Ask a Seattle native to describe the Seattle music scene and you will receive half-a-million different responses, a number representing the approximate population of the city. The thousands of people who crowded into Key Arena, former home of basketball team the Supersonics, to see Macklemore play the Bumbershoot Music Festival would probably portray Seattle as a hip-hop city. Others prefer indie folk music like Fleet Foxes and The Head and the Heart. Lately, more local shows have been popping up that tend to be on the more raucous side of the spectrum. Seattle has a number of venues dedicated to noisier bands, including the scuzzy Comet Tavern, the doomed Funhouse, and the Highline, Seattle’s only vegan metal bar. As of about two years, Seattle now has an excellent record label, Good To Die Records, that specializes in music ranging from gritty punk to intricately crafted metal. The label’s founder, Nik Christofferson, has assembled an outstanding selection of western Washington bands, including Absolute Monarchs.
The Absolute Monarchs formed in 2010 and played their first show at hipster-sighting heaven, also known as The Capitol Hill Block Party. Since then they have played numerous shows around the Seattle area, and last week on April 17 they released their first record, titled 1. Well loved among local Seattle publications such as The Stranger, they have also received national attention from SPIN and NPR. The Monarchs consist of guitarists Shawn Kock and Miki Sodos, drummer Mike Stubz and vocalist/bassist Joel Schneider.
Following the Absolute Monarchs record release show, they played a free secret show the following night. The venue was the Cha Cha, a bar with luchador images as decor and a line out the door on Monday nights for happy hour. The show’s lineup also included local bands Crimewave and Haunted Horses. They are a two-piece band composed of a drummer and guitarist with a drum machine and enough effects pedals to get any gear aficionado excited. Their use of distorted vocals and guitar effects, along with their primal drumming, something a bit like Liars and HEALTH. It was a pity their set was so short. The crowd was just starting to get rowdy as they were finishing.After a quick equipment breakdown and setup came Absolute Monarchs. They began with “Killing the Old,” which is a rough, catchy song with a driving guitar riff and furious vocals that lasts just under two minutes. It’s so powerful that it feels like a punch to the face that just makes you want to fight–therefore proving to be an excellent choice for an opener. As the Monarchs’ set went on, the guys played more songs off their new album. The crowd was less rowdy than expected, but that could be due to the show being on a Sunday night, and most of the people there were either bar regulars or had attended the Monarchs’ record release the night before. That didn’t stop the band from playing an energetic show. Schneider, who danced frenetically while attacking his bass, made good use of his vision-impairing hair. A highlight was when kock, the guitarist, did a jump off a monitor and wobbled endearingly on the landing. Luckily Kock’s antics didn’t phase Stubz, the drummer. The most aloof member of the band was Sodos, who played her guitar with almost mechanical precision. The set was short, but one can’t be picky when it comes to free shows and the Monarchs definitely delivered.
Their album is unrelenting, yet it manages to reach many different levels, with sound ranging from droning metal to catchy indie rock with a bite. Even the slower tracks contain a strong sense of urgency that carries through the whole album. The opening song is appropriately named “Attack,” and it sets up expectations for the following songs, only to find that are delightfully unpredictable. For me there are no standout tracks; it’s simply a strong album, start to finish. “Fell In Line” has an anthemic quality to it, which would be great for chanting at shows. Songs like “It’s Bad” and “Hide It Well” employ atonal guitar melodies that play with the listener’s expectations and result in a feeling that something is slightly off in a good way. There’s something inherently wrong with the Monarchs’ music: There’s a sense of a sinister actuality lurking below the rage-fueled surface.
Consequence of Sound has the full album streaming for an undetermined amount of time, so listen to it before they take it down. Also check out a video of the band playing “Hide It Well” at the Cha Cha show.