Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monolith - Voyager (2013)

For bands, artistic growth can often be like walking a tightrope.  If you have developed a distinctive soundscape or style, modifying that sound too much can often mean alienating fans.  Not modifying it enough means stagnating artistically, or sounding as though you're trying to replicate a successful formula, usually with diminishing returns.  The most balanced approach is to develop nuances and variations within the style to expand its range, while keeping the core of the style present so as to retain a commonality from album to album.  This common thread serves as a link between releases, while allowing the artist to continue to develop and grow, and for the overall sound to change in some fashion from one record to the next.  Monolith has the dubious position of following up their excellent debut, but are they up to the task?  I'd say emphatically yes!  There are elements of the band's sound that seem to have changed to meet the requirements of the new material, but the core of what makes Monolith what they are is still present.  The band still plays a tight combination of symphonically informed melodic death metal, metalcore and "extreme metal", combining a growled vocal and melodic/sung vocal approach, they still have a chunky guitar sound with catchy riffs, and still have the songwriting chops to pull it off.

The biggest change on display here is in the cleanly sung vocals. No longer are they handled by guitarist and songwriter Colin Parrish - now all vocals are handled exclusively by vocalist Mike Gallant.  Gone are the highly processed clean vocals, and in its place are a similar vocal approach that at first, doesn't sound that much different than what Colin brought to the table, but with more range and emotion present due to the vocals not being so "effected" in nature.  Also noticeable is that there is a bit less emphasis on the split between the symphonic elements, and those that are overtly "keyboard sounding".  The other thing I noted relatively quickly was that the level of aggression in the riffing and sound seemed a bit subdued as compared with the debut, in part because the songwriting here is slightly more varied in some aspects, using more build-up and melodic intro passages, or because the riffs aren't quite as staccato as those on the debut.  As I said, however, it's still quite recognizable as Monolith, for anyone who is familiar with the debut.

Colin Parrish's guitar still crunches nicely here as it did on the debut, with a good combination of heaviness and clarity.  The guitar sound is a touch less dense this time around, but the underlying bass provides enough weight to compensate.  Colin employs more solo work this time around, so I'm guessing the change in tone was necessary for a bit of clarity's sake.  Speaking of solo work, I'm glad to see Colin branching out in this direction more, as I highlighted that as something I'd like more when I wrote the review for their debut.  I also like that he does more than just a few short bits here and there, but he cuts loose a time or two and it comes off well.  Bass by Mike Gallant is quality, with a nice combination of thumping and galloping, providing both the necessary extra emphasis to the music, but doing enough to not just sound like a piece of the backdrop.  Colin Nafziger once again brings tasteful drumming to the table, employing double-bass when it makes sense, and going for a more groove-oriented or mid-paced take when the song calls for it.  There are some nice flourishes here and there that aren't flashy or too overt, but just little cymbal bits, fills or transitions that are just nice.

Vocally, Mike is in good form.  His growls continue to be powerful, yet understandable, with that mid-range tonality that works well with their sound.  Mike's clean vocals are an interesting counterpoint to the growled vocals, and often come off understated and muted compared to the growls.  I also like the group-shouted vocals in "Endurance", as I think they accent the song appropriately.  Lyrically, the band is a bit more obtuse this time around, using somewhat less obvious themes of Christianity, and mixing in some mythology and history, as well as songs that have faith at the core, but where the lyrics take a more subtle approach.  I like the slightly more personal approach, and I applaud the band for stepping out of the obvious topics and into some interesting lyrical material.  The way the lyrics are written versus the phrasing that Mike uses at times is also used to interesting effect, as things aren't always sung (or growled) the way you'd expect them to be when reading them off the page, so that makes for a nice change.  I also like the whispered vocal during one brief spot in "Desolation", which is a nice touch.

The thing about the debut that I miss is that it was a bit heavier overall, but honestly, the two records aren't all that different in terms of the balance between crunch and melodicism.  Mike's clean vocals change the sound enough to be noticeable, but not so much that it distracts or detracts from the experience.  There is use of more extended intros on tracks like "Onslaught" and "Desolation", as well as the use of a "faux vocal" in "Initiation" that give additional flavor to the album where the debut was a bit more straight-forward.  "Voyager" is a worthy follow-up to the debut, and improves upon its predecessor enough to say the band is growing, even if some of the impact of the debut is lost in the additional elements present.  Still, I think this is the appropriate direction for the band to go, and where I think their sound was most likely to have evolved to after the debut.  As before, I'd like to see Mr. Parrish continue to hone his guitar skill and give us more solo work, and would love to see the band expand the range of material so there are even greater contrasts between heavier, faster & more frenzied spots, and those of a more mid-tempo, melodic, "hooky" nature.  As it stands, an excellent follow-up, and because it's free to download, fans of the band and of the style have zero excuse not to check it out.  Highly recommended.


This album can be downloaded in its entirety directly from the band's website:

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