Listening to Monolithe is a bit like catching up with a friend you take for granted. Off they go every year or two and return with fascinating tales and you can’t remember why you don’t spend more time with them in the 12 months that have swept past behind you. Or maybe it’s you – too busy off listening to Amon Amarth and Battle Beast while Monolithe has been expanding their horizons and mental boundaries with the rest of the adults. Yes, there’s a lot of proggy space metal washing about in Europe these days (is that a saxophone I hear in there? A chorus of violins?). But Monolithe really are in a league of their own. Not only for the evolution they’ve taken from the first few releases when funeral doom was broadly their thing and producing single song albums clocking in at 50-odd minutes each was their fascination.
Numbers remain an obsession – here we are on album number eight and we have lots of 8s, 4s, 2s and the complexity escalates from therein as Monolithe peruses its musical exploration into the origins of mankind. Each track then evolves within itself in an ever morphing structure that leaves you drifting off then pulling yourself back into the aural soundscape and having to check where the hell you are and how long you’ve been listening. The band’s ambition to scale new heights has only increased over the last three albums despite the nagging feeling that they had something of a perfect formula when they stuck to the single track idea. In fact, as you might have guessed, the organic nature of Monolithe remains very much intact – surprising when you consider it’s otherwise dogged pursuit of mathematical formulas and structure.
Okta Khora is a surprisingly easy listen given all of the above and one that anyone with more understanding of the musical talent and ambition of this project would appreciate even more than I have been doing. It’s prog doom, but not as we know it. Like Pink Floyd meets Esoteric as death doom vocals combine with space rock and semi-dissonant, wailing guitar leads in a package that you can’t help feeling could best be appreciated in a dark room with extra chemical and visual stimuli.
Unlike some of the other releases Okta takes a while to get going – particularly for someone as impatient as me (which in Monolithe terms is about five or six tracks). Yes there’s some excellent touches, but it does feel a little like we really are drifting a little and the lead guitars aren’t really leading us anywhere despite their ever present accompaniment to the journey. It’s perhaps the first Monolithe album where things haven’t clicked for me and, despite the craft and capability at work. It seemed like me and Okta Khora were bobbing along pleasantly in prog rock territory trying to find a current that would get us somewhere into a more gravitational cacophony but which we never found. I must admit I worry that the clean vocals perhaps didn’t help and added to a lightweight feeling, whereas past albums were well anchored in an ever-morphing heaviness.
I can’t fault Monolithe’s purpose and it’s a band I follow with interest. But there is plenty in the back catalogue which I feel like represents the mission better than this so I suggest plunging in elsewhere first if you’ve never encountered them before. There will be plenty who can appreciate this for the musical achievement that each album so obviously is. But, after a few listens and supreme effort from an otherwise limited intellect like mine, this is not bad but slightly too watery for me.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)