In a short amount of time, I have come to appreciate the intricacies of progressive death metal, especially since it has been doing incredibly well during a pandemic, where death is rampant and trauma is at its height. While things are slowly improving, it still feels like a sense of dread hangs over this newfound normalcy, and all one can want is a sense of silence. A lot of albums released last year seemed to deal with what happens when trauma is left unchecked, leaving you feeling hollow and as if you have no one to rely on. However, underneath that hollowness stands a sense of hope that’s slowly gaining traction, and that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. If last year was about the heaviness of trauma, then Alustrium’s A Monument to Silence, an album that seems to straddle the line between experimentation and melody, is about making the decision to deal with that trauma.
In a post-Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape world, no prog death should sound as good as that album, but Alustrium shows that they can still stake a claim under that banner, blending both the technical aspects of the genre and the experimental edge of melody that makes its opener “This Hollow Ache” one of the standout tracks. It grips the listener and takes them on a wild ride into instrumental mastery, showing that the technical aspect is in how masterful their instrumentality is. The music also takes no breaks from one transition to the next; as soon as one song ends, another takes its place, continuing its neck-breaking pace to the very end. There is no room to breathe and take a moment for yourself; A Monument to Silence is relentless in its structure and pacing. From the steady, pacing drums that seem to gallop as fast as they can make them to the superb rhythm section that both battles for control and keeps the vocals steady, the music comes at you with a speed that you can only be impressed by. It is clear that Alustrium have been working towards this moment, as each part of the whole comes out in specific parts, which highlights their sonic cohesiveness. It is no surprise – at least, to me – that this band is part of the Unique Leader roster.
Once past the sheer heaviness of the music, there is a certain depth that might be overlooked if you are not paying attention. Fourth track “The Accuser” can be interpreted in a number of ways, but the most obvious is how someone’s guilty conscience can lead them to question whether they have been doing the right thing all along, despite the harm they have caused to other people. Meanwhile, “Join the Dead” seems to be about how, after all everything this person has been through, they can no longer feel anything, leading them to consider death as their only way out (“Become enraptured with/ this endless void I’ve now joined/ Keep falling until timeless sleep”). Guilt, agony, and trauma, while personal and individual, are a universal experience that everyone can empathize with; however, here, these experiences are so loud that the only thing you would want is silence. While the music is heavy, the actual weight comes from the lyrics and that sense of foreboding that comes with making a decision that both affects you and everyone around you. In fact, as the album nears its end, the music becomes thin, more melodic, and slightly optimistic. At its core, A Monument to Silence is both a plea for help and a cathartic cry for hope that makes you want to see how things can get better.
A quick aside: I would not be surprised if Alustrium decided to answer Black Crown Initiate’s call for dealing with trauma and finding hope by releasing this album, a monument to finally finding peace and a sense of closure.
All in all, A Monument to Silence is a breath of hope hidden underneath layers of sonic intensity and a pace that would leave you with a sore neck. Alustrium are clear masters of their craft, combining melody with a technical flourish that many try to do, but few are able to achieve. Come for the music, stay for the psychological struggle of hope.
Hasta la proxima!