Monolithe has celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Created in 2001 in France by Sylvain Bégot (guitar, ex-Anthemon) and Benoît Blin (guitar), the band progressively made a name for itself in the French, then international Doom scene. In 2022, it is accompanied by Olivier Defives (bass, Jadallys, Inner Chaos), Thibault Faucher (drums, Light Deflection, ex-Jadallys), Matthieu Marchand (keyboards, Abstrusa Unde) and Rémi Brochard (guitar/vocals, Ethmebb) that the band announces the release of Kosmodrom, their ninth album, accompanied by Kassiopea, an EP of covers.
The band welcomes London Lawhon to give a very soft and soothing touch to Sputnik-1, the first track, which remains deeply rooted in a melodic and melancholic Doom/Death. Heavy parts perfectly accompany the guest vocalist or the hypnotic leads which slowly drive us to Voskhod, a rather haunting and catchy track where bass plays a rather important role, bringing some diversity to dissonant guitars while some massive screams come out of the mix. Some more energetic riffs reveal more raw and jerky influences while leads and keyboards bring the soaring touch, like on Kudryavka and its heavy slowness, doubled by softer heady melodies. The atmosphere is also more soothing, even when vocal invites itself in this wave of melancholy or when Jari Lindholm (Enshine, Exgenesis), in charge of the mix/mastering of the album, appears on leads. A cosmic keyboard guides us to Soyuz, a track introduced by a communication in Russian followed by this rhythmic which gradually becomes heavy, even disturbing with the addition of these sinister keyboards. The album comes to an end with the very long Kosmonavt, a twenty-six minutes composition which lets us sail between these slow and haunting waves by meeting distortion, epic leads, cybernetic effects and other screams, but also clearer Prog touches, but the impressive and airy tones are never far away, until the very end of the track, even when we think they disappeared.
The band continues on the limited versions with Kassiopea, a compendium of covers, with also some surprises in the styles chosen. We’ll find Kold, a cover of Cold by The Cure with Frédéric Gervais (Orakle) who keeps his Post-Punk touch, Orion’s Misery, an assembly of Orion and My Friend of Misery by Metallica on which the band welcomes Benjamin Belot (Penumbra, ex-Lux Incerta) for a haunting touch of Thrash, or Invasion AD by Carpenter Brut which allows keyboards and leads a total freedom of expression. Brave Murder Day gathers three emblematic tracks of Katatonia, Swedish Doom legend, sung by Rémi Brochard (growls) and Melody Gruszka (clean vocals, Neko Light Orchestra) to feed this bewitching duality, then The Killing Moon of the alternative rock band Echo & the Bunnymen brings a soothing touch with Florent Gerbault (Kera, Nord, ex-Nesseria) before Special Cases welcomes Manuel Munoz (The Old Dead Tree, Arkan, Melted Space) for an eclectic breakthrough in the universe of Massive Attack.
Monolithe proves us with Kosmodrom that they still reign on the French Doom Metal scene, but also that they are able to offer slightly different sounds with Kassiopea. We can only salute their mastery.
Some questions to Benoît Blin, Monolithe’s guitarist.
Hello and first of all thank you for your time! How would you introduce the Monolithe project without using the usual « Metal » labels?
Benoît Blin (guitar) : Monolithe is a project which has been around for a little over twenty years. We play heavy music which, even if centered on slowness, is very alive with varied rhythms and very different atmospheres in particular thanks to an important part given to keyboards and orchestral parts. Over the years, many unconventional elements and instruments have been incorporated into our music to enrich it. The general concept revolves around science fiction and more globally towards everything that concerns space. Originally created by a single person as a studio project, Monolithe has progressively turned into a real band, especially since 2015 when we set a live formation up. We have since given a number of concerts, mainly in Europe, with a few forays into slightly more distant regions.
Where does the name of the band come from, and how do you relate it to the music you play?
Benoît: The name comes from the monolith in Kubrik‘s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and the initial concept revolved around this image: one man writing and recording an album composed of one massive piece. Also, this object appears in the film unexpectedly without knowing too much about where it came from, much like the band originally. It turned out that to simplify things, other musicians were brought into the project from the beginning but only for the performance on record. That was the original idea and the format remained the same for the first four albums, all of which were one track long, almost an hour long. Even now, when we are playing shorter songs, the band name still makes sense because the music we play is still heavy, massive and punchy somehow mystical. This reference to Kubrik also showed from the beginning that we were going to deal with subjects that were quite different from the Doom scene at the time, as much in the general concept as in the music. There is a luminous side to Monolithe that one rarely finds in this style.
In 2022, the band releases Kosmodrom, its ninth album. What are the feedbacks on the album?
Benoît: We haven’t had much feedback yet because the album has just been released and also because we didn’t want to do any promotion before its release, in order to avoid what happened with our previous album Okta Khora which was online three months before its release in a really poor quality. That said, for the moment, the press seems to be happy with it. It’s not always easy to renew yourself after nine albums and the work is demanding to avoid repetition in your music. In any case, the first reviews are very encouraging and globally, the listeners adhere to our evolution and progression. We released two singles in the year Sputnik-1 and Soyouz, and, according to the comments made at these moments, we knew that the album was expected. Some of the other bands are also advertising us, so we feel that it’s a good record. Also, we had a few shows between September and November where we played our song Soyuz and the audience seemed to be very receptive to that particular track.
How was the composition process? As well as the writing of the lyrics?
Benoît: When we released Okta Khora at the beginning of 2020, the idea was to follow it up with a series of concerts and to take a break, at least, on the composition side. With the pandemic, all these projects were on hold and all our concerts canceled. With the different lockdowns, there was a lot of free time and so this new album was born. As much because new ideas started to come up as in order to keep ourselves busy in a constructive way. Regarding lyrics and the concept in general, we wanted to move away slightly from the science fiction of the previous albums while dealing with a space-related subject.
In addition to Kosmodrom, you also chose to unveil Kassiopea, which contains only covers. How did you choose them?
Benoît: The choice of the songs was really made in a collegial way, according to the influences and the desires of each of us. The original idea was to find pieces in connection with the subjects which we treat. We also wanted to interpret in our own way some bands that are not very popular in Metal or, in the case of Metallica, to add something to them to make a kind of new track in its own right. It’s a very interesting exercise because the intention of a song can really differ depending on how you want it to sound but in the end, it’s still a good song. I think we managed to honor these bands without distorting them.
How was the collaboration with the guests on this album (and EP)?
Benoît: It was quite easy for us because they are all, for the most part, friends of ours and, knowing their abilities, they did a great job. The only one we didn’t know is London Lawhon who sings on Sputnik-1. Originally, there was a discussion with a huge female singer from a European Metal band singing on this track, but for various reasons, it didn’t happen. We looked on the internet for someone who could do the same thing and we found her. We gave her some instructions but she didn’t follow anything and did something much more personal and the result is far above what we could have expected. She’s a person with no connection to Metal muusic and that’s probably one of the reasons why it sounds so good. In fact, it’s maybe my favorite track on the record. Over the years, we’ve been able to surround ourselves with extremely talented musicians to add a little something extra to our music, so we’re lucky!
Since a few years, the band has left Funeral Doom to go towards a Melodic Doom/Death with sometimes Prog influences, but this album seems to come back to it. Do you feel the same way?
Benoît: To clarify things, we never thought we were playing Funeral Doom. From the first album, even if some very slow parts could affiliate us to this scene, we already varied tempos a lot. Now, I agree with you that there is a kind of reminder of the first albums, especially on the last track of the record Kosmonavt. It’s the longest and slowest track on the album and there are some elements which were already present in the beginning.
What are your plans for the future of the band ? Whether it is a possible passage to the live, other releases…
Benoît: We consider the near future around the stage, with especially France that we neglected a bit during our first years. We just came back from two concerts in Nantes and Brest and the audience was great. We had this false idea that the band worked better abroad than in France but we realize that we are very appreciated and expected here too. As far as releases are concerned, in addition to the album that has just arrived, a boxed set gathering the band’s first records was released earlier this year. It’s a very nice object with a beautiful handmade wooden box version. A lot of people who follow us are collectors because we already sold almost everything. For the next one, we already have some riffs in our head but it’s still too early to think about the next record.
Are there any musicians with whom you would like to collaborate? Whether it is for a song, an album…
Benoît: It’s a complicated question because there are a lot of talented people on earth with whom we could collaborate if we had the possibility. I’m an unconditional fan of David Gilmour and James Hetfield for example and they would have quite a place on a Monolithe record.
Which bands would you like to tour with? I let you create a tour or a date with three other bands!
Benoît: A few weeks ago, we almost had a great show with Carpenter Brut and Ulver in Paris but Ulver canceled their tour. I would have been very happy to see myself with them on this date or on a tour. Three very different bands but with a similar approach, especially on the cinematic side of their music. Also, we could go back to our roots and tour with Paradise Lost, Anathema (if they come back) and My Dying Bride. These three bands are the first influences of Monolithe and they are still present, even unconsciously, in our music.
Thanks again for your availability, last words are yours!
Benoît: Thanks to you for the support, thanks to you, the music of Monolithe circulates a little more and, for us, it is what is most important.