It’s quite the dilemma. What do you do when you’re missing out on owning a solid album from a great band, but to buy a copy means that, thanks to some iffy label politics, you know the band aren’t making a penny off of it? Well, in the case of Monolithe’s second album, you wait for a legit reissue and pounce on it. The only changes here are the addition of fittingly oblique new artwork from Norwegian visual artist Robert Høyem and a dark, smoky remastering job, but this is still the same death-doom odyssey that it always was. It’s colossal, imposing and, like some a megalith looming over the ruins of a post-nuclear winter wasteland, it has a beauty to match its stark, awesome aspect.
A single long-form song totalling over 50 minutes in length, II’s size and the tone of its resolutely forward-thinking doom immediately brings to mind Esoteric at their weightiest, but if anything there’s even more ambition at play with the French unit. The tremulous intro, a deep resonance that could be the awakening of a Great Old One, carries a dense atmospheric weight that could elude even seasoned veterans, while a combination of melancholic guitar lines, (synthesised) accordion drone and Richard Loudin’s impressive death grunt, seeming to possess its own natural echo, mirror tried-and-tested genre tropes while still contributing to its sense of otherworldliness.
While single-track albums often get bogged down with repetition and a lofty feeling of self-importance, Monolithe demonstrate throughout that they can keep interest while still making the album a worthwhile mood-piece. It’s not progression for its own sake; the epic guitar leads and sweeping ambient passages are situated deliberately to maintain the album’s glacial flow while providing much-needed clarity and breathing room, breaking down the colossal riffs that thunder across barren plains like titanic creatures straight out of Beowulf and allowing a degree of respite before it all comes crashing back down again in a deluge of misery and melancholia.
For all its deviation from the norm, though, this is still a staggeringly heavy piece of work and it has bassist Kristofer Lorent and the programming skills of Sylvain Bégot to thank for it. I cannot remember the last time I heard programmed drums sound so full, so bloody huge, and the stellar remastering job has brought them even more fully to the fore, acting as a linchpin for the album with their loose crashes of power in perfect synchronicity with Lorent’s thick, warm stylings. They imbue each passage with a hard, tangible sense of force that pushes your face into the mire and keeps it there, down amongst the ruins and vestiges of life, and in this to-and-froing between darkness and complete luminal obliteration, they strike up a fearsome balance and establishing II as something of a minor classic.
For all its liquid nature, its even sense of motion from crush depth to brief surfacings for air, and the fact that it could innocuously serve as Muzak on the elevator down to Old Nick’s living room, this is an album that requires concentration and an atmosphere of nothingness to really work, and that’s perhaps its only real flaw. You can’t digest it in chunks, you can’t listen to it on the way to the shops, you can’t half-arse it. Instead, kick everyone out of the house, grab a bottle of wine and your headphones and just let it all wash over you. You won’t feel better in the morning, but you’ll have heard a great album in the best possible light: none.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes