(In this post Andy Synn reviews the new album by The Monolith Deathcult.)
I think what upsets a lot of people (and trust me, there are a lot of angry internet folk out there) is this perception that The Monolith Deathcult don’t take things seriously enough. After all, this is metal goddammit, it’s a serious business, there’s no place for irony here!
That perception is, of course, entirely wrong – but there is a kernel of truth at the centre of it.
For, like the very antithesis of Manowar, The Monolith Deathcult are exceptionally self-aware, and thrive on confronting the potential absurdity that haunts the Death Metal genre. Yet they’re a band who write songs about Nazi death-squads, jihadist extremism, African genocide… you can’t say these aren’t serious subjects! But TMDC understand that no matter how heavy, how dark it may go, no matter how much you try to dress it up, to disguise it, Death Metal can only ever approximate the barest slivers of the horrors that mankind perpetrates upon itself. Yet it’s also the only genre that really goes to these places. The two so often go hand in hand, yet are always so far apart.
Yet instead of running from it, instead of denying it, the band embrace this central contradiction wholeheartedly. Their music is dark, oppressive, and brutal – but also relentlessly energetic, knowingly pompous, and impressively self-aware. If Tetragrammaton shows us anything, it’s that The Monolith Deathcult understand one simple truth – “It’s a joke, it’s all a fuckin’ joke…”
Right from the start you can tell that this is the sequel to the superfluously awesome Triumvirate. Yet it’s more than just a mere carbon copy or continuation. Everything that album brought to the table is still there – the ostentatious synths, the audacious symphonic pomposity, the back-breaking death metal brutality, the darkly intelligent lyrical themes and vicious vocal hooks – yet twisted and reworked just so to provide a new experience, a newly refined recipe for disaster.
Creeping and crawling, blasting and bludgeoning, “God Amongst Insects” is the title of the album’s ominous, threatening opener, dealing with the terror and the paranoia of alien encounters (captured perfectly here in the planet-devouring shape of the techno-organic beast that is Unicron) and expressing this through the medium of frenzied, buzz-saw riffs, brooding Wagnerian symphonics, and dark, insidious atmospherics. And heaps of pummelling, sledgehammer death metal. To top it all off, the track’s narration is delivered in the glorious, dark baritone of Peter Cullen, adding a shadowy majesty to the track’s already bleak and broken ambience.
“Human Wave Attack” begins with another epic voice-over from Cullen, prefacing a chugging, bulldozer riff that develops into a relentlessly catchy, off-beat rhythmic pattern, overlain with a sequence of malevolent growls and Arabic melodies. New boy Ivo Hilgenkamp shows off some of his fretboard flair, channelling Kirk Hammett on speed to produce an eerie wah-inflected melodic lead part, before the song picks up pace with a pulsating drum and electronic-fuelled interlude. This feeds into the song’s irresistible, and overwhelming, chorus refrain, capturing the ravenous bloodthirst of the crowd, before slowly clawing its way toward the song’s grudging, grinding conclusion.
With its tribal, Sepulturian stomp, “Drugs, Thugs, and Machetes” demonstrates Terragrammaton is far more than simply a clone of its predecessor, dealing with some particularly violent and unpleasant lyrical subject matter via a series of stabbing, industrial riffs, coiled Morbid Angel rhythms and rapid-fire, skin-flaying blast beats. The band have clearly developed a knack for writing brutally effective death metal hooks, as this track is full of them, from the riffs, to the synths, to the brutish vocal chants (though be careful where and when you join in singing along!).
Interestingly, the song balances controversy with hints of an actual message beneath the blood and brutality, juxtaposing screams of “pure blood traitors” against a sample of Martin Luther King Jr’s most famous speech. The second half of the song is a death metal whirlwind pierced by a series of sharply melodic leads and solos, which flow with liquid, napalm grace from Hilgenkamp’s scorching finger-work to further showcase the melodic progression of the band – utterly captivating without emasculating the dense, crushing core of their sound.
Perhaps the most Triumvirate-esque track on the disc, “Todesnacht von Stammheim” has a similar vibe to “Kindertodeslied”, with its skittering electronics and rumbling, advancing chords. The stompy, staticy verses unveil a recurrent refrain of uber-industrial riffage, like Rammstein gone full death metal, while Robin Kok and Michiel Dekker trade off nasty, belligerent vocals over a fusion of crunching guitars and jerky mechanical synths. The second half of the song switches things up, both musically and vocally, transforming into a doom-laden assault of grim death metal vocals and titanic, low-tuned guitars, climaxing in a squall of lightning lead guitar work.
The sheer audacity of “S.A.D.M.” (you will get what it stands for, trust me) is something you just have to experience for yourselves to truly understand, though I’ll try and do it justice in words. The absurdly cinematic intro channels inspiration from The Terminator, Stargate, Starship Troopers, Predator… I could go on… before manifesting in a rampaging series of apocalyptic death metal riffs, half-way between Nile and Fear Factory in their pummelling syncopation and pulverising intensity. Subtle melodic hooks drive themselves into the listener’s brain via the unholy combination of Carstein Altena’s baleful, gorgeous synth lines, stuttering electronic inflections, and Hilgenkamp’s resonant lead guitar work, all matched by Dekker’s dissonant riffage, Kok’s crushing bass-lines, and Sjoerd Visch’s dominating drumming.
One other thing that sets the album apart from its predecessor is how it refuses to simply repeat the same patterns. There’s no instrumental interlude here, nor is there as doomy and melodic a closer as “Den ensomme Nordens droning”, with it tolling orchestration and mournful clean vocals. However, there are knowing echoes of both tracks present on Tetragrammaton’s climactic duo, if you know what you’re looking for.
The Arabic scales and Eastern melodies that loop and linger during “Qasr Al-Nihaya” were hinted at on Triumvirate, but here find new life and expression. Given room to grow and breathe, these elements take centre stage during some of the lengthier instrumental parts of the song, playing off against the blazing death riffage and juddering, nail-gun drum work, as well as the ferocious death roars of Robin Kok. The second half of the song is an exercise in frenzied excess and pure audio devastation as the band rip through a sequence of flagellating riffs and chaotic, spiralling leads (Hilgenkamp once more channelling the ghost of old school Kirk Hammett… and then feeding it through the meat-grinder) while drummer Sjoerd Visch does his very best to pummel the listener into the ground through sheer physical force.
The finale of the album, “Aslimu!!!” (also known as “Fuck you, I’m not typing all that”) is a true epic in both scope and scale, clocking in at nearly 10 minutes of untempered death metal chaos, brazen, bulldozing groove, and an undercurrent of eerie, forbidding melody. The supreme havoc of Visch’s drumming is matched by the sonic agony of the track’s jagged, splintered riffing and scything, serrated leads, producing a perfect concerto of controlled bedlam. In its second half, the song transitions into a doomy, baleful crawl, as the suffocating riffs drag themselves onward, opening up space for layers of dark symphonic enhancements and haunting Arabic ululations, which slowly drag the album to its final rest.
Heavy in a way only death metal can manage – an unholy amalgam of sheer sonic weight and soul-crushing atmosphere – yet more melodic and theatrical than it has any right to be, Tetragrammaton is yet another jewel in The Monolith Deathcult’s well-earned and hard-won crown. If Triumvirate was the defining statement of their career so far, Tetragrammaton turns everything up to eleven and abandons all pretence, rejecting all limitation and condemnation in the process.
Pushed to the max, and even beyond it, the album’s gargantuan symphonies and evocative electronic orchestration add ever deeper shadows and more brilliant highlights to the utterly domineering and destructive death metal contained therein, helping to make this release a testament to the band’s nearly unmatched ability to craft an avant-garde musical experience unlike any other.
Where elements of Septic Flesh, Nile, Morbid Angel, and Metallica coalesce into one, where the metallic meets the symphonic, where the industrial meets the electronic… that is where you will find the Cult. That is where they ply their trade, revelling in absurd excess and a heaviness bordering on the obscene, putting the lie to the phrase “less is more”.
For The Monolith Deathcult nothing is forbidden, everything is allowed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tetragrammaton will be released by Season of Mist on May 10 [May 14 in the U.S.]. Pre-order the album HERE or HERE. Below, you can check out the two lyric videos released from the album to date.