Azote: a bleak and chilling soundscape of dissonant atmospheric BM and anguish

Monarkh, Azote, Germany, Kammer Records, KMMR015 limited edition vinyl LP (2022)

A very bleak and chilling recording was my impression after first hearing this, the second album from German duo Monarkh. Monarkh is an atmospheric BM project founded by Fyrnd who also happens to be the vocalist for Fyrnask, a BM band he founded in Bonn as a solo project in 2008 and then turned into a band with three other musicians in 2014. With Monarkh, Fyrnd plays all instruments and shares vocal duties with co-Monarkh man Rune, which sounds like a good working arrangement given that “Azote” plays very much like a recording of a soundtrack to a horror film yet to be unleashed upon the world.

Well, bleak, chilling and depressive it is after a few more hearings but it’s also a very emotive and affecting recording. I haven’t seen any reviews for this album at all online but the fact that, despite being released in mid-January 2022, all 200 copies of the first pressing sold out and Kammer Records is now putting out a second pressing of 100 copies tells me interest in “Azote” is high and being communicated through word of mouth. I’m not surprised because the concept and vision behind the album appear well thought out, the work put into it is meticulous and the quality of the recording is good for an underground release. There is so much intense emotion here and the sonic depth is incredible. The temptation to overload the album with atmospheric effects, music and vocals could have been strong but the approach taken here is minimal (with regard to the range of instruments and effects used) and restrained.

Running at less than 30 minutes in total, the album is best heard in its entirety for the full immersive soundtrack effect but the more cautious among us can choose to hear individual tracks. Opening track “Pishon” unleashes Monarkh’s full attack of two sets of screeching vocals, desperate and pained, and subjected to distortion that draws out their full death-rattle potential, along with equally shrill dissonant tremolo guitar riffs, hard-hitting if thin percussion and an airy if dark ambience out of which clean-toned whispering voices might appear briefly before wafting away. Subsequent tracks take up the baton in turns from “Pishon” to carve out a soundscape of vast dark grey emptiness. The music may appear unstructured in the sense that typical song structures are lacking but the whole work reveals its own narrative as it goes, with later tracks “Chiddeqel” and “Perath” adding more darkness and a wider range of sound, emotion and existential pain with additional instruments and effects. Jangle guitar looping bring a hypnotic effect to “Chiddequel”, helping to turn that track into the album’s stand-out piece.

Though short, the album never feels rushed and after the last sigh, the whole work feels complete. Every element on the album works well but more than any other instrument here the vocals, whether harsh or clean, shrieking or in pain, really make “Azote” what it is. The guitars and the atmosphere set a vivid scenery and the vocals add emotional depth. For a project that’s still fairly new, Monarkh seem set for reaching quite heady levels.