Released on Atomsmasher Records in 2015, The Finest Day I Ever Lived, Was When Tomorrow Never Came is the debut album from Falmouth’s finest doom/black metal duo Monolithian. Combining the seriously bad-ass bass-playing and varied vocal styles of frontman Simon with Shannon’s solid drumming, Monolithian are a formidable live force. Weird Metal Blog knows this, having seen them galvanise the crowd into fevered moshery at last year’s Temples Festival. But let’s see how they fair on record…
From the initial whine of feedback that emerges from the grooves of my slime-green splatter vinyl, to the swirling whitewash at its close, Monolithian’s debut is a solid and well-constructed affair. This is a lean album, which doesn’t waste time with boring introductions, unnecessary solos, sub-par riffs, or forgettable rhythms.
A lot of this probably stems from the fact that they’re a two-piece, who have to make every note and beat count. As the band lack a six-stringer, Simon’s bass is vital to Monolithian’s sound. His tone is full-bodied enough to compensate for the lack of second guitar, which could provide extra weight for heavier riffs, but retains enough sharpness on the high end to cut through the mix during faster, more melodic, black metal-inspired moments. Such a nuanced tone achieves a sweet-spot, enabling him to play tremolo melodies, as well as riffs using bass power chords, all given an unusual sonic colouring by the fact that the bass forms the lead instrument.
We’re on familiar ground lyrics-wise, with tracks directly referencing both Lovecraft and Tolkien. ‘Shub Niggurath’, for example, is Monolithian at their most black metal: a short, sharp account of an encounter with the eponymous Lovecraftian deity. Initially referenced in a few of Lovecraft’s stories, Shub Niggurath was mostly developed in the works of subsequent authors such as Ramsey Campbell and Stephen King, and closely associated with ‘the black goat of a thousand young’ – a line growled by Simon at the song’s climax. According to the lyrics provided on metal-archives.com, the track’s protagonist is said to ‘walk in darkness/blindly through the swamp/ hands outstretched.’ Seemingly echoing the associations often drawn between Lovecraft’s creation and the mythological satyr Pan, the protagonist feels ‘horns, cold to the skin’, before being absorbed into the night by the creature.
‘Treebeard’ is a long, grinding growler of a track – fitting for a song that sets the Battle of Isengard to music, as told from the titular Ent’s perspective. It’s unusual to hear a Tolkien song taking the side of the ‘good’ in extreme metal – especially in black metal – and the lines ‘the wizard was right/ the Ents will march/ we’ll march/ we’ll march’ are suitably rousing. (In fact, if there is a style of metal most suited to portraying the essence of the frustratingly sluggish Ents then it’s probably drone metal with its trudging speed, patience-testing song lengths, and general stretched-out feel. And that’s not what Monolithian are about. But anyway, I digress…)
Following this is ‘Black Flame Candle’, a short aggressive three-chord screamer, which falls somewhere between crust punk and black metal, with lyrics focussed more on general occult themes than any drawn from specific works of fiction.
The penultimate track on the album’Second of the Itsari’ is another Tolkien-inspired work. Itsari is the collective name given to the group of five wizards, of whom Gandalf and Saruman are the most well-known, sent to Middle Earth to help defeat Sauron. The track’s title refers (I think) to Gandalf, with the lyrics addressing his friend Radagast the Brown, ‘master of shapes’ and ‘wise in the ways of the herbs’, who together help ‘restore balance to the West’. Mixing death-growls with groove-heavy doom riffs, and underpinned by intricate drum patterns, it’s a track with ‘live favourite’ written all over it, even if you couldn’t give a Hobbit’s loincloth for Tolkien.
Album closer ‘Thought Out of Existence’ begins with a sample of an amazing monologue, delivered by a scientist in the film Bad Boy Bubby (1993), the themes of which are best illustrated by the line: “It’s your duty to think God out of existence”. (I’ll admit I haven’t seen it, but I’m clearly going to now.) It’s a relatively long (circa 12 minutes) piece, mostly instrumental bar a few abstract growls, featuring some more doomy riffs amidst great maelstroms of white noise. If I’m honest, it’s probably the weakest track on the album, lacking some of the cohesion and solid song-writing of earlier tracks. But when the rest of the album sets such a high bar, that’s really not much of a criticism.
Monolithian have released an extremely promising debut, surely commensurate with the immensity of their name. Buy the album, bust out your tattered Lord of the Rings boxset and your Necronomicon, and then go and see Monolithian live. London-based folk can even catch them for free at the Unicorn, Kentish Town, on April 1 2016.
Listen to The Finest Day I Ever Lived, Was When Tomorrow Never Came on Monolithian’s Bandcamp page.