Shapes are a sight to behold live - a raging mass of flailing limbs, dripping sweat and deafening noise, which is somehow both unhinged and surprisingly controlled in its delivery. It’s always a challenge for a band who have built such a reputation for intense expressiveness in the flesh to capture this feeling on record however, which is no doubt why they enlisted the help of Eskil Lovstrom for their debut full-length, the man responsible for helming some of the most fury-laden records of a generation including Refused’s definitive 1998 offering The Shape of Punk to Come.
He does a great job of capturing the maelstrom-like quality of Shapes’ twists and turns on Monotony Chic, an album that demonstrates the sound of a band coming into their own and developing as a collective.
Shapes are still noisy, very noisy indeed, and their attack of choice is still as frenetic and stop-start as ever. But on Monotony Chic there is increased room for melody and much more prominent vocals. Whereas before Shapes offerings tended to be instrumental workouts with the odd passage featuring the barks of all three members, the new material sees them craft pieces that are much more recognisable as songs, with vocals for much of the duration of the record. We are even treated to the odd croon, albeit delivered with the same sense of mania as the more aggressive passages.
One thing that is notable is the album’s sustained vibe, managing to sound monolithic and sinister throughout, even in their most chaotic passages. However, whilst at times exciting and tense, there is a danger that on the first few listens the beginning part of the album can seem a bit dense. Opener ‘Siren Song’ certainly grabs the listener’s attention through its relentlessness, but the next three tracks all vie for your attention through similar bludgeoning means and are in danger of losing it for this very reason.
They quickly reign in any wandering minds however. ‘The Victim’ proves the best example of their primary pallet, somewhat akin to a mix of the dynamics of the sadly defunct Blakfish with the bile of the first Gallows record, and features the closest they ever come to a chorus. A later highlight of a more slowburning mould is ‘Judgement Bestoke’, which features a seemingly unlikely appearance from labelmates Mimas’ front man Snævar Njáll Albertsson playing a mournful trumpet. This is soon accompanied by some hypnotic drumming before giving way to the more expected discordant guitars.
Monotony Chic does not exactly reinvent the wheel, but it does see Shapes mature as a band and is unpredictable enough to hold the attention of those with an ear for angular hardcore. If you’re lucky enough to have caught them in a live setting, you’ll be safe in the knowledge that their intensity is left intact. If the record is your introduction to the band, then you’ll be begging to catch a show.