Mavericks. Iconoclasts. A band that does things their own way. In a career spanning nearly a decade, Monsterbot have been called a lot of things. Some have praised them. Some have given them mixed reviews. Some have been less kind. The problem here isn’t so much that these musicians don’t know what to do with their instruments. They do. It’s just that their style, their sound…hell…their SHOES haven’t always been embraced by the fairly straightforward Rock crowd. It’s not as if they haven’t attempted to write “accessible” songs, kowtowing to what the public are more accustomed to hearing. One would either be a fool or a liar if he claimed he didn’t want SOME type of accolade for all of his hard work. The truth, in their own words, is that “it didn’t feel right in the end.” And why would it? Why should they join the ranks of the never-ending Pop tarts who think of Music as a popularity contest? Isn’t Rock SUPPOSED to be an “alternative” to the “popular?” Speaking about Monsterbot, a friend (and fellow musician) of theirs remarked: “You either love them or you hate them.” Fair enough. But that has NOTHING to do with acknowledging the group’s single-mindedness. If anything, you gotta respect that kind of dedication.
The road to Indie stardom hasn’t always been smooth. In 1997, five childhood friends decided to partake in that time-honored rite of passage: forming a garage band. For some reason, one of them not-so-cleverly christened the group “Female Body Explosion.” This wouldn’t have been a problem were it not for three things. Number one? The name connoted a sensual, libidinous girl-group who had NO qualms about playing in dingy Rock clubs. Number two? Rock clubs are INFESTED by sweaty, drunken, horny young men dripping with unrepressed sexual desire. And number three? Not a single one of those five friends happened to be a woman. A baptism of fire, to be sure. Making matters worse, booking agents had no clue how to categorize this new band…a trend that (arguably) continues to this day. Indeed, their very first performance was playing dead last after half a dozen Death Metal acts had concluded their conniptions. A fairly inauspicious beginning considering the five friends had proudly invited their respective sets of parents to attend. Needless to say, not one of those shell-shocked adults has been to a gig since.
After that comedy of errors, the boys renamed themselves “Monsterbot.” This new moniker, oddly enough, ALSO seemed to tempt fate with its disastrous implications. For those of you less geeky, a “Monsterbot” is a toy that “never quite made it” into the popular “Transformers” cartoon show of the 80s. The superstitious among us might shake our heads at this. Had the group inadvertently cursed itself to the same sort of mediocrity? Would THEY, by defying the stars, “never quite make it” within the Pinoy “band” scene? Time has proven that this wasn’t the case. Monsterbot’s first recorded offering made its way into NU107’s “In The Raw” compilation in 2000. Two years later, their debut album “Destroy! Destroy!” appeared in finer record boutiques across the metropolis. 2004’s “Epekto” E.P./Single was but a precursor to a flurry of activity. In 2005, they contributed songs to the “Full Volume” and “Shiny Silver Jeepney” compilations. This, amazingly, ran concurrent with their triumphant return to full-length releases, “Rhomboids.” Through it all, Monsterbot have partied hard, gigged steadily and even turned a few of us on to their complex brand of Music. These guys put the “cult” in “cult heroes.”
So why is it that they have yet to tap into the financially lucrative mainstream market? A possible theory revolves around the creation of Monsterbot’s distinct sound. Unapologetic Music fans, they will reference anything from the gut-wrenching Helmet to the perpetually ponderous Radiohead. Other favorites include “Bleach”-era Nirvana, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Fugazi, System of A Down and even The Beastie Boys. Personally, I heard a little bit of Suicidal Tendencies (the first album) in the mix. But don’t get me wrong. The aforementioned bands are but blobs of paint on the palette Monsterbot uses to compose their unmistakable imagery. You will KNOW it is ALL them from the moment you hit that “play” button.” Originality isn’t an issue. The question is whether combining all of these colors results in some type of sonic sludge. The first time you hear it? Maybe. But I like to think that this group is an acquired taste.
These songs may not be everyone’s cup of tea…and yet there is something imprinted in the Musical DNA of every tune that DEMANDS further perusal. If you listen long enough, there is a certain logic that emerges. The “noise” begins to make sense. You start to appreciate the different elements weaving in and out of each other. Karl Claudio’s Metal-esque bass lines liaise with Ryan Magsumbol’s funky drum beats. Synth player Carlo Navarro’s droning cycle of Nintendo-like beeps, whines and twitters spiral around Diego Mapa and Glenn San Agustin’s brittle guitar riffs. The vocal interplay between Mapa and San Agustin is an electrifying tangle of laconic singing, hardcore screaming and B-Boy rapping. Hip-hop sensibility executed with a Pop-Punk urgency. A punch in the nose. A kick in the teeth. And oh-so addicting. Once you get the hang of it.
No. Monsterbot is DEFINITELY not for everyone. Then again…what is? The thing we forget about Contemporary Music is that the market is such a vast sphere of endless little variations. There is enough room for everyone to carve out their own niche. If everything sounded the same, then what would be the point? A better gauge of a band’s worth, perhaps, would be this: how much do they believe in what they are doing? Who are they playing for? Just HOW sincere ARE they? If you listen…and I mean REALLY listen…to Monsterbot’s body of work, you will see a very clear line running through every single song. However much they improve with each passing year (and they do!), they never stray too far from the initial matrix. They are consistent. There is a logical progression to it all. An undeniable spark. An all-encompassing idea. WITHOUT reverting to some lazy formula, these five friends have managed to build upon that same idea which brought them together in the first place. Critics be damned, this is a VERY good thing. Because it proves that this band has always had something to say. Because, eventually, the right people will get the message. And because it means that there are still some artists out there who love their work enough never to compromise its integrity. For anyone. Music doesn’t always have to be easy. It just has to be honest. Robert Frost once wrote: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”