Friday, December 23, 2011

Monolith - Monolith (2010)

It's a sad thing when talent goes under the radar due to lack of exposure or an over-crowded art scene.  All too often, talented musicians go unnoticed because the ones that hog the limelight, though often talented themselves, are taking up too much of the public consciousness.  It's not the popular artist's fault most of the time, because that's just how things work out based on promotion, and being in the right place at the right time.  At least in current times, with the advent of the Internet for self-promotion and distribution, it's possible to overcome that in small measures.  I'm hopeful that Monolith seizes the opportunity to do so, because there's a definite talent at work here.

Monolith is a 3-piece band based out of Ontario, Canada.  They play a highly melodic, symphonic style of extreme metal.  While this kind of thing isn't new by any means, the way the band executes their particular brand of symphonic extreme metal is interesting and highly listenable.  Some bands of this style get bogged down in overblown arrangements, lack of songwriting ability, or too heavy a slant in one direction or another (in terms of how they balance the elements of their style).  Monolith suffers from none of these shortcomings, and their debut shows they not only have great command of the style, but the songwriting is quite adept, showing maturity in melodic sensibility, arrangement, and balancing the heaviness required for this style with the catchiness one might expect from a band far less heavy in sound.  The 12 tracks contained herein represent a very strong debut album that puts the band in a very good spot to get their name out there among the bigger names in the industry.

At its core, the Monolith sound is constructed of melodic death metal, but it's really so much more than that.  Indeed, there are times here when their sound barely meets the requirements of said style, while other times they embrace those aesthetics and capture that sound more completely.  The symphonic elements put the band above and beyond many in the "melodeath" camp by giving such a layered feel to the material that many melodic death metal bands simply can't match in terms of sheer melodicism and "fullness" of the sound.  The bands use of dynamics is also strong here, knowing when to fully pummel the listener with heaviness and aural intensity, and when to pull back to sparser riffs and arrangements to let the songs "breathe" a bit, giving the listener a more varied experience.  This maturity in songwriting is at once surprising and refreshing, given the short list of recognizable bands these guys have been in.

Guitar work here by Colin Parrish is excellent, with chunky riffing, melodic solo work, dual-guitar leads sprinkled throughout, and plenty of catchy melodic lines.  While Colin isn't the finest guitarist in the scene, he does a good job of showcasing his talent for melodicism and his knack for driving riffs that help propel the songs forward.  Drumming by Colin Nafziger is quite good, with mostly sub-blastbeat drumming and some interesting fills and things going on here and there.  Double-bass work isn't flashy, but is appropriate for the songs, and his sense of implementing drum fills and rhythms that fit into the songs is on display here.  Bass by Mike Gallant is also strong, with a bit more presence in the mix besides just being backbeat.  Bass guitar isn't as instantly audible as in some less "dense" metal, but he does a good job of providing the necessary "weight" underneath the guitar, and complementing the songs while not showboating.  Colinl Parrish also provides all the keyboard work and symphonic elements.  These bits contrast each other nicely by having very overt, obvious keyboard sounds alongside synthesized-yet-realistic symphonic elements.  This contrast works well most of the time and provides an interesting element more bands should consider exploring.  Vocal work is two-fold here: bassist Mike Gallant provides all the "harsh" vocals, while guitarist Colin Parrish provides the cleanly sung melodic vocals.  Unlike Christian Älvestam (Miseration, ex-Scar Symmetry), Colin's clean vocals aren't the passion-filled wails one might expect, but are a carefully honed "effected" vocal that employs an interesting "tunnel" effect while smoothing out the sound.  It's not an autotune vocal sound, but it does have a very mechanical feel to it.  Colin also double-tracks the clean vocals at time to great effect.  Nothing I say can accurately describe the music, however.  I'd recommend listening to samples via the band's Myspace page to truly get an idea of what they're doing.

The only real knocks I have about the album are that Colin's clean vocals can get a touch monotonous, even though his highly stylized approach works well for the music.  Also, the drums have plenty of power behind them, but they sound 100% triggered.  Nothing wrong with that per se, but I would love to hear what Mr. Nafziger could do with a totally acoustic kit in the studio and what that might produce.  I'd also like to hear Parrish flex his guitar muscle a bit more and increase the complexity of his solos a touch and do more of that in general, though not to the point where it interrupts the tasteful flow of the songs.  I think the band strikes a good balance between metal aggression and melodic flair, and I think given more time, their catchy songwriting could develop even further to make an album that will do more than fly under the radar like this excellent CD has.

Some may be unaware of the rough road this album has had getting out into the music world.  The band had recorded this material in 2009 and I actually had an advance digital copy to use for my radio show, and I interviewed Colin Parrish at that time to get the skinny on the band.  At that time they were freshly signed w/ Bombworks Records and working toward a CD release.  Unfortunately that deal fell through and it never materialized, so the band released the CD independently.  I applaud them for their determination to do so, because the album not only sounds fantastic (excellent production!), but the complete CD package is also nice with easy to read lyrics and a nice booklet.  If you're not a digital-only person and you like having the physical product in hand like I do, this is one to have to show the quality of what an indie release can be.  All in all, this is a high quality metal release that should please fans of melodic death metal, metalcore, possibly deathcore fans (those of more melodic persuasion), and "extreme metal" fans in general should get a kick out of this.  Highly recommended.


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