The Go! Team. Godspeed You Black Emperor!. Against Me!. !!!. All these bands make music that warrants the exclamation points in their names. But spend five seconds with the Dead Men Tell No Tales two-disc compilation by French quartet Monarch! and it’s clear that the sprightly li’l punctuation mark at the end of this band’s name is horribly inappropriate. Same with the cutesy Sanrio-style artwork that adorns the cover. See, Monarch! issues forth doom-metal edicts so inhumanly plodding and grim that piddling notions like “humor” and “irony” should die in their presence, suffocated by a soot-black void that blots out the sun and inspires only dread, horror, and negativity.
Why subject yourself to Dead Men Tell No Tales, then? For those drawn to boundary-pushing, there is a perverse pleasure in hearing music so extreme in its pursuit of noxiousness and, for lack of a better word, deadness. This is simply some of the slowest shit ever recorded — in comparison, the former standard-bearing doom turtles Burning Witch and Khanate sound like a 500 bpm jungle record. On the twenty-six-minute track “We Are the Music Makers,” culled from Monarch!’s out-of-print Speak of the Sea album, chords take so long to strike that you actually forget they’re supposed to bear any relation to one another. When they do, it’s amazing. Every synchronized thunderclap of guitar, bass and crash cymbal is a visceral convulsion, sending out waves of throbbing feedback that last until the next one. At around eight and a half minutes, diminutive “singer” Emilie (no last name) starts screaming her guts out, imitating the frantic bleats of a wooly mammoth as it’s sucked into a tar pit.
The two songs drawn from Monarch!’s Die Tonight LP (released earlier this year) speed things up to a slothful crawl and feature some spooky breathing and cooing from Emilie in addition to her familiar banshee shriek, but at nineteen-plus minutes apiece, sitting through them is still a feat of endurance. And that’s not a criticism of Monarch!, more an acknowledgement of the uncompromising purity of its music. Whatever black-hearted goals Monarch! set for itself, Dead Men Tell No Tales achieves them, whether or not the audience is alive long enough to appreciate it.