Reviewed: [May 2020]
Released [2020 MMD Records]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Since no one can fucking go anywhere these days, I had big plans to take an audio trip around the world this month and explore the most “foreign” promos that had turned up of late – bands from exotic locales, albums with mysterious, impenetrable names and, if possible, songs sung in the native language.
But real job mandatory telework has found a way to consume the “free” time it was supposed to open up and then some – and I found myself with far less of an opportunity to do the theme package of reviews I had hoped to do. So in the end – with apologies to France’s Dysylumn and Aodon, Austria’s Perchta, Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu, Switzerland’s Aara, Paraguay’s Verthebral and Poland’s Czerń, among many others – I managed only two. For the second, I chose the most far-flung of the bunch. And that was South Africa’s Monolith – or, more precisely, Monolith ZA to differentiate them from the 30 or so other Monoliths listed in The Metal Archives.
The Lord Conspirator is the quartet’s full-length debut. And while the Port Elizabeth-based band may be a continent and then some away from prime death metal territory – though slam favorites Vulvodynia also hail from the area – they are obviously well-versed in the width and breadth of the genre and have honed their chops with two previous EPs. They certainly don’t take the easy way out here and merely mimic their influences – though there are hints of Nile here in the fearsome three-headed vocal attack and occasionally serpentine guitar harmonies – which may just have something to do with being so far removed from a prominent scene. And if that’s the case, then that’s not a bad problem to have.
The band’s sound might best be described as “progressive blackened death metal,” if you’re looking for a convenient tag, and its certainly not the standard hack-and-slash, choke-and-puke clamor. Indeed, it’s the proggy elements that are the most prominent feature here, especially in the nimble, prominent bass lines of “Nightfall” that uncharacteristically recall Rush or Primus or the Voivod-like stutter-step dynamics of album closer “Saturn.”
The songs are uniformly expansive and often fairly epic, though their challenging arrangements are held somewhat in check by measured tempos that favor a canter over a full-on sprint – the scattershot “The Abyss” and the double-barreled tumult of “The Perilous Edge” and “The Profound Wells Of Fire” being notable exceptions. But keeping an eye on the velocity allows guitarist/vocalists Christopher Paterson and Andrew Viviers to really churn and burn and lay down a thick and menacing, yet rather expressive cascade – something along the lines of, say, New Zealand’s Ulcerate, to cite another far-flung example.
The promo blurb that accompanies The Lord Conspirator describes it as “dark, brooding and intense.” And that’s a pretty fair summation, although it doesn’t take into consideration the unorthodox qualities that make the album noteworthy. The band may have showed little imagination when it came to picking a name, but Monolith ZA offer up an inventive and interesting first album that proves cool things are happening in places one might least expect.