8th July 2016 – Debemur Morti Productions
03. The Barren Depths
On Zeta Reticuli, the second part of a double release, Parisian seven-piece Monolithe are poised to become a commanding presence in Eurpoean doom. Three fifteen-minute songs can sound a little daunting to the uninitiated; on this release they’ve hopped into a few different influences and experiments. However, throughout the record it’s obvious they’ve created something approachable without sacrificing their elaborate ambitions.
Odd album layouts are par for the course with modern doom. It’s not at all unusual for bands to release albums consisting of several seven, eight or ten-minute songs with twenty minutes to conclude, or shorter songs with some super-long tracks littered around. Less usual is this format: three tracks, all at around fifteen each.
Generally, this allows songs time to breathe and the uniformity means they sound coherent taken as a whole album. “Ecumenopolis” opens with an ominous, rather sparse instrumental section and then builds to throaty guitars and keyboard swells – a theme that’s repeated throughout the record. There’s quite a lot to unpick; though the goth-doom elements are obvious, there are some melodeath elements to the leads and vocals that complement the mix.
Later on, second track “TMA-1“ starts a little more aggressively, still showcasing the keyboard swells but trailing off into an almost dark ambient section later in the track. By contrast the third of the mammoth songs features prominent clean vocals and sounds disarmingly poppy. Listening to the album feels a little bit like hunting for goth-adjacent subgenres, none of which quite settle on being as terrifying as they could as they’re masked by the clean production values. However it’s not a bad mix at all; sections flow neatly and fluidly.
The compositions sprawl and though they are often fairly pacey, they don’t often maintain that, or the pacier sections are in an odd time signature to the standard track (see “Ecumenopolis“). The songs don’t have much of an obvious focus, which is a little unusual for a band whose production would lean towards cleaner, more streamlined songs., but for sprawling doom epics it’s refreshingly light on the ears whilst being – well, rather heavy. Zeta Reticuli sounds great and though it doesn’t commit to any particular hooks or similar focuses, it doesn’t seem to be too upset about missing out. Where the album does have a clear focus – namely in the final third – it’s a lot less dense and lugubrious. Zeta Reticuli is an album more focussed as much on how it sounds than how it’s written, a philosophy that seems to work well.
Monolithe have an easy doom style to like – warm and well-produced – so the extended length doesn’t feel like a slog. They compare favourably to My Dying Bride‘s vision of melancholy doom but less bleak. In contrast to a lot of the current scene, they’re not at all abrasive and don’t seem to gel with most of the material that’s comfortably labelled “experimental.” This would also sit well with other post-metal bands like Sólstafir or and will strike a chord with goth-doom fans; I was faintly reminded of Fields Of The Nephilim.
The genre-hopping and non-standard album layout is a slim risk but well-calculated, and the Parisians have succeeded here. In the context of a lot of abrasive doom that doesn’t worry too much about songwriting, Monolithe they’ve made a very listenable, detailed album which joins an ever-growing catalogue of strong releases.