Hard to believe that Monolithe is now on its seventh album, and still up to its old tricks – seventh album, seven tracks, each at seven minutes, there are seven musicians that worked on this album, the first letter of each track is according to the first seven letters of the alphabet and, finally, each track is composed in the corresponding tone of the musical scale from A to G. And if that doesn’t have you hooked before we’ve even started, or you have an irrational hatred for the number seven, then pull yourself together and read on.
Needless to say, Monolithe is still also delivering on its successful formula: constantly evolving progressive doom that manages to verge on the accessible while at the same time being impressively complex. This can work in a variety of ways – sometimes tossing you into the middle of a cosmic explosion and at others leaving you drifting in the black void with only your own thoughts cold logic for comfort. This time is no exception. We start as ever as if we’re joining Monolithe post-embarkation – like catching a ride on a passing comet.
Sure enough it is familiar territory for anyone that has ever encountered the band before (and I’ll just squeeze in a mention for 2012’s Monolithe III and 2015’s Epsilon Aurigae as two fine examples of their work) – the almost tectonic funeral doom vocals, dense guitar riffs, melancholy and darkly grandiose synths and free-spirited percussion. But, as ever, Monolithe’s music does not give itself up easily. At times claustrophobic and demanding, when it does you may well find yourself converted to the calculating and ways of this French ensemble.
Things start pretty dark and mysterious – the first track issuing forth a challenge to the committed and newcomers alike as we head off into territories bleak and melancholy, albeit still with that captivating mission to evolve and entertain within its own confines. Monolithe is toying with us. It’s only with second track Burst in the Event Horizon that the spacey side to the band arrives, flirting with new dimensions to the music and revealing the first glimmers light in the cosmic darkness.
Track three plunges us once more into the darkness but provides us with some splendid lead guitar work to keep us entertained along the way and reminding the faithful that were are in the middle of lesson in progressive doom here. Teasing us, forever nudging us in the right direction and guiding us on this intricately planned cosmic odyssey. Needless to say the journey has really only just begun.
The final four tracks peel back ever more monolithic layers one by one – each one becoming thicker with unabashed and more fruitful offerings that, at first, make you wonder what they were playing at with all that dark slightly impenetrable nonsense at the very beginning before you realise that what you’re now getting is perspective – like reaching height above the earth that then allows you to see the glorious whole. Everything is slowly becoming more positive, optimistic.
We, finally, go full-on, trippy space mission – just like we all really wanted from the beginning right? But because this is Monolithe we’ve been put through our paces, given a bit of work to do along the way, offered a few morsels to keep us going through the difficult bits. It’s only when you go back to the beginning one, twice, maybe more that the contours of Nebula Septem and its seven wonders really begin to show themselves. From darkness to gradual release and then glistening light – inception through evolution and discovery. Another truly fine work from a great band. I have no hesitation recommending anything Monolithe has done but this may be among the best so far.
(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)