Considering the mighty seven year gap between Monolithe II and Monolithe III, it certainly comes as a surprise that this album arrived so soon, barely a year after III. Naturally, a four-part album series of crushing, spacey funeral doom, each with tracks spanning nearly an hour is as difficult a pill to swallow as one will find in this or any genre, but Monolithe have proven over the years they know exactly what they’re doing.
I and II are prime examples of funeral doom albums that do almost everything right and each have their respective merits and individualities. Huge crushing chords, programmed drums that don’t sound horrible, dark soundscapes that you can get lost in, you name it. But it’s Monolithe III that well and truly put Monolithe into the masterclass of doom metal with their incredibly unique, monolithic (hurr), triumphantly melodic and tense music. It was an absolutely unstoppable force, relentlessly crushing and interesting until the very last minute – and there were a lot of minutes to fill; 52 of them to be exact. The entire record stayed at a crisp pace, something rarely seen in funeral doom, and DAMN did it work. It was something to behold and Album of the Year material.
So forgive me for thinking that Monolithe IV, while well-executed, is a bit of a backtrack, as many of the unique properties that made III stand out are all but gone. It’s definitely true that it has the unique tinge that only Monolithe could deliver, but the record is far more akin to I and II as opposed to the strongest record of their career. It’s certainly an updated sound and it takes the great production and textures of III and translates them into the instrumentation of I and II. It also has an unusual sense of warmth, and the tension that III provided seems to be the basis of the record as opposed to a simple soundscape. But nothing here is quite as memorable, brilliant or game-changing as its esteemed predecessor.
Unfortunately, the largely slow pace gets a bit old after a while, even for a funeral doom record. You could argue I’m in the wrong place to hear anything faster than a snail’s pace, but if you heard Monolithe III you’d probably understand. It makes all of the sections and movements, well put together as they are, fade into one another and you’re left with a faint memory of a few riffs and nothing more. It’s an enjoyable journey while you’re embarking on it, but at the end you feel none the wiser for the excursion. For sure, the mix of space and doom is incredibly good and above average for funeral doom that comes out on Solitude Productions, but when all is considered, there’s a lot about this record that disappoints.
There are certainly improvements to the sound palette, that much is certain. The more extensive set of synths not only sound better, but add an illusion of depth and texture. The increased use of clean guitar passages are welcome and the general production and mix is certainly better balanced – even the drum machine has improved, making similar albums by bands such as Ea look like a joke in comparison.
With guitars so massive, vocals so crushing and synths so diverse and tense, what could possibly be wrong? This is what makes this album so difficult to grasp – it’s nigh-impossible to pinpoint, but there’s a huge barrier somewhere here, preventing the music from transcending for me. It just isn’t memorable, or unique, and the advancements it makes from III are meaningless when the context of the album is treading such a well-worn path. Despite numerous spins, it just felt impossible for me to connect with the album as I had to III and this ends up a mere finale and sequel to something far more unique and incredible.
It may be true that the mind-blowing Monolithe III completely tainted my opinion of this new record and there’s a good, even great, record here that I’m totally missing. There’s nothing wrong with this as far as funeral doom goes and it’s as thoughtful and polished as it gets. Had this been the third record in the series and Monolithe III had been the finale, the game-changing epic closer that all would have been judged by, it would have made far more sense – but alas, it’s merely comfort food for funeral doom lovers.