No matter one’s perspective on Christianity, it is hard to ignore the fact that its central theme of life emerging from death is built into the very fabric of our universe. Cells, plants, animals, worlds, stars, galaxies all die, their remains either fueling or becoming an integral part of something else. You don’t have to believe any specifics of the faith to see the beauty in accepting this death/life paradox and finding meaning in the metaphor. Norwegian band Drottnar seem to have a firm grip on this paradox of constant change and renewal as their 20-plus-year existence has been one of continual metamorphosis, starting as a standard death metal band and mutating into a hard-to-describe whirlwind of blackened complexity that explores Christian themes1 on their two previous full-lengths. Monolith sacrifices much of the dissonance of this previous work to move boldly in the direction of accessibility, but will this sacrifice bring about new life?
While I’ve seen Drottnar‘s previous work described as avant-garde black metal, if I was forced to assign a genre to Monolith, I would go with something like technical black ‘n’ roll. As the instrumental intro track gives way to “Funeral of Funerals,” the band hits us over the head with a large bag full of grooving riffs. The song provides the basic template for the whole album: Karl Lind is going to provide wave after wave of hypnotic riffs, ringing leads, and black metal rasps while his brother Glenn-David Lind2 pounds the skins with virtuosity and bassist Håvar Wormdahl provides a huge helping of intricate heft as he expertly noodles away. It’s a winning combination. Early highlight “Subterranean Sun” grabbed me upon first listen with its tribal drumming, djenting chorus riff, and a haunting crescendo. “Charagma” sees the band exploring an instrumental jam with Wormdahl driving the song sans rhythm guitar support as Lind plays meandering clean leads. The song ends with a trve black metal passage and cuts out abruptly, purposely creating a sense of unfulfilled anticipation.
At 50 minutes, Monolith had the potential to drag, but the quality of the songs and the momentum that they build makes each spin fly by. Reverb-soaked interlude “Ophir” is placed perfectly to lower the defenses before “Nihilords” rolls into camp with a crushingly simple groove. The song features unsettling organ flourishes, and the simple guitar riff allows the rhythm section to display their skills in a veritable clinic of technicality. “Pestlied” sees the band boldly defying the ideological establishment of Norwegian black metal as they go about “crowning darkness with thorns,” “taking goats by the horns,” and “leaving grimness to rot on a cross.” “Antivolition” bears the closest resemblance to what I’ve heard of Drottnar‘s previous LPs as it djents hard and with dissonance. The doom-infused and appropriately named “Monolith” follows, building a heavy sense of dread and reminding us of our insignificance while paradoxically providing a lyrical message of optimism. “Eschaton” closes things out with a militant march and unhinged Anaal Nathrakh vocals, and the track perfectly embodies the sound of the concept for which it is named.
I don’t have any complaints about this album, so let me take this chance to give a word of warning. The album is actually a collection of three EPs that Drottnar released in 2017 and 2018 along with three new tracks; however, the new tracks are two interludes and the short closer “Eschaton.” While all three add to the album, if you’ve spent money on the three EPs, you will not be gaining much by purchasing the 2019 full-length release. That said, the album flows incredibly and had I not known that it was made up of three shorties, I never would have guessed.
The embedded track uses a list of seemingly contradictory statements to declare from the outset that paradox will be the theme of the day, and this message has informed the very music that carries it. Monolith is complex yet immediately accessible, unsettling yet hypnotic, terrifying yet comforting. It has the grooves to fuel a gym session, yet it contains enough nuance to continually deliver under repeated close listening. It builds a musical landscape of hopelessness and anxiety while providing an uplifting message of optimism and triumph. Don’t let the themes keep you from giving Monolith a chance.
- I almost didn’t mention this aspect of the album as the themes are not overt and certainly not overwhelming. However, this is the first promo that I’ve received that includes the full lyrics, so I decided that the message is an important part of what the band/label wants to have evaluated. ↩
- Fun fact: The band included two additional Lind brothers at one point. ↩