Monolithe_Epsilon AurigaeHaving finally stepped out from the shadow of Roman numerals and single-track full-length albums, the French Monolithe has returned with their fifth LP, Epsilon Aurigae. I considered Monolithe IV a slight regression from the monumental Monolithe III, and it seems the decision taken to step away from the established formula (which had already been more-or-less perfected by III) was a smart one: Epsilon Aurigae is a more nuanced release capitalizing on their best doom qualities while developing a few of its own.

A natural but large step, Epsilon Aurigae has a much more overt use of synths and a sparing use of orchestral components to flesh out their ever-more refined compositions. It goes a long way to distinguishing this from prior work without undermining the skull-crushing heaviness now synonymous with Sylvain Bégot (the creative force behind the band). The synths in “TMA-0” are particularly expressive and not just facilitators of melody as they may have been before. The strings prevalent in “Everlasting Sentry” serve a similar purpose, and the introduction of the horns about nine and a half minutes in makes for a surprisingly epic transitional period into an ambient breakdown.

Monolithe‘s willingness to to incorporate these different sounds, extending to a number of guitar solos featuring cleaner and lighter tones than they’ve used previously, periodically refreshes the record. The aforementioned ambient passage serves as a brilliant tool to heighten anticipation before the final climactic crescendo and the solo preceding this at the 5:30 mark of the same track is highly melancholic, successfully conveying emotion rather than just offering respite from the obscenely thick doom. The relative digestibility of Epsilon Aurigae is aided by the fact that this record is split into three tracks, unlike the fifty-minute behemoths of previous albums.

Distinct from Monolithe‘s prior discography though this may be, it still comes with some of the same drawbacks. Despite the splitting down of the album, these fifteen-minute tracks can still overcome your higher faculties of concentration if preoccupied otherwise. The use of repetitive and droning music is critical to the development of atmosphere but not the most demanding (which is probably why I spent two paragraphs discussing the non-droning parts of the album). This is where releases subsequent to III have fallen short of that lofty bar, since that album was consummately captivating throughout.

Monolithe_2015

The excellent production is also worth noting. Bégot’s journey into the world of audio dynamics (partially thanks to the gentle prod / violent coercion of Metal-Fi’s Alex) continues here, and it’s delightfully refreshing to hear thick, heavy, down-tuned doom metal which hasn’t been compressed to within an inch of its life. Engineer Andrew Guillotin deserves credit for balancing the massive guitar tone (heavy like an African elephant riding a blue whale) with reasonable bass prominence and for lending a healthy, organic feel to the drums. The monotony and fatigue which plagues releases of a similar style is assuaged by the respectable dynamic range. It’s not crushed, but crushing – an important distinction.

Epsilon Aurigae is a step-up from IV but doesn’t reach the terrifying, oppressive (dare I say… monolithic?) heights of III. That said, it’s as different and as accessible as Monolithe has ever been so here’s a great place to climb aboard the doom train if their formidable prior releases were too much for your frail brains.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Websites: facebook.com/monolithe | http://monolithedoom.tumblr.com/
Releases Worldwide: December 02, 2015

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  • Fazy

    I believe Monolithe III was one of the albums (tracks) that got me into doom metal, so I am looking forward to this, thanks for the review!

  • Kronos

    There are seven people in this band and not one of them is a drummer?

    • El_Cuervo

      Ye your comment just notified me that there are now 7 people, ie drummer included. Before, there were ‘only’ 6 (and no drummer). Fixed now though

    • I think it is also one of the big improvements soundwise. Nothin’ like a real drummer.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Despite by general negativity toward doom, I must admit Monolithe’s III really kicked some monolithic ass. IV didn’t quite tickle my pickle but I am quite hyped about this change of pace.

  • Thatguy

    Thanks for this insightful review El C. I agree with you on all points. I was blown away by III but it is not a work I return to often.

    I had no intention of looking into this release since IV was disappointing but the embedded song sounds great.

    • I disagree that IV was that disappointing (I know EC feels differently). I actually think its main issue is it is just TOO slow in the beginning (some post-metal that wears out its stay a bit). But if you stick with it, toward its midsection, things really get going and there are rewards to be had with IV.

      Good news though: EA is a lot easier to get into.

      • Thatguy

        Maybe disappointing was not quite the right word. I just didn’t like it as much as III and I had heard nothing quite like III when I first came across it. I do think shorter songs is a good idea and a drummer is a really good idea.

        • tim.o

          My main gripe with IV is that it’s productions was a step down from III. It sounded to thin for doom. Looking forward to this one though.

          • Couldn’t disagree more. I thought III’s production was awful compared to IV. Just turn the volume up!

          • sir_c

            It should have been III with the production of IV that would have been magical.
            I like both albums very much so i’ll check this one out too. This makes my day…

          • tim.o

            I’ve listened to both albums ( III > IV) back to back a few times when IV first came out. It’s not the volume, although I do have to crank it up. The low end just sounds thin and weak. But hey, could just be my cans.

  • Genezer

    I have been enjoying Monolithe’s output a lot the last few months, very much looking forward to this one.

  • I’m looking forward to this, I like the embedded a lot. Two minor thoughts:
    1. I just realised, truly realised it’s already December,
    2. That faulty é in Bégot is bugging the hell out of me.

    • Thatguy

      Already December and where is the RoTM you should have written!

      It’s a traditional whinge.

  • You wot m8?

    This is real space-metal, not that hammer-toting wizard fuckery you all got so excited about.

    • lennymccall

      Inquisition counts for something tho right?
      Space-Black-Metal

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I like this guy.

      • You wot m8?

        Don’t get too touchy-feely, there’s a chance I might be replacing you in The Metal Sporks with Mr. D. Muzaka due to his superior knowledge of Wardruna. Though I have yet to consult Mr. Nidefatt on the subject.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          You son of a…