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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