Patience pays off. Monsta X is a group I’ve wanted to love for a long time. I watched their debut survival series. I’ve seen them live (twice, now). Their music has gotten better with each album, though never quite to point where I found myself totally captured. But with Fighter, they’ve broadened their sound and created something that hit me right away. Is it a little cheesy? Yes. Is a little cheese here and there kind of awesome? YES!
Not since B.A.P’s Power have we heard a k-pop group indulge in the 80’s stadium rock sound with such bombastic glee. Fighter bursts out of the gate with an impressive meld of symphonics and crunchy guitar. The orchestral work here is really something, imbuing the track with a dramatic, near-operatic action movie motif. There is no subtlety, especially in the breathless, go-for-broke prechorus that does an incredible job of both pulling back and hyping up before the hook hits. The chorus itself is a big slab of sing-along, pump-you-up, Eye of the Tiger cheese. This could have easily come off as cheap and tacky if the instrumentation hadn’t been so commanding.
Fighter is also the most melodic Monsta X have ever sounded — at least on a title track. It is such a different sound for them, which may disappoint some fans. For me, it’s like a total awakening. For the past few years, k-pop has been lacking this distinct too-much-is-never-enough attitude when it comes to production. I’m shocked that it returns under the care of Monsta X, since I’ve always pegged them as having a trendier bad-boy image. I’d be even more shocked if they stuck with this genre for future releases, but for now Fighter is one of the year’s best surprises.