a story. Back in ’96 when I was the middle years of my radio program, back in the day when labels produced physical copies, I was afforded the luxury of being sent boat loads of promo CDs for airplay consideration. Obviously, I discovered many bands that I would otherwise probably not have come across in my own search for new music. You know, totally underground material. One of these bands was a Black/Doom Metal act from Mexico by the name of Argentum. I recall their debut album being rather unique at the time and if you take a look on Metal Archives you will see a couple of praiseworthy reviews. So, it astounds me that 22 years later I find myself in conversation with Papa Doom, frontman of Mexican Doom Metal trio Moonwatcher regarding the release of their debut album, only to find that he was the bass player in Argentum from 93 to 97 and played on their debut. As they say, it’s a small world.
Having reignited his creative juices in 2015, Papa (vocals/guitar) – along with his partners in Doom, Al Doomerian (bass/vocals) and General Doom (drums), Moonwatcher was formed. Clearly Doom is the operative word here and if you are a fan of all things monolithic (pun well and truly intended), slow, heavy and fat on the riff, then this 3 track full length is going to be on your wish list. However, Moonwatcher are much more than your typical run of the mill Doom Metal act – yes, they certainly work off the general template, but if you took notice of the ‘3 track full length’ comment then understanding that it spans a running length just shy of 60 minutes, then it is probably safe to assume the band has to have a few more tricks up its sleeve to keep your attention. Moonwatcher are that band – self-described as Psychedelic Doom that is emphatically cinematic in scope, their debut presents a whole gamut of moods and emotions throughout – it is truly a most epic, ambitious and thoroughly thought out piece of work.
The pièce de résistance with Moonwatcher is that this is a 3 part concept album, inspired by and written entirely around Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey! This is where the cinematic element of Moonwatcher’s music really comes to the fore. Taking their name from the Simian ape-man character that appears in the first act of the movie, Moonwatcher is essentially as a tribute to the Kubrick movie and as Papa Doom has recently stated, the idea was to use Doom Metal and Psychedelic Rock as tools to tell the story of the evolution of man and the influence of an outside force, as shown in the movie. So we are presented with ‘The Dawn Of Man’ (9.45), ‘Cosmic Pilgrimage’ (24.45) and ‘Beyond’ (23.19) as a retelling of the story in three distinct parts. Each track works with the feel and theme of the movie – ‘Dawn’ as the lead track being particularly harsh and angry in its conveyance as if channelling the Simian race behaviour in the movie, whereas the final two pieces weave in a host of dynamics in the form of warm keyboard & synthesizer effects, wah pedal refrains, sci-fi clicks and noises that juxtapose against the massive wall of riffs and slow jam rhythms that are unleashed in and out of the main thread of their compositions. We even get haunting snippets of interstellar dialogue and movie conversations embedded throughout to enhance the conceptual link between movie and music. In the down moments, the ethereal quiet sections, there is a real Floyd-ish floating aimlessly in space kind of feel about Moonwatcher’s music, that would be only further enhanced (I assume) with the aid of some natural herbs and grasses if that is your take.
Vocally, Moonwatcher is intense! Papa rages with raw energy and anger throughout as if to emulate the primitive, prehistoric race that first appear in the movie, giving way to some cleaner, more restrained vocals in ‘Beyond’, the final track – representing some sort of human evolution and intelligent progression that was the Monolith’s purpose. This part works really well and it will be interesting to see where Moonwatcher go with this vocal element in the future.
Of course, much of this album is about the riff! Moonwatcher is full of huge, massive walls of riffage backed by a dirty, thick, percussive bottom end. Not necessarily catchy in their structure, but more slow, lurching and repetitive like a sledge hammer to the skull effect. It was produced by the band, recorded and mixed by Abraham Madera in Madera Estudios, based in Monterrey, México. Mastering was done by James Plotkin, who has worked with ISIS, Pelican, and Vinnum Sabbathi. Heavy? Christ, Heavy it is!
There is no doubt that Moonwatcher works as a whole 58 minute piece. The idea, and especially if you are a fan of the movie, is to lose yourself in the conceptual theme from start to finish. Not to suggest that you can’t listen to these three tracks separately, it’s just that they work better together. It a concept album. It should be listened to as such. I have also read that when playing live, Moonwatcher show parts of the Space Odyssey movie as a back-drop – clearly a truly inspired move and for those that witness this, it adds a whole extra element to what this band is attempting to do.
Moonwatcher is a very curious affair – I’m not an expert on the Stanley Kubrick movie other than, as a kid, being privy to a bunch of simians milling around a rectangle shaped Monolith – but it has sparked my interest to revisit. Perhaps I have this album blasting in the background? What a trip that might be! If adventurous, long, slow, epic and heavy psychedelic Doom Metal is your favorite fare then Moonwatcher will provide!
“He’s watching the sky
And stares at the moon
Somehow he understands
His race will now bloom”
8/10 To Greatness and glory!
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