without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
I love funeral doom, I love it not in spite of, but because of all the tropes that define it. The low riff counts mean great riffs are given an acceptable period of time to be appreciated, the limited range of moods and ideas keeps the behemoth tracks feeling like individual works despite the monstrous durations, and nondescript walls of guitar distortion are pretty much the perfect background to any activity. Sure, when bands have terrible riffs and bad guitar tones this does become painful, but this is true of any genre; Funeral doom is slow, limited, and repetitive, and that's the way it has to be to be as effective as it can be at its best, and all the Intaglio's and Profetus' in the world won't change that.
Monolithe don't seem to agree with me.
And they're right. They're so fucking right. Every word I said was wrong. Death/doom, funeral doom, whatever this is, this is what doom should be striving for. None of this "enveloping atmosphere" and "careful mood building" nonsense, just throw riffs and pianos and synths and tempo changes and leads at us like an experimental thrash band with broken limbs, feel free to do it slowly, but do it, throw everything you can think of at us. To demonstrate just how insanely riff and change heavy this is, I counted every time a riff or synth lick changed, if the music changed styles, from say, metal to a piano piece, or every time a lead or vocal was added within the first five minutes of the mammoth track, anybody willing to hazard a guess as to how many of changes a funeral doom band could plausibly fit into a 5 minute period. 10? That's not bad, for doom. 15? That's getting a bit extravagent, right? That's one every twenty seconds, plenty of fast genres don't match that. Try fucking 21. Over 50 minutes that's a pretty damned impressive 210 changes, Dark Angel wouldn't scoff at that. Hell, there's an ambient section in that, the five minutes after the first ambient break probably has more, and it keeps this up until the 35 minute mark. While admittedly these aren't wankdeath figures or anything, for doom, particularly a branch of extreme doom, this is insane. There is simply nothing else out there which throws this many riffs, style changes and ideas at you in this period of time in this realm of metal.
Certainly Monolithe were never particularly by the books for funeral doom, they had out there ideas like the occasional accordion, openly accessible hook or genuinely lively melody to breathe light and glory to give the music a sense of creation, which is the the theme of the band, but at the core of it you had a 60-90bpm crawl with long chords, and all the leads were extended notes with interesting bends distorting them, and while they did get into less well formed jam sessions where they got the riff count up, there was still the accepted level of repetition for the majority of their works. It was unique, but still more or less within the accepted confines of the genre with quite a lot of flair to it, but this time around they've pretty much thrown all the books out the window; in fact, if I was to be completely honest, it probably doesn't count as funeral doom in the strictest sense. Most of the riffs have a pretty midpaced tempo to them, with only a few really hitting real funeral tempos in the first two thirds of the album, such as the one which introduces the vocals at the end of the eighth minute, and the lead melodies are largely quite colourful and guide the song rather than the usual thundering chord background the band had formerly used, and as previously mentioned, it moves between its riffs and hooks at an alarming rate with little contemplation, so overall this is mostly feels like a reasonably slow kind of death/doom with an extra helping of guitar wall from time to time. But genre semantics aside, the album excels regardless of how you want to tag it.
What's most attractive about the kitchen sink approach here is how playful it all sounds, despite being a 52 minute monol-... monster of a track devoted to discussing the origins of mankind in one of music's most traditionally serious styles. The band is patient in working through motifs and hooks, typically taking their ideas in individual chunks where they'll work on one concept for three or four minutes, more or less treating each riff to a similar set of loose adaptations and manipulations. Most riffs will be introduced, then be treated to the band working their way through a few bastardizations of them; most riffs will have a rhythm version, an accompanying lead melody, a lead version, a synth version, and some kind of atmospheric keyboard melody to go along with it, and the band typically works through as many different combinations of these versions as it can jam into each riff's three minutes in the spotlight.
For instance, the riff set during the 8th minute has a couple of actual riffs, a pair of lead melodies, one simplistic, and one more soaring and epic, which also gets treated to a sci-fi inspired synth treatment with a couple of different tones, a vocal section, and even a few more doomed out chords, and it explores each of these things more than once. It's done with all these variations and ideas before the 12 minute mark, the passage then moves on seamlessly to another segment borrowing the general feel and mood of one of those leads, but never genuinely copies it, and it's incredible. These segments can run into one another like that one, or be separated by atmospheric passages of orchestration, crawling funeral doom or ambiance, and as a result it adds up very quickly into a playful journey over the course of the album, particularly when added to the band's penchant for having quite a minimal number of vocal passages to tell the doom jam to get a move on with it.
The end result from this loose form of songwriting and constant, rolling progression is that each segment feels quite contained to itself, yet still allows elements of familiarity to arise, if only in hearing similar motifs and tones from the same sets of variation being used every time. By doing this at no point does the song feel like a totally disjointed mash up of riffs like many songs pushing the hour length can be, and the familiarity of the recurring adaptation ideas to each riff segment keeps the album from feeling like a set of 10 songs mashed together into one. The whole product is put together loosely, yet still feels like an individual work.
Things do quieten down towards the end, somewhat mirroring Monolithe I in getting it's most experimental and futuristic parts out of the way around the half hour mark and settling in for a more atmospheric final movement, in this case it's around 35 minutes in when the genuine funeral doom takes it's opportunity to become the main focus, delivering two lengthy passages of crawling, weighty doom interjected with a final burst of busier doom jamming in the early 40 minute area. The funeral doom itself is still excellent, adapting many of the unique tones and livelier moods from earlier works for use in this context, certainly less invigorating than the first 35 minutes, but delivering some mood to go with the slowest riff salad of all time,
And for all this cleverness and uniqueness, the sheer brilliance of some of the parts are really what leave the most positive impression beyond the shocking twist of extreme doom layout and writing policies. While I could discuss many of the riffs on offer, from the swaggering jolt of the sliding riff in the 27th minute to the delightfully unexpected palm muted run at 22:25, the riff at 16:50 is one of the finest doom riffs I've heard in the last few years and the one I really feel the need to praise in full. It packs a massive amount of weight to go along with a churning groove, and it and it's many adaptations, whether the muted walk from 17:30, or the gloriously demented bends added into it's final note at 18:20, or the epic harmonized version at 19:40 all blow me away entirely with a perfect mix of unique novelty and pure sonic pleasure. The band nails a lot of brilliant riffs here, and while it pains me to not discuss them all in depth, to discuss them all would take longer than the album takes to play.
Funeral or not, this is something completely new for doom, extreme or trad, heavy or gothic, whatever lights your doom fire, this is a kick up the arse for anyone who thinks doom is stagnant and tedious by design. Even if it didn't have the fantastic sound, the brilliant riffs, the glorious melodic sense or the unique concept and mood that come with the Monolithe moniker this would still be a stunningly worthwhile effort, if only for the reckless approach to writing that has been put together so well here, but luckily, all that stuff is here to make Monolithe III one of the most truly outstanding albums of the decade in any genre, and something to really open up the eyes of a crotchety and cynical doom bastard like myself.
French monstrosity Monolithe has built quite a solid following over the past few years. “Monolithe III” is the third full length by the band and continues their retelling of the origins of man, through the vehicle that is metal. Each full length by Monolithe has been over the fifty minute mark and, incredibly enough, has consisted of one track per album. Yes, you read that correctly: third time, one song, fifty minutes plus. Monolithe is one of those bands that gets put into a sub-genre without truly fitting in. While Monolithe does play slow, plodding music at incredibly long lengths, they don't fit into the dirge-laden, depressing, dungeon delving of funeral doom acts.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say something many will find preposterous: Monolithe is like the Phish version of metal. I'll repeat it so it sinks in: Monolithe is doom metal's version of a jam band. If you're thinking that I'm saying this because Monolithe are a bunch of hippies wanking on their instruments, that's not the case. The incredible thing about a jam band is how each member and instrument thrives in a group setting, how everything comes together to form an amazingly coherent listening experience while pushing the boundaries of song length. “Monolithe III” is kind of like that. Every instrument feeds off of everything else, merging together to form a solid piece of metal, a “monolith,” if you will (scoff if you will, but it's true). Every so often, an instrument leaps to the forefront and screams, “Listen to me!” and then slowly fades back in with the rest of the band.
The music presented is slow, plodding and very brooding, yet somehow remains positive. The guitar riffs, while not as slow as Evoken, stay slower than most for the majority of the album, but avoid getting caught up in the whole slow for the sake of being slow movement. Amazingly enough, the guitar lines keep from getting stale and enough differing tempos and riffs are offered to keep it interesting. Monolithe aren't afraid to break away from the slower style, as is presented around the twenty-two minute mark, where you can feel the music becoming bolder and heavier. Then a chugging, fast paced palm muted riff breaks in and bashes the trance inducing slowness apart. The band then jumps straight into a chunky, groove laden riff that is guaranteed to get any head banging. Breaks such as this breathe fresh life into a band that starts to hovering on the verge of stagnation every few minutes. If nothing else, it shows that the band knows when to change it up to keep the listener tuned in.
Rather than focusing on the depths of depression, Monolithe's music seems to be very inspired and uplifting. Melodic moments are interspersed throughout, with spacy keyboards floating throughout and airy lead work floating in and out, acting as metaphorical rays of hope and light. The music always goes back to a crushingly heavy riff and plodding drums, but you can feel a sense of hope, a sense that things are right in Monolithe's universe. Toying around with different tempos (slow, slower and moderate), at one point the drums start rollicking, building into one of the catchiest beats I've ever heard. Proggish leads stick around as the drums slow down and a wall of crushing sound is dropped, venturing right back into an extremely heavy, slow as molasses style. They even manage to weave some classical instrumentation and classy string work, without coming across as too cliché. Somehow all of the ideas form together to make a coherent, listenable piece of music: it just happens to be fifty-two minutes, though.
Monolithe's music is, for the most part, a crushingly heavy wall of sound. The bass lines are thick and resonant, the drums are played hard as hell, the keyboards keep a constant barrage of noise and orchestrations to the rear, and all the while the thick, deep guitar lines blast away. There are vocals here, but they are sporadic, and are of a very deep, unintelligible death growl when used. It's probably best that they aren't used too often, because it keeps the focus on the instrumentation and the band's ability to play off of each other in the front.
While Monolithe might not be the slowest “funeral doom” act ever or the heaviest, most crushing band on earth, they are excellent at what they do. “Monolithe III” is a fifty-two minute joyride through different emotions, tempos and instrumental breaks. The band's ability to play off of each other and keep a single song interesting for that long should be worth the price of admission on it's own. Monolithe's ability to break free from the accepted mold of funeral doom is their biggest asset. If you have a decent attention span, then you should check this out, whether or not you're a fan of funeral doom. The overall length of this song/album is probably a turn off to some, but I suggest you give it a chance.
Written for The Metal Observer