BEHOLD! THE MONOLITH – From the Fathomless Deep (2022)REVIEW

The monstrosity that challenged the world. — Wholly given up to every species of mental pollution in our new era of unsophisticated licentiousness and forever confiding acts of self-importance we rarely stare upward long enough to see the truth of fading horizons, undiscovered islands of the psyche in the midst of the ongoing oceanic contamination of the human experience, complacency which’d deem exploration impossible tomorrow, or, soon enough. Against the grain of glurge-hungry types and sputtering patternation of revisionist sentimentality we empathize with the true futurist’s lament in carrying a number of auld torches in mind per inspiration rare enough, that which beholds the past as a lesson rather than a commodity to repeat in salable, witless chunks. One such arbiter of transcendental grip upon several worlds, upheld yet modified in unified and personalized voice is of course Los Angeles, California-based progressive sludge extremophile trio Behold! The Monolith, whom return from an aeon of grief, glory and gut-heavy ponderance with an seeming Eldritch-actualized fourth full-length today. ‘From the Fathomless Deep‘ is itself a wonder, an massive biomass of rock and ruin made worthy of dissection and study not only for its wild mulling of forms in surrealistic space but for the satellites of various realms it has used to glom and glue together its now very well realized self.

We can assign extemporaneous modifiers to what Behold! The Monolith do at this point, such as the “blackened” tag they’ve gotten since ‘Architects of the Void‘ (2015), and the progressive tag which tends to perk the ears of longtime sludge fandom seeking something they’ve not necessarily heard before but beneath the folds of flesh each release is a sludge-clobbered heavy metal and psychedelic doom braced skeleton which is far too colorful and starry-eyed to be considered “dark”. Though it’d be fair to say that an extreme darkness looms over ‘From the Fathomless Deep‘ by way of performance and desired theme, mostly for the sake of the greater dynamic capability of the trio, all is ultimately in service to their stoney high fantasy heavy metal bones. We don’t have to travel back in time to hear them bones rattling but it does help to clarify current progress made to stretch back to the ultra-stoner metallicized hustle of their debut ‘Behold! The Monolith‘ (2009) and begin to reflect upon the modern, note-heavy sludge grooves of that sound and not see the continuum as a mere zipline of steadfast focus now ’til then.

We can however contrast and consider their step into the moonlight on ‘Defender/Redeemer‘ (2012) as appropriate kinship with the supercharged hi-fi fantasy metal High on Fire, Conan and Horn of the Rhino where doing at the time. So, if you missed that record you’ve overlooked the apex of their Mark I era which involved a sea-change in sound in the span of a couple of years and some considerable notoriety found within this shifting of their waters. Unfortunately their bassist/vocalist tragically passed six months later, prompting the group to accept some uncertainty of forms, or, a new reality as they chose to continue on, not only in terms of where to go next but whom with. They’d brought on Sasquatch‘s bassist and a tech-death/thrash vocalist for the next album, (‘Architects of the Void‘, 2015) prompting a still-darker sound with even more of a heavy metal inflection that’d pushed a lot harder into speed metallic riffing and some of the darker prog-sludge quick turns most had heard at that point. They might’ve fully traded the psychedelic doom metal tics for Mastodon-esque prog-sludgery, sounding somewhat typical depending on the moment, but it was ultimately worthwhile change. One listen to “Philosopher’s Blade” off that record and you’ll instantly get why I was excited the moment ‘From the Fathomless Deep‘ was announced, though that wasn’t the -only- reason to get all up in a tizzy.

You’ll recall I’d particularly enjoyed the cathartic strum of Lord Dying‘s ‘Mysterium Tremendum‘ back in 2019 and noted that pulling the rhythm section from Behold! The Monolith was a major gain for the experience. This accounts for what the band were essentially up to beyond their 2015 release, if nothing else I think it’d set the expectations for what they might conjure themselves even higher in mind in terms of theme, performance and presentation. With their selection for a third finally landing on the appropriately broad range of vocalist/bassist Menno Verbaten (Cryptic Slaughter, Lightning Swords of Death) and a new album well overdue I don’t doubt these folks were working high on some kind of momentum back in 2019 and it goes without saying the years in between couldn’t have made their timing feel any less cursed yet I feel like everything they’ve done here on ‘From the Fathomless Deep‘ is additive, bolstering and in some ways summing the greater intent harbored by the group as they’ve evolved. They’ve done a fine job of feeling their own skin for its temporally scourged leather, acknowledging the full journey without sloppy sentimentality or a too-fine checklist of necessary items, it all reads very au naturale in motion despite the broad spectrum of capabilities explored.

For the sake of wonder, or a glorious form of lament. — Much of my rambling up ’til this point is admittedly building towards the point that on this fourth full-length album Behold! The Monolith read a bit like a contemplative, misery stoked heavy psychedelic doom metal band with a slight progressive, almost bluesy edge if your brain can fully pierce through a bit of a Yob-esque veil of ultra-tones, rasped n’ roared vocals and playfully performative (but not overstated) longform pieces. Though only half of the songs here reach for the ~9-10 minute stretch it is usually for good reason, typically for the sake of stunningly immersive reaching into jammed exploration of conflicted headspace and/or thoughtfully evocative depths, growling and plumbing about between floating out their easier swelling motions. This time around the structural rhythmic references here are occasionally traditional in terms of heavy rock, psychedelic doom and sludge metal but this ends up being a natural progression of the original formulae for this band wherein modern sludge riff harass and beauteous refrains still manage to be the main draw for Behold! The Monolith‘s sound only in variously elaborate and restrained statement. Even if you’d felt like I was beginning to come across like a manic street preacher “Crown/The Immeasurable Void” should back these observations up in summation, and likewise highlight the first of several beauteous bass guitar tones which sing and clatter across the full listen. It is a grotesque, enormous entry point but almost assuredly one that’ll “sell” the album to anyone predispositioned to bewildering, soaring and creeped-out heavy music theatre.

In case you weren’t sure what’d just happened in the midst of that initial nine and a half minute undersea nuke the piece to pull in the extreme metal meddler beyond the opening number is assuredly “Psychlopean Dread” which, with a mild yank of the ear resembles the watery sprawl of “Where the Slime Live” due to its growling-wet vocal affect and the tension which their sludge thundered riffs bring an admirably heavy grinding forth within an enormous space (conjured via the drum engineering team and Justin Weis/Trakworx Recording) yet this is only the introduction of this extreme language into the pool as “Spirit Taker” hisses about with differently shapes entirely while flitting about similarly serpentine tongue. I’d greatly appreciated how the flow from piece to piece within this first shot of three built a sort of natural progression of reveal, now hammering away at faster pacing and delivering the proper evolution of the “blackened” ideas they’d presented on ‘Architects of the Void‘. Side A presents such an imposing churning of both expected and surprising turns of character that I’d couldn’t help but’ve been impressed by the feeling that I just couldn’t predict where they could take it from that point, either that or I’d at least been happy to simply enjoy the ride through and that is a rare enough feeling when sludge metal and I are set in the same equation.

The quicker rock-steadiness of “The Wailing Blade” straight into the pensive noir-doomed hubbub of “The Seams of Pangaea” provides an vital enough stride into Side B but the real meat of the second half lies in the… second half of “The Seams of Pangaea” as that off-time beat begins to reveal a dual solo jam and extended bass-driven intermission which, sure, won’t read as much on paper no matter how much I dress it up but ultimately serves a trip and a torpedo upon the focus of the listener to the point where I hadn’t quite realized how much focus Behold! The Monolith had pulled from me as the listener, fully tobogganing through their tunnel between worlds without giving it a second thought. It is a feeling I’d only expect from the best psychedelic or progressive rock records nowadays and adds to the greater argument that ‘From the Fathomless Deep‘ has traditional influences in some respects but those notions offer a sort of adventurous and expansive dynamic to the full listen when absorbed in earnest. The big huge doom metal souled send-off of “Stormbringer Suite” compounds this feeling without losing sight of the journey taken start to finish on this record, slinging big ol’ wailing guitar solo trade-offs and growling sludge-rocking heaviness with a certain southern rock twang finally cresting above the waves.

Although there are some half-truths to be gleaned from surface level examination you couldn’t wave a hand at a record like ‘From the Fathomless Deep‘ and pass it off as just another “prog-sludge” record, nor could we consider it “blackened” in any serious sense simply because the full listen given proper attentive ears reveals a hand exactly that modern applied to gloriously readable psychedelic doom and sludge metal voice. This may or may not read to the average listener as a logical rebirthing of Behold! The Monolith‘s core sound depending on how much attention you’ve paid to ’em in the past but, from my point of view and with a refresher course run through their past discography, this fourth record runs admirable gamut of known realms while creating a new, often unexpected headspace for the group to pulse, pulverize and ponder within. With the right ear in its clutches this record should read as a vast and admirably distempered self-actualization with new ingredients expanding the mind palace unto new depths worth pressing on within. However you experience it I’d at least suggest they’d press on with it and continue to pursue this high bar of presentation, performance and profundity. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:From the Fathomless Deep
LABEL(S):Ripple Music
RELEASE DATE:July 15th, 2022

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