In looking to the discography of Cortland, New York sludge/doom metal project Monolith a great deal of their existence begs to be extrapolated though much of it is yet to be definitively explained outside of just digging through their social media. It appears that the project was a solo or minimally staffed effort prior to 2015-2016, a span of time that saw the project release seven full-lengths and four EPs on a monthly basis. Without being entirely sure, it would seem that these were both conceptual demos and largely solo releases that focused almost entirely on instrumental sludge/doom combinations. Through monthly iteration Monolith‘s sound moved from dark stoner/doom metal towards atmospheric sludge metal with some post-metal ideas toyed with along the way in reaching the peak of ‘Primordial’ (2016). At that point the project had built momentum into the possibility of a full band, including vocals, and a regular release schedule. The first result of said collaboration comes in the form of ‘Two Wolves’, which not only marks their last release under the name Monolith (they are now known as Hearse) but also represents an archetypal vision for the possibilities of combining lumbering doom metal riffs with late 90’s Neurosis style atmospheric sludge metal ethos.
Utilizing the collective talents of a full band the addition of vocals remarkably changes the expression available within Monolith‘s previously ethereal and chugging doom sound. This causes a shift away from post-metal towards aggressive sludge metal along the lines of Morne, Unearthly Trance, and Rwake. Discordant scrapes, howling hardcore screams, and some filthy wriggling leads amount to an experience closer than most have gotten to a ‘Through Silver in Blood’ experience. It is visceral and affecting but all for the sake of heaviness and this is despite the 9-10 minute length of most Monolith songs. There is no wasted time or jangling psychedelia to build up to their destructive pummeling, ‘Two Wolves’ is constantly writhing like a clash of two armies backed by a great thunderous war drum. It is initially a painful induction and the impassioned vocal delivery is initially surprising when considering the far less pensive work the preceded it. It makes great sense to change the band name as such, considering the new feeling of ‘Two Wolves’ as well as the glut of bands using the name Monolith across the world past-and-present.
What vision guides ‘Two Wolves’ builds to a determined and defeated procession; The collective saunter of men appropriately weighed down by the coffin they carry. This is felt deepest in the incredible build towards the apex of “Coward”, arguably the most personal track on the record. Existence is a futile load of shit in the eyes of the lyricist, or at least a disappointing and torturous series of damning events. The bland stupidity and false posturing of fools, the let-downs, and the beaten down soul of Monolith‘s lyrics appear so exactly ‘right’ within the setting of these heavy, moody sludge drenched doom metal songs. There is such beauty in the art of sludge’s lyrical non-specific turmoil and Monolith achieve this with combative and personal expression that never approaches the ‘forced’ feeling that plagues many of their peers.
There is a filthy blanket of desperate frustration that slicks ‘Two Wolves’ with an oily sheen and for my own taste I hope that ‘edge’ never fades from their sound. While I found myself wanting more ‘space’ created in the mix for the drums (obviously just for the sake of recognizable Albini-produced noise/sludge-isms) I was drawn to the sound of Monolith this time around and found myself returning to it periodically as sludge metal was mildly disappointing for my own tastes in 2018. With more extensive listening came some eventual exhaustion for the darkening and perhaps increasingly thoughtful progression of the album but, this is less of a fault and more a testament to the power of extreme sludge metal when done ‘right’. What I ultimately appreciated most was that this record is stripped down in terms of atmospheric tangent. There are so many projects that rely too heavily on inconsequential post-rock influence and less upon inventive and moving guitar riffs. I am giving ‘Two Wolves’ a fairly high recommendation because of this focus, and as thanks for the reminder of the power of the undiluted sludge metal riff. For preview the title track will beguile you first and then I would suggest following up with “Coward” to see their sharp balance between bulbous heaviness and extended atmospheric values.
Bent to the will of exile. 3.75/5.0
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