Monuments is a band that defies description. Their technical virtuosity alone warrants your unending respect and admiration. But add to that the fact that they pioneered the progressive metal movement (if you insist on a label) and that they are properly aggressive, then it becomes easy to see why so many true metal fans worship these ninjas.
We chatted to founding member and all-round guitar god John Browne about metal, football and alien spaceships in South Africa.
UP: There is something beautiful about your balance of aggression with melody – is it a conscious decision to craft such elegant compositions?
JB: Yes and no. I just write what’s currently rattling round up there. It depends on my mood. I’ve been writing a lot of anger lately. It’s about finding a sequence of 3-4 notes in the right rhythmic pulse and you can get yourself a great part, less is sometimes more. I personally find that I can write sequences better when I’ve got something on my mind bothering me, or I’ve been through some sort of emotional trauma.
UP: “Progressive metal” seems to be a label thrown at you guys. Do you think it fits?
JB: I think 10 years ago it could be labelled that, but it’s gotten to a point where everyone has tried to copy this style (much like every other genre). I think with our riffs being as complex as they are, I find myself writing to pop-style song structures for a good reason. It can turn songs into a riff salad and make your music get too out there without thinking about an easy structure. It’s a question of whether you want to try and alienate your fan base or try and catch them. We’re already in a niche genre style, so I try to give non-musicians a platform to understand what’s going on.
UP: From Protest the Hero to Animals as Leaders, there seems to be a genuine interest in instrumentation again. Do you have classical training, or are you just naturally talented?
JB: I used to know to know theory quite well. But I tuned my guitar in a different way and found that I used my ears more than someone like Bach telling me I need to use IIb-V-I as that’s the standard.
Hans Zimmer has no training of any kind, and he writes some insanely complex music. I think if you have a good ear for it then your ideas are more your own identity vs learning what music is through other people’s experiences. Obviously it works differently for everyone.
UP: Metal seems to be in a golden age of reinvention. Who stands out as an act you guys are impressed by?
JB: I honestly haven’t listened to much metal lately, but was really impressed by Protest the Hero when I was touring with them, I haven’t listened to them since Kezia/Fortress so it was great they could play it all live flawlessly.
UP: The UK is football obsessed – do you share that interest?
JB: I used to, but I think with anything it’s been exploited to the point where it’s lost its original magic. I still watch the world cup and the bigger international competitions as I still believe the soul is there in it. There’s still some great players around (Messi is fucking incredible) but I think the lower league divisions have more of the magic as they haven’t been corrupted by the financial aspect, much like music in that sense.
UP: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard about South Africa?
JB: I’ve heard there’s a big fuck off alien ship residing over Joburg.
UP: Bands tend to form serious friendships on tour – are you part of any band bromances?
JB: No we all hate each other kinda like married couples. Although we have had bonding experiences, usually fighting each other when we’re drunk! Adam Swan cried on my shoulder once.
UP: What’s the worst lyric you’ve ever heard?
JB: There was this one hardcore band I can’t remember their name, but they had this one lyric ‘I will never bow down to peer pressure’ in a break before a really shit breakdown. I still can’t get over it 10 years later.
UP: Finally, drinks are on us – what’s it going to be?
JB: Laphroiag or a peat style whiskey with no ice, or a good bourbon and coke!
Witness the wizardry in person when Monuments come to South African shores for Krank’d Up next year!
Find more information about the event here: facebook.com