Irish sludge/post metal band Raum Kingdom has been around for close to a decade, having released their first EP in 2014 before their full-length debut Everything & Nothing finally surfaced in 2018. Even early on they showcased a wide range of genre influences beyond the usual post metal framework, pulling in everything from alternative rock and some of Tool’s progressive metal/rock elements. The group has been fairly quiet since Everything & Nothing, and when their bassist Ronan Connor unexpectedly passed away in 2021 it was unclear what that would mean for them. Thankfully Raum Kingdom has pushed forward and released Monarch, which uses Connor’s bass writing while new member Niall Gregory applied finishing touches. It’s understandably a dark and emotional listen given the headspace the group was likely in while finalizing everything, but it results in even bigger climaxes and entrancing atmosphere than before.
Over the course of their discography, one of the elements that Raum Kingdom has excelled at is in the use of space and natural pauses. Where a lot of sludge and post metal starts off heavy and loud and then builds to even more staggering levels without leaving much space in between, the material on Monarch moves naturally from crushing riffing to periods of sparse instrumentation and somber melodies that take on a sorrowful and reflective tone. The group has utilized this back and forth before, but it feels even better executed this time around and the way that tracks like “Swallowtail” and “Pieris” move seamlessly from soft and airier textures into booming layers of distortion and grime stand out. The heavy moments are utterly bleak and make great use of the bass lines that feel like a tsunami crashing into the listener, while the softer ones bring in textures that almost have a 90s alternative and progressive rock tone. Monarch has consistently engaging moments throughout, though the combination of “Gate Keeper” and “Pieris” have some of the strongest riffs and vary up the rhythms in ways that make them stand out to me just a bit more. It also helps that Raum Kingdom have reigned things in a bit to a more compact forty-three-minute run, as while Everything & Nothing had similar standout moments it also felt overstretched and slightly bloated at just under an hour. Monarch by comparison has build-ups that don’t overstay their welcome and transition into new ideas quicker, keeping the songwriting diverse while still building a consistent atmosphere.
While there may be a contrast between the harsh and light sides of the instrumentals, the vocals are where this is most apparent throughout Monarch. Singer Dave Lee has a softer singing range that seems to hover over the recording, which makes the transitions when he shifts to raspy screaming have significantly more impact. Opener “Red Admiral” makes great use of this, and the back and forth between the somber singing and ear-piercing screams makes a strong first impression. Later on songs like “Swallowtail” have extended periods of softer instrumentation and singing where Lee sounds more like Maynard James Keenan circa his early A Perfect Circle days, which gives Raum Kingdom a noticeably different sound from some of their peers. This is an area that the band has improved on over the years, as the performance on Monarch features some of the most confident sounding singing to date.
Raum Kingdom has come a long way over the past decade, and despite some of the tragic circumstances surrounding its creation their sophomore album is their strongest to date. The band’s DNA hasn’t fundamentally changed, as they’re still bringing in softer tones and hints of alternative rock into crushing sludge/post metal. But the more concise and dynamic songwriting packs a punch, and even though the second half stands out slightly more this remains an engaging listen from beginning to end. Monarch is available from Argonauta Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg