When Juan Montoya left the guitar helm with Torche, I was worried about the future of that band. I should have been worried about Montoya’s future instead.
Torche struck back with last year’s kick-ass “Songs for Singles,” proving they have enough songwriting fire to make it work without the thick-maned guitarist prowling the stage, and now it’s Montoya’s chance to show he, too, can come back with something crushing that’ll let him carve out a new path apart from his former band. And I’m sorry to make this all about Montoya, as he’s just the guitarist for new band MonstrO as he was with Torche, but I’ve been very curious to hear what kind of band he would put together, and now that I know, I may not need to hear anymore.
MonstrO, despite having two former members of Bloodsimple, a metal band so unimpressive that I’m not sure anyone cares they’re on hiatus, isn’t all that bad. For one, Montoya’s guitar work is way out front, which is a huge positive, and at times he kicks back into the melodic sludge he helped create and make great with Torche. At other times he lets his lead work soar. Bassist Kyle Sanders and drummer Bevan Davies (he also played with Danzig) do fine for themselves and surely are comfortable together as a rhythm section, so the fears I harbored over my distaste for their former band were washed away pretty quickly. So, this all doesn’t sound so bad, right? That’s because we haven’t gotten to vocalist/guitarist Charlie Suarez, who has the perfect voice for being a back-up singer. He can hold a note, sure, and if was needed to beef up choruses behind a much better singer, he’d be totally serviceable. As the main voice, he could not be duller sounding. He sounds like a guy a heavily washed-up band in search of a singer such as a Journey or a Foreigner would tap as a leader — forgettable, without passion, non-challenging, and lacking personality, but young enough to make the band seem with it. MonstrO needs better than that, and Suarez’s voice does this record a huge disservice.
As for the music, it sounds more hard rock than metal, and while the sludge does ooze in from time to time, these guys seem more like they’d like to score a few radio hits than get people to bash their heads together. Nothing wrong with that at all, and considering the dreck that makes the airwaves these days that disguises itself as rock music, MonstrO would be one of the better groups on your local Clear Channel or whatever-moderated station. And chances are, that would be the place where Suarez’s voice would be most forgiven, considering how many people who think that AlterBridge singer is so great. Really? We’ve really lowered the mainstream bar, have we not?
The band holed up with William Duvall, the dude who’s imitating Layne Stayley for Alice in Chains these days, and in the course of two weeks, they cranked out their debut record. There is a looseness and organic quality to what they do, and you don’t get the idea these songs were thought about too much. They don’t sound overdone at all, which in the case of “Fantasma,” “Anchors Up!” and “Solar” is a good thing, because they set it off, get their job done quickly, and leave you rocked. Then there are songs such as drawn-out ballad “Concertina,” morose “Elizabeth” and seemingly never-ending closer “April” that could have used more scrutiny and benefitted quite a bit from a self-edit. Then there’s a cut like “Stallone” that’s just dumb, evolving from being about “Rocky” to simply being about struggling with life’s woes. It just isn’t a very good song.
But no matter what positives can be drawn from this album, it all goes back to Suarez and his blandness. It took me several tries just to get through the album once because of how bad the vocals are and how distracting they make the songs seem. This is a decent-enough band with a really good guitar player in Montoya, but it’s hard to overcome bad singing. It’s a killer, and it does in what could have been a relatively impressive debut album. There are strong musical ideas here, and clearly there’s a direction that could do good things for MonstrO, but as long as Suarez is leading this band, they might as be travelling down a road in a van with flat tires.
For more on the band, go here: http://monstroband.com/
To buy their album, go here: http://www.merchlackey.com/vagrant/
For more on the label, go here: http://vagrant.com/