I always thought that Fin Fang Foom was a very strange name for a band. Well, the first link that comes up when you Google those words is a Wikipedia entry for a 1960s Marvel Comics monster of that name. Fin Fang Foom was a giant reptile creature, and i respect a band that embraces such a geeky name.
So Monomyth is the third full-length record from a band of comics nerds from Chapel Hill. They have been a band since 1996, according to the bio on their website, which means that this is not exactly the most prolific of bands. Quality over quantity seems to be their motto, and that is something i really appreciate.
This record was recorded by Brian Paulson, a NC engineer whose work with Superchunk has been well enjoyed at EvilSponge HQ. (Paulson recorded Foolish for Superchunk, an album you definitely need to hear if you have not yet heard it.) Paulson has a light touch, recording bands in a very raw and open fashion. This means that there is no excessive layering, and each instrument stands on its own. This recording style is also unforgiving, in that if an artist doesn't really know how to play their instrument, the listener will be able to tell. Fortunately for us, the three members of Fin Fang Foom really do know how to play.
The record starts out with Magnetic North, which moves at a fast pace, driven by drummer Mike Glass. Over this, guitarist Michael Triplett plays an old-fashioned punk guitar -- all trebly distortion and soaring fast notes. Vocalist Eddie Sanchez growls his lyrics, while also adding a bass riff and some keyboard accents. This is a great tune, and Fin Fang Foom follow the same general formula for Regret, which comes after it.
They mix things up a bit on Lonely Waves, which starts with some sort of shaken percussion, slow guitar arpeggios, and a nice mournful violin line courtesy of Brendan Rice. Sanchez comes in with a really deep, plucked bass riff, and Triplett steps up the guitar distortion on the arpeggios. Sanchez's vocals here are mournful, with Heather McIntyre singing backing harmony. This song moves at a melancholy pace, but is all the more beautiful for it, as the violin complements the guitar work wonderfully.
Deathless is next, another tune of guitar arpeggios (here sounding like something Peter Koppes would have done on a mid-1990s Church record), and Sanchez plays a really fast bass riff. One of the things that i like about this record is that you can hear the bass parts a little bit more clearly than you can on most records. This is the magic of Paulson's recording. Even though this song features a great bass riff, it is Triplett that really shines, his guitar doing a Koppes-like arpeggio on the verses, and then switching into a chiming roar on the chorus. The song also features a nice extended middle, where Sanchez and Glass play a steady, throbbing rhythm, while Triplett takes his guitar into deep space. Very nice.
Exploding Coast is an ominous song with an ominous name. The drumming is a scattered deep thudding, and Sanchez keeps up a fast rumbling bass line, while Triplett grinds away at his guitar. It becomes a real head-banger, the whole band pounding at their instruments in an intense beat.
The title track is an entirely different thing. It starts with Sanchez showing us that he can, in fact , really play the piano, while Triplett keeps up a steady guitar rhythm. After a short intro, Sanchez steps back from the piano, and tinkles away at a vibraphone. Personally i can never get enough of that instrument, so this is really welcome. After two minutes or so, Sanchez moves to the bass, and Monomyth gets head-bang-y, Triplett crunching away at power chords while Glass really pounds his kit.
Beating the War Drum starts off similarly to Deathless, here Triplett channeling Peter Koppes so much i half expect the song to morph into Hotel Womb! It doesn't, but instead is one of Fin Fang Foom's slower, sparser songs. Glass keeps the beat with a scattering of drums and a nice sleigh bell, and then the song becomes heavy metal on the chorus, with power chords and Sanchez's voice deep and echoed. I like the contrast here between the lighter parts and the really heavy riffing.
Nome, Alaska is a song that reminds me very much of Regret from earlier in the record. While not a bad tune, it does not stand out as much as the rest of the songs. Of course, it is often tunes like that that end up resonating with my subconscious after many repeated listens, so who knows...
Finally we wrap things up with The Great Race of Mercy, where Sanchez plays a nice tinkling keyboard riff. Triplett pairs this with one of his best guitar riffs, a really soaring line that ebbs and flows quite nicely. This song is purely instrumental, and ends the record on a nice, uplifting note.
I am very pleased with this release. Monomyth is a moody record that really rocks hard at times. Fin Fang Foom move between post-punk and chugging metalish hardcore effortlessly. If you like hard rock, then this is an excellent record to pick up.