If in the last few years you attended any metal concert in Northwest Indiana, there’s one name you most probably heard, uttered with unmistakable reverence: Monolith.
Born in 2008 as an instrumental metal experiment, the band wasted no time rallying fervor within and beyond the local scene. They became a household name in their sphere of influence not because of ruthless marketing strategy bordering on spam or any other accessories of utility; they grew because the musicianship they exhibited on stage was fucking prodigious.
The untrackable fingerwork and assured battery of four men who had trained their blood into their art was a phenomenon to witness, and astonishment sank its roots in the audience. Of course, the main complaint Monolith fielded was, “Where’s the vocalist?”
Two years ago the quartet, then composed of guitarists Kyle Ludovice and Jason Schultz, bassist Ben Rose and drummer Marshawn Fondren, decided to regard this as a hole and promptly filled it with Jacob Quintanilla, whose tangible resumée at the time amounted to stints in a few fruitless bands and supporting roles in musicals at his high school; despite that, he’s more than proven that he can keep up. Present day the band has blossomed with their new bellowing frontman, his voice contributing empathy and command to the music in recording as much as in performance.
Now, rounded off with a new album in hand, they stand on a precipice, wondering like Chaucer at the House of Fame.
After a three-year recording process, what Monolith achieves in their first proper LP, The Mind’s Horizon: Desolation Within, is at once the culmination of much regional hype and the commencement of a more dispersed excitement as their sound and name makes flight and streams to new cities, states, shores.
Like any proper metal record, The Mind’s Horizon feels like a journey, the musical evolution of the tradition of Homer. Throughout the work disarming tides of acoustic and synthetic cleanliness give way to immense breakers, colored with distortion and raw tension, and vise versa as the concept and crafted sound progress to a resolution, consecrating years of energy. Tumultuous and grave, bellicose and exultant, Monolith has achieved the brilliance of technical music with passion.
The virtuoso-awe of their live shows translates well to the digital format, though it’s hard to say “chops” is worth much once you enter the masturbatory exhibition that is major league progressive metal. No, rather than simply churning out what’s fastest, longest and most unpalatable, Monolith applies the effort to write songs that impress our indulgences and our standards all at once, and that’s why this album stands apart as something immediately accessible, comprehensible and domineering to most any ear, if not consistently pleasurable.
Inspiration is manifest across the spectrum of this work, as the laurels of colossi like Dream Theater, Between the Buried and Me, Rush and Behemoth (and sometimes Ensiferum) are borrowed and repurposed into something unabashed and superb. As elegantly varied as mixing paints, the record twists prog, experimental, death, black, viking, folk, extreme, etc. metal into a drink that some will call nectar while some will say it’s piss. I’m of the former camp, though I acknowledge that metalheads are a choosy folk.
The Mind’s Horizon won’t be as contentious as Ye’s Swish-Waves-So Help Me God, but for the listeners in its niche it’s still worth discussing where it wins and where it drops its keen edge. What is undeniable is that it is metal in its bones, meat and essence.