Released: 2017, Hammerheart Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Self-proclaimed “Supreme Avant Garde Death Metal” troupe The Monolith Deathcult have always been some of the strangest rangers in the extreme music game. The Dutch masters fuse technically adept black/death metal with ample industrial/electronic/symphonic effects, all manner of sonic shenanigans and an kooky sense of humor to make some of the most bizarre but enthralling metal around. Certainly some of the most unique.
For their fifth album, the band – now apparently just a trio of bassist/vocalist Robin Kok, guitarist Michiel Dekker and guitarist/keyboardist Carsten Altena after losing drummer Sjoerd Visch and guitarist Ivo Hilgenkamp since 2015's Bloodcvlt EP – seem to be upping the ante in all aspects. Versus 1 is the first part of a triptych, to be followed by Versus 2 and Versus 3 and ultimately complete a magnum opus known as V. And oh boy is it fixin' to be a doozy if Versus 1 – whose subtitle is It Will Burn Us Without Leaving Ash - is any indication.
You can start with the fact that the project is being billed as a fact-based concept album where mysticism and sci-fi absurdity meet the genuine horrors of World War II. As described in the band’s press materials, Versus 1 tracks include “The Furious Gods” about the occult obsessions of Heinrich Himmler, “Die Glocke” with its tale of Nazi time-travel machines and “This Inhuman Place Makes Human Monsters” recounting the atrocities committed by the Red Army under Josef Stalin. “From The Stalinic Perspective” serves as its companion piece and concludes the album with a 10-minute exercise in symphonic doom.
Elsewhere, though, the music is a veritable shitstorm that recalls Behemoth/Carcass, Strapping Young Lad/Anaal Nathrakh, Ministry and Septicflesh/Fleshgod Apocalypse, often all rolled into one raging cacophony that can be rather overwhelming – especially when all the dookie is in the air at once.
The opener “The Furious Gods” contrasts Robin Kok’s guttural vocals with a cheerleader-like choir, industrial clangor with stampeding death metal and a chest-stomping verse that borrows its cadence from Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare.” “Die Glocke” slows the tempo to a brooding thrum and bumps up the B-movie style eeriness with theremin-like effects matching its time machine thematics. This approach emerges again later with the death march-like “Uchronian March Of The Deathcult.”
“Seven Months of Mysticum” and “From the Stalinic Perspective” re-interpret tunes from 2005’s The White Crematorium - “7 Months of Suffering” and the title track, respectively – adding orchestration and layers of instrumentation to give them a more contemporary oomph. This despite the band already having redone that entire album in 2010 as The White Crematorium 2.0 (The Revenge of the Failed).
But again, The Monolith Deathcult were never a band to bow to convention and they certainly can’t be accused of doing so here. Punctuated by Rod Serling-like narrations – starting with the opening monologue, oddly enough titled “Rod Serling's Radio Dramas” - Versus 1 is an unapologetically weird but otherwise engrossing outing that sets the bar pretty high for what’s apparently to come. I, for one, am looking forward to it.