Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Monolith - Voyager

The term “progressive” seems to be pretty fuzzy lately. Personally, for a band to be “progressive”, it has to have one of two qualities. The first being the original meaning of the term, which is that the band’s music is extremely innovative and either sounds like something NO ONE has done before or has a sound only a small number of other bands have had. The second criteria, which is more of a personal thing, is actually something that the first one fits into anyway. I like keeping my music library on my laptop pretty organized by genre; I don’t have a million different categories, but I have enough. And if I have an album that doesn’t seem to fit into any of those genres at all because of how unique it is, I’ll put it under “progressive death/metal/rock/jazz/etc.” Monolith is one of those bands that, although they don’t sound very unique on the surface, don’t seem to fit under anything I have. But anyway, I’ve been meaning to write something on this album for a few months now because of how much it’s intrigued me.

I found Monolith via SoundCloud and noticed that they had their (at the time) brand new album available for free download. I’m not a huge “prog nerd” like some of you are, so I’m not as concerned with HOW progressive and innovative it is as much as I am concerned about if it’s good or not. So with that out of the way, let’s look at the overall sound of this record. Because of how easy it is to self-produce an album and have it sound professional, the production quality is fantastic; but then again, this is better than most self-produced records I’ve heard. There doesn’t seem to be a bassist amongst the Canadian trio, so let’s assume they doubled the guitar track and turned it down an octave or two. What I don’t get is the keyboards. Just by listening to the music, you can tell there were keyboards playing because of all of the epic synths and orchestral elements in the background. The part that’s confusing me is that it doesn’t say ANYWHERE that anyone in the band played keyboards or that there was a guest keyboardist or something. And I wish I knew who it was that arranged the background keyboard parts because they sound BEAUTIFUL and flow with the music with extraordinary precision. It’s very rare that young underground bands get the background keyboard thing right, and Monolith is one of the best examples of a band getting it right.

Monolith’s sound is hard to describe 100% accurately because every description you could come up with only applies to a certain number of tracks. The majority of this album tends to sound like a really epic melodic death band (like Amon Amarth or Wintersun) playing really generic metalcore. Most of the drum patterns that are used are the simple, extremely repetitive ones that are commonly heard in most pure metalcore and hardcore bands. Aside from their drummer’s lack in creativity (or interest in being creative) holding them back, he’s very good at what he does. The drumming on Voyager is simplistic, repetitive, boring, but very solid and tight. This might even be more of a “sacrificing creativity for the sake of quality” sort of thing than just laziness. And when you hear what the rest of the band is doing, it makes sense. And it’s the exact same thing with the guitarist too.

The guitarist does every single cliché metalcore/hardcore thing that you can think of. Overdoing pitch harmonics, rhythm guitar riffs that sound identical to numerous tracks by As I Lay Dying, Parkway Drive, and All That Remains, high predictability levels, those slowish guitar sweeps, taking the same riff and using it WAY too much, it’s all there! I’m not saying that all of those things are bad, but it’s something that can put a lot of people off and really doesn’t make them a band that I would listen to a whole lot because there are so many other bands that sound the same as well as being better! Once again, just as I stated above, the guitars have the same catch as the drums; they are played very well. There’s a lack of creativity in the core composition, but the catch is that everything is spot-on and played with flawless precision.

The vocals are alright; not very much I feel that I need to say. The clean singing strongly reminds me of Scar Symmetry, except the harmonizing isn’t as interesting. The vocalist’s growls are deep in pitch, but not in sound. They don’t have that wide, powerful sound like the growls you hear from Amorphis. The singing is all in-tune and the harmonizations are good, but they don’t really fit the music. The vocalist should experiment with not doing any harmonizing at all in the future because his voice has a very pure and crisp sound that sounds great on its own.  

Monolith is just weird. Each musician individually lacks creativity and skill, but when they’re all playing together, the sound they create is fucking massive. They’ve managed to be a band and not a bunch of musicians because they stayed within their limits and did everything perfectly. Although not super innovative, the overall sound of this band is a sound that progressive fans might be interested in. Voyager isn’t way better than average, but when you take away the nit-picking and just judge it for what it is without any extra expectations, this is almost flawless! There are very few things wrong with this record, but it’s not something that fits my personal needs because when it comes to this type of music, I require something a little more. But this band is headed in the right direction. If they increase the interest level on the next record, we could have something very big here. I would give this album 12/20.