Despite the Newtown Creek wastewater facility churning away nearby, the north end of Greenpoint almost always smells good. The great local restaurants, the neighborhood Polish home cooking; add the sweet scent of dank doom on a November night, and it’s magic. The Swedish cult favorites Monolord were in town for the first time since Desertfest NYC back in April, and Sunday was the first of two headlining shows at Saint Vitus. While big, sludgy doom bands are a dime a dozen these days, Monolord have risen above the fray with an ever-improving discography – including their fourth full-length (and Relapse Records debut) No Comfort, which dropped this past September – and a killer live show that eclipses even their impressive recorded output.
The openers for this tour are Blackwater Holylight, a five-piece from Portland playing New York for the first time, with their own recent release Veils Of Winter, out on RidingEasy Records (Monolord’s previous label) last month. While doom factors into Blackwater Holylight's identity, there’s more going on. Post-rock, psychedelia, and some darker indie/slowcore (think Low and Duster) form the layers upon which the band builds an interesting sound. While there are plenty of other bands more aesthetically in line with Monolord that could have served as an opening act, Blackwater Holylight provided an attractive counterpoint to the headliner’s massive wall of galactic metal. Tracks like “Motorcycle” and “Sunrise” kept the already-packed room in rapt attention. The ethereal dual vocals of Allison Faris and Laura Hopkins, along with Sarah McKenna’s synth work, elevate the band’s material, a refreshing take on what can sometimes be a rote genre. While the energy dipped towards the end of the set, the crowd was all in and fully supportive, with only a few stragglers remaining back at the bar.
The crowd thinned a bit between sets, though plenty of denim-vested, scraggily-bearded lifers parked themselves right up front for the best sightlines. As great as Monolord sound on wax, it’s difficult to articulate just how heavy they hit on stage. Opening with “Where Death Meets The Sea” and its first gargantuan riff, the crowd instantly became one giant wave of headbanging groove. Putting the ‘power’ in power trio, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jager’s mournful wail floated across the room atop Mika Hakki’s fuzzed-out, gut-punching bass tone and Esben Willem’s thunderous Ward/Bonham beats. “Lord Of Suffering” proved its worth as a single, while new songs like “The Bastard Son” and especially “The Last Leaf” showed Monolord’s marked improvement as songwriters. Jager’s interaction with the crowd was minimal but effective, telling us that “The Last Leaf” was about being lonely and smoking a lot of weed (of course), and rallying the troops during the last chorus of set closer “Empress Rising.” That song and “Audhumbla”, both from the band’s debut album, sound remarkably better live than on the record, another sign of the band’s positive evolution. Steady, rumbling distortion never led to the familiar ear-bleeding feedback but washed over the crowd, enraptured, purified, whole. As the last crashing riff of “Empress Rising” closed the show, there were more smiles than scowls. Don’t tell anyone.