Doom, Dirge, and Denver: The Munsens Unleash Themselves and Go “Unhanded"
As with the temporal landscape of any artform, metal’s topography is speckled with breakout groups that erupt from beneath the surface like volcanic islands, suddenly gaining marked prominence over the surrounding terrain. Sometimes these groups maintain outstanding consistency and provide the world with compelling new music year after year; all too often, though, the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and we witness even the most stellar acts lapse into generic irrelevance or implode altogether.
Unlike most art forms, however, metal presents its acolytes with the rare opportunity to manufacture success from the ground up, to be included and recognized on a smaller scale thanks to the inexhaustible scrutiny and encyclopedic knowledge of fans. Many groups have been known to spend decades with their nose to the proverbial grindstone before gaining widespread fame, seeing their earlier material lauded long after its initial creation. Within this latter category, only a small handful of bands display the level of humility, professionalism, and dedication that I have witnessed in Denver-based doom outfit The Munsens.
Originally founded by brothers Mike and Shaun Goodwin in their hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey, the group evolved organically from casual, routine basement jam sessions to a full-fledged, nationally touring stoner-doom band. Since moving to Denver in 2009, The Munsens have independently released three EPs, appeared at several festivals across the western United States, and ultimately dug out their own niche within the bedrock of the now flourishing Colorado metal scene. Although their rise has been far from meteoric, the brothers have solidified an ironclad reputation thanks to their unmatched sense of hard work and commitment plus their deep involvement within the metal scene; aside from their roles as musicians, Mike works as an avid live photographer and Shaun is the main organizer of Denver’s premiere stoner/sludge/doom metal gathering, Electric Funeral Fest.
And despite a period of nebulousness and disconnection between the band’s members from 2012 to 2015 (original guitarist Jon Surmonte remained in New Jersey while the brothers had permanently moved to Denver), the group remained active and eventually revitalized themselves in 2016 with a stark lineup change: Shaun – who had previously played drums for the group – replaced Jon on guitar, and a new drummer by the name of Graham Wesselhoff joined forces with the Goodwins. Now in 2019, with almost three years of shared experience jamming and touring together with one geographically cohesive lineup, The Munsens have fully realized a world of new musical ideas with their debut full-length Unhanded — stream the full album below prior to its Friday release.
On Unhanded, The Munsens have injected their rowdy yet deliberately leaden grooves with a mind-bending dose of experimentation, branching outward into suggestions of black metal, funeral doom, and even crust punk. For the first time in their discography, they have crafted a singular work that sprawls consummately across an electric range of genres, fully exploring concepts only hinted at on their previous material. Each track represents a decidedly unique journey down an untrodden path, with the band venturing out into remote spaces yet retaining a healthy sense of continuity throughout the whole of the album.
Seeking to gain further insight into the band’s long and winding saga of progress, I set up a meeting with the Goodwin brothers at Tooey’s Off Colfax, one of Denver’s staple heavy metal dive bars and an ideal locale in which to steep in the sardonic vibes of underground music. Although the brothers and I convened in the middle of the afternoon, the interior of Tooey’s Off Colfax was shadowy and crepuscular, its atmosphere defined by an uncanny juxtaposition between rugged décor and sleek, flowery 1980s new-wave pouring out from the bar’s stereo.
With PBRs in hand, we headed to a booth in the very back corner of the room to sit and discuss The Munsens’ origins, musical development, and most importantly, the full creative process — from conception to post-production — behind the group’s breakout record.
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