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I've long gathered the impression that melodic Swedish black metal, which was so prevalent in the 90s, is something of a decaying genre of late, with most of its forebears and standouts like Dissection, Midvinter, Sacramentum and (early) Mork Gryning having passed into the halls of extinction, and only a few acts like Dark Funeral and Lord Belial pressing on to varying levels of success. However, decaying does not mean 'dead', and there are some hopes for this strain of black madness which still breathe fresh mists into the haunted air of Gothic desolation. Netherbird is one such hope, if not the brightest, having already released a full-length and several EPs that did not gather much steam. Monumental Black Colossal is a fair follow-up to The Ghost Collector in 2008, but it unfortunately falls just so shy of the graceful kick in the rump this scene really needs to press on against the swallowing night.
The band have some schnazzy song titles on this record, like "Strindbergian Fire", "The Weight of Vapour", and "White Noise Sky in Overdrive", so my expectations were immediately piqued. The intro "Looming Majesty" is the same overture of Gothic piano, ominous choirs at the edge of perception and swelling storm-like atmosphere that has heralded so many albums in this vein, and the band then surge forth with the melodic, expected thunder into "White Noise in Overdrive". The vocals mix up rasping and grunted vocals, so you get the feeling there is a Cradle of Filth influence, though not so pronounced as Dani Filth. As pleasant as its composition is, I really found myself nodding off here, because there are just so few riffs worth keeping, the one exception the thrashing black surge after the opening blitz. After this, another brief instrumental titled "The Faraway View" before the creepy, ivy-like escalation of "A Shadow in the Garden of Darkness", in which bells toll and darkness is evoked but never driven deep into the neck with adequate fangs.
"Strindbergian Fire" is perhaps the most functional piece of work here, an epic of chugging, bells and spooky moods that transforms into a reasonably fast, searing melodic passage, though the song does begin to sag until the haunted house bridge segments, again reminiscent of Cradle of Filth. "The Weight of Vapour" is a slower piece which relies on its redundant melodies to create an emotional momentum before the storming, familiar melodies once again arise, and after the steadily driving "At the Bottom of the Chrystal Artery", the core album's playtime comes to and end, without ever really getting anywhere. This is pretty short, about 26 minutes long, but the band tosses on a pair of unreleased tracks to flesh it out: "In the Eyes of Time" and "Across the Chasm". They sound slightly underfed next to the more modern productions, but musically they are not deficient by comparison. Just not that interesting either...
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with Netherbird. They effortlessly weave their Gothic landscapes through sufficiently punishing black aggression, but they just never quite climax at the proper money shot. All the instruments are tight, the production on the core album is competitive for today, and if you're looking for an alternative to Chthonic, Cradle of Filth, Ancient, Hecate Enthroned, or Dimmu Borgir, you may well be in the right place. But Monumental Black Colossal simply doesn't scream 'necessary' in any of its carefully concocted architecture, and the band's competence and creativity are stifled by the lack of compelling, original ideas, or evil screaming melodies that will resound long beyond its brief existence.