Yesterday we posted an interview with Michiel Dekker of The Monolith Deathcult. Today, our UK contributor Andy Synn, who apparently writes as fast as a peregrine falcon can fly, prepared this companion retrospective in his latest edition of THE SYNN REPORT.
In order to keep up a bit of consistency on the site, I’ve shuffled The Monolith Deathcult up a few notches in my list of bands, so as to best take advantage of Islander’s interview with band main-man Michiel Dekker. Rest assured that the next Synn Report will finally get me back on track with the band I have been wanting to address for several weeks now!
Stormtroopers of avant-garde death metal, The Monolith Deathcult originally formed in 2002 under the moniker “Monolith” before switching to the far more verbose and distinctive title they operate under today. Fusing brutal, technical death metal with grandiose symphonic sounds, industrial strength electronics and a historically focussed lyrical bent, the band have thus far crafted three albums of devastating yet artistically complex death metal.
Eschewing the “more for more’s sake” attitude of speed and technicality so prevalent in death metal, TMDC chose to step sideways, incorporating and exploring new ideas, more twisted song-structures and an array of extraneous instrumentation into their sonic sculptures. Less of a “progressive” band than they are an “experimental” one, TMDC’s main goal appears to be the stretching of traditional death metal boundaries to, and perhaps even beyond, their breaking point. (more after the jump, including music . . .)
Their focus on historical lyrics has, at times, led many to accuse them of uncomfortable racial or political biases and associations, an accusation repeatedly refuted by the band themselves. Yet in the face of all this, the band have repeatedly stated their refusal to compromise their lyrical approach to appease such nay-sayers, opting to continue to explore and address historical themes and events, without judgement or bias.
If anything, the band operate as social historians within a sphere of historical extremism and nihilism, walking a careful path of examination of, but not association with, these fringe elements. In particular, early accusations of an anti-Islamic bias have seen the band’s fascination with Middle Eastern culture and history misrepresented as some sort of supremacist colonialism when in fact the band confess to an honest fascination with the cultures and history of the region, something which is primarily under-represented but clearly fertile ground for metal’s brand of lyrical story-telling.
Added to this is the dark humour and wilfully confusing motivations of the band’s purposefully difficult press-releases, their abstract musings on lyrical and musical inspirations and utter denial of any association with elitist underground credibility. Their addressing of complex and often controversial subject matter, coupled with their refusal to explain themselves or simplify their message, has led them to purposefully alienate many people otherwise unable to get past their own knee-jerk reactions and deeply held prejudices.
Weeding out the weak indeed…
The Apotheosis – 2003
The band’s first album contained far less of the experimental spirit that would later allow them to grow into the “Avant-Garde Death Metal” label which is applied to them today, instead placing the majority of their emphasis on more traditional death metal elements, such as ferocious, pummelling speed and crushing heaviness.
Opening track “Doomed By Slaughter” lays all its cards out on the table from the outset, blasting and raging furiously as guitars shred with abandon and the vocals growl gutturally and manically in the background. “Forest Of Flesh” on the other hand begins with a more stately procession of dark, doomy melody, before bursting into shredding tremolo-led guitars and furious drumming. The subtle sense of melody remains present through many of the riffs, whilst the overt technicality of the musicianship puts one in mind of the most extreme playing of Nile at their best.
“Cathedral Of Corpses (Slayer Of Jihad Part 1)” contains some of the album’s most complex structuring and variety of speeds. Lightning fast, atonal guitar leads vie with slow, crawling riffs for supremacy, as the vocals switch back and forth between a deep, reverberating roar and a high, tortured scream. The song dynamically builds in intensity to an earth-shaking closing crescendo.
Perfectly sequenced and complimentary follow-up “The Malleus Maleficarum Manuscript” errs more towards a blackened death metal feel, providing some welcome variety and contrast to the deathly intensity of the previous track. Equal parts ominous melody and juddering groove, the song also manages to incorporate some fundamentally stunning guitar shredding, both guitars trading off in a whirlwind of chaotic, yet controlled, 6-string wizardry.
Short interlude track “The Apotheosis” gives the earliest warning of the band’s future leanings, its minimalist guitar work and subdued vocals augmented by disconcerting industrial samples and dark ambience. After this moment of disturbing calm “The Deserved Reputation Of Cruelty” erupts with full-force into a bludgeoning assault of blast-furnace riffage and thunderous drumming, mixing driving kick patterns with precision blasting. The song has an irresistible momentum to it, demonstrating as much restraint as it does extremity, hammering home its point through a mix of angular riffs and grinding, mammoth grooves.
“The Desecration Of The Black Stone (Slayer Of Jihad Pt.2)” is both more extreme and more experimental in its structuring and approach, pushing the envelope in terms of speed and intensity whilst also incorporating some non-standard approaches to the subject matter, not least the semi-choral chanting employed during the songs epic closing bars.
“Der Kriegmeister” is flat-out the album’s catchiest number, the initial mid-paced crunchy riffing providing a substantial morsel into which to sink one’s teeth before the high velocity assault proceeds to tear one’s face off with callous intent. Heavy as an anvil and performed with the crushing precision of an armoured assault, the song barely lets listeners have any room to breathe as it relentlessly rolls over them in waves of overwhelming heaviness.
The distorted Gladiator sample which begins final song “Colosseum Carnage” sets the stage for an epic, theatrical number that balances out its unyielding aggression with some distinctly melodic flourishes and memorable riff arrangements. This injection of melody really makes the track stand out as one of the album’s prime cuts, as it wields some top-notch riffs to augment the complex yet catchy composition.
The sheer weight of this album and the ferocity of its assault puts one in mind of Austrian blackened death metal merchants Belphegor, who utilise a similarly direct and unwavering commitment to brutality, tempered with subtle nuances of dark melody and a keen sense of dynamic. Yet even at this early stage in their career the signs were there that the members of TMDC were already looking at the prescribed limits of death metal and wondering how to expand them to suit themselves and their own particular vision.
Sample Song: “Der Kriegmeister”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/08-the_monolith_deathcult-der_kriegmeister-pos.mp3|titles=TMDC – Der Kriegmeister]
The White Crematorium – 2005
The immediacy of “Army Of The Despised” shows that with their second album TMDC lost none of their fire or ferocity. Ripping, finger-shredding riffs are the order of the day, backed up by some suitably apocalyptic drumming. There is a greater “blackened” feel to this song than was found on those of The Apotheosis as well as an increased presence of symphonic keyboard arrangements and disturbing industrial samples.
“7 Months Of Suffering” continues this theme of ferocious intensity mediated by an insistent, implacable groove. It also showcases how the vocals have improved drastically since the first album, the deep gutturals cutting through with more clarity and power, as well as offering a sense of deeper emotional subtext than is common to this style of music. The track is also notable for its use of bleak melody and harsh atmospherics to create a singular, unforgettable mood around the instrumentation.
“Concrete Sarcophagus” is a captivating, horrifying number whose overall restraint works in its favour, enhancing the creeping sense of dread and bleak inevitability of the song’s chosen subject matter (the Chernobyl disaster of 1986). The nebulous horror is only deepened by the crackling samples of a geiger counter steadily rising, accented by haunting synth arrangements and twisted, tormented vocals. One of the things that attracts me to The Monolith Deathcult as a listener is the variety of moods and emotions that the varied vocals of Robin Kok and Michiel Dekker are able to convey. Too often in death metal I find the vocals work merely as sonic wallpaper, not really capturing the emotions or moods of the subject matter – or at best merely expounding some furious, inarticulate rage. At their best though, the vocals of TMDC are able to convey a palpable sense of real emotion which fits the bands humanistic and historical themes perfectly.
“Under The Blood Campaign” begins with a squall of frenzied noise, before suddenly tightening up into a mean beast of a song, replete with laser guided riffs and concussive drum blasts. Those who enjoyed the work of Myrkskog in the last edition of The Synn Report will doubtless love this song, as it bears a similar wall-of-sound style of production, harsh industrial effects and grandiose, epic symphonic elements clashing in a war of sonic intensity.
The following track, “The Haunted Ravines Of Babi Yar” (composed and performed on this album by A. J. Van Drenth of Dutch doom band Beyond Belief), is a slow, sombre instrumental that features some simple, emotive lead work over some stately drumming and despondent orchestration provided by The Royal Makhachkala String Orchestra. Similarly short, but far more brutal, “Origin” manages to pack more into its sub-3 minute run time than most bands ever could, being a ferocious cacophony of frenzied, technical playing, bulldozing drums and guttural, murderous vocals, offset by some clever synth lines that accent the riffs in new and interesting ways.
“The Cruel Hunters” is a song that could easily court controversy, dealing as it does with the formation of primarily Muslim units of SS infantry and the bloodshed committed in the name of both holy scripture and racial purity. The song addresses some very difficult subject matter unflinchingly, without praise or condemnation for any involved, merely seeking instead to address the inhuman horrors which have been committed, throughout history, in the name of god and country.
Musically the song has an inescapable potency, suiting its morbid, disquieting subject matter, without skimping on the well-crafted, memorable riffs. The story of the song is well-served by the clashing of massive symphonic elements and mechanical synth textures, fleshing out the sonic and emotional palette of the material without detracting from the punishing nature of the raging death metal.
“1917 Spring Offensive” is a similarly story-driven song, examining the horror and futility of war in a more general, far-reaching way. The shredding guitar work bleeds sincerity and passion, the band as a whole playing as if their lives depended upon it, whilst the eerie backing choral effects and droning, menacing sirens conjure a palpable sense of unease and fear. This song really sucks one into the lunatic horrors of war and bloodshed, and the certainty of one’s inevitable death.
Monolithic closing track “The White Crematorium” begins with a slow, funereal riff, dissonant chords twining together over pure symphonic strings and confident yet restrained drums. The unforgiving depressive atmosphere builds and builds, offering not a single glimpse of hope or salvation, the vocals varying between a croaking, desolate gasp and a weary, grim growl of guttural anguish.
The oppressive nature of the song’s subject matter (the exile of Soviet prisoners to the Kolyma area of Siberia, “The White Crematorium” from which there was no return) is almost perfectly captured here, making the track a difficult, yet absorbing listen. The expected explosion into raging fury never happens, the band maintaining a crawling, deliberate pace, intoning the refrain “Kolyma means death” over mournful chords and dismal guitar leads that paint a picture of the vast, inhospitable wasteland to which these poor unfortunate souls were consigned to die, frozen and alone.
Although not a concept album, each song on this record having its own distinctive identity, the album as a whole is focussed on telling a series of thematically linked stories. They have little need to look to the perverted and twisted fantasies of the human heart for their subject matter, as history itself has already furnished them with more than enough examples of real horror and the destructive nature of man’s inhumanity to man.
The band have clearly taken great care and expended a lot of time and effort in the crafting of each individual mini-epic, infusing each song with its own cryptic aura and using the symphonic and industrial elements to amplify the bleak and sinister lyrical undertones. The sensitive subject matter, complex arrangements and blisteringly technical playing often make this album an extremely difficult listen, yet ultimately a rewarding one.
Sample Song: “Spring Offensive”
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/08-1917-Spring-Offensive.mp3|titles=TMDC – 1917 Spring Offensive]
Triumvirate – 2008
With Triumvirate, the band really embraced the “Avant-Garde Death Metal” tag which had been attributed to them, incorporating a greater amount of electronic sounds, industrial noise, lush orchestrations (courtesy of The Royal Mikhachkala Philharmonic Orchestra) and rhapsodic female vocals. The overt and extreme technicality of their earlier material has been diminished (although not fully gone) although the sheer, continent-cracking heaviness remains intact.
The pulsing electronic, throbbing drum beats and Gregorian chanting that introduces “Deus Ex Machina” should be an immediate indicator that this is going to be far from traditional death metal, as the song matches coldly mechanical moods with furious aggression in equal measure. When the song finally bursts fully into life, it quickly establishes a steady, insistent groove which allows the band to break into full-speed blasting at unexpected moments, shifting the dynamic of the song in surprising ways and altering its momentum. A real surprise is the mechanised backing vocals which rear their head at various points during the song, adding a different flavour to the guttural vocal approach primarily favoured.
“Wrath Of The Ba-ath” continues this theme of playing with unconventional styles, the repetitive chanting at the start overlying another skittering, pulsating electronic beat, before the riff-storm washes away all that has gone before. The seamless integration of real, symphonic elements and artificial electronics makes the song a real pleasure to listen to whilst dissecting its multiple layers. This is not to say that the more expected metal elements are in any way lacking, the interplay of slow bludgeoning heaviness and raging blasts of relentless speed making the song as much of an adrenaline rush as it is a complex mixture of competing themes and styles.
“Kindertodeslied” continues this careful amalgamation of electronic and classical elements. The strings dance nimbly around the violent, incessant drums and grinding guitars whilst the song’s stomping industrial vibe is balanced out by the crushing guitar tone and maddeningly varied vocal work, mixing deep death metal growls with distorted, dissonant screams of anguish to conjure an atmosphere of abject alienation and suffering.
“Master Of The Bryansk Forests” (already heard with Islander’s previous interview) is an almost perfect mix of dark, oppressive atmospheres and rampaging death metal, the swaggering classical motifs of string and brass arrangements acting as the ideal counterpoint to the vicious vocals and frenetic drumming, whilst the guitars charge through an almost endless series of memorable and catchy, yet iron-clad heavy riffs and startling, frenzied lead parts.
Instrumental track “M. M. F. D.” (Miles & Miles Of Fucking Desert!) matches its hazy, amorphous subject matter with an unsettling juxtaposition of slow, ponderous riffs and dramatic strings, evoking a stirring sense of the vast isolation and haunting, lethal beauty of nature. The incorporation of the traditional Arabic instruments and melodies adds a new level of cultural texture to the song and helps it establish a strong and definitive identity.
By way of contrast, the atmosphere that introduces “I Spew Thee Out Of My Mouth” is wholly mechanical and utterly dehumanised, capturing a sense of abhorrent dejection and alienation which later transforms into an organic sensation of creeping darkness as the clanking industrial effects give way to the sweeping Wagnerian bombast of the orchestra, the vocals transofmring into an emotive, war-like snarl of defiance.
The martial drumming which introduces “Demigod” is the only warning one is given before the band unleash a precise, high-energy assault of tumultuous death metal once more. Covering the events of the battle of Thermopylae (and inspired in part by the over-reaction of several elements of the Islamic press to the popularisation of the story by the film 300) the song is far more extreme and guitar-heavy than the rest of the album, giving a nod to the material of “The White Crematorium”, albeit more focussed and direct in its attack on the senses.
The pulsating electronic backing merely serves to underscore the mood-drenched heaviness of the track, while the mid-song interlude of slower guitars, overlaid with pompous, heroic string arrangements serves as a welcome break from the tumultuous death metal. The song builds to a truly epic conclusion, twin lead melodies shining, drums pummelling away mercilessly, vocals chanting an endless refrain of “we blaspheme”, while punishing down-picked guitars drive the song home.
The album concludes with its most ambitious number, “Den Ensomme Nordens Dronning”, which, in just over 14 minutes, wraps the listener in the desperation and horror of events surrounding the loss of the Kursk submarine in 2000. The slow, measured tread of escalating riffs and tolling bells builds and builds the tension to unbearable levels, even using forlorn clean vocals to accentuate the steadily growing threat embodied by the creeping guitars and oppressive orchestration.
Finally, some sort of release is achieved as the drums explode into life, carrying the guitars with them, incorporating complex and interesting patterns into the raging deathstorm. The intensity is further amplified by the introduction of some long-missing blackened elements, the vocals snarling with barely controlled savagery over a series of whiplash tremolo riffs. This song really takes elements from all the band’s albums and meshes them together, incorporating the brute force barbarism of The Apotheosis, the mesmerising technicality of The White Crematorium and the progressive moods of Triumvirate into one stunning tour-de-force.
Although primarily a less overtly extreme album than its predecessors, this record is no slouch in the heaviness department either, bringing the death metal fury in full force where it is needed. However, there is far more focus on conjuring distinct moods and soundscapes for each song, utilising stabbing strings and sputtering electronic breaks just as much as the driving, pile-driving rhythms and chugging guitars. One can only wonder where the band will allow this sonic experimentalism to take them next …
Sample Song: “I Spew Thee Out of My Mouth”
[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/06-I-Spew-Thee-Out-Of-My-Mouth-Explicit.mp3|titles=TMDC – I Spew Thee Out Of My Mouth]
Recommended For Fans Of: Septic Flesh, Belphegor, Nile