The last record by California sludge/stoner group Behold! The Monolith, 2012’s Defender/Redeemist, showed a lot of promise. The LP, which was independently released, really hinted that the band was ready to break out and do some serious damage just as some of the genre’s bigger bands (ie. Mastodon) were commercializing their sound and moving on to less extreme pastures. However, the course of life is not without its cruel sense of irony, and the band’s members were left reeling by the untimely passing of founding member, bassist and vocalist Kevin McDade in 2013. After making the difficult decision to continue on without McDade, the band recruited full-time vocalist Jordan Nalley in 2014. It would then be fair to refer to Architects of the Void as a comeback album of sorts, and Behold! the Monolith comes back strong on this record. This LP may very well be the record that pushes this group of talented riff-rockers into the sludgy-doom mainstream, as it’s a well-produced, catchy, punchy record that drives its point home like a mallet straight between the eyes.
Architects of the Void starts much the same way as its predecessor did, with a suitably epic (and slow paced) doomy intro, “Umbral Vale”. Matt Price’s guitars sound thick and purposeful on this record, proof that low gain can sound very gnarly and heavy in the right mix. Throughout the whole record, the guitars dominate the instrumentals, and at times I do miss the very noticeable Lemmy-esque low-end presence of the last record, but this is a minor complaint. The drums also sound suitably thunderous, providing a great backdrop for the rest of the instrumentals, driving the songs forward with a nearly relentless assault. Overall, the production is much cleaner and fuller on this record, without sacrificing the sense of weight that made their last record so good. In fact, oftentimes the heaviness of the compositions is enhanced by the fuller, more cohesive sound (a good thing when you’re going for breakout sludge record of the year).
The performances on this record are really quite good, especially Price’s. The guitar performance reeks of 70s hard rock influence and the leads are very tight. It was clear that Behold! The Monolith were taking more influence from early thrash records (think early Megadeth or Exodus) while writing this record, as opposed to from Black Flag. From the de facto album opener “Philosopher’s Blade” through to the album finale “Architects of the Void”, the band mixes it up like a finely oiled riff-machine, shifting between slow and fast tempos deftly. There are plenty of memorable moments and highlights in both cases. I found myself more than once making funny faceswhile listening to this record, both head-nodding (“The Mithrididist”, “Lord of Bones”) and drumming vigorously on the desktop (the d-beat drenched “Between Oder and the Vistula”). The vocal performance by Jordan Nalley is extremely raw and compliments the instrumentals well, as he growls and grunts through the slow passages and howls agonizingly along to the more faster paced sections.
The record bounces back and forth between vibes, never hovering in doom, hardcore, or riff-rock mode for too long. In some cases, blending so many styles would come off as half-baked, but Behold! The Monolith skillfully engages the listener throughout the LP’s run-time, and I didn’t feel as if any of the riffs or songwriting elements should have been left on the cutting room floor.
My biggest complaint actually stems from closing track “Architects of the Void”. The track is twice the length of the longest preceding songs, and really doesn’t get going until about the 7-minute mark. This track, while enjoyable, feels incongruous with the rest of the LP’s decidedly high energy vibe. The other complaint I have is that while there is a significant breadth of influences showcased on this record, none of the individual parts are all that original. This album does not deliver groundbreaking new sounds, but what it does deliver is one solid ride that is, with the exception of the closing track, highly engaging and with very few low points.
In effect, Architects of the Void is a bittersweet victory for Behold! The Monolith, a very talented, young band that was on the verge of breaking out. The fact that they may do it with this record (and without Kevin McDade) is not without irony. In any case, this is an extremely catchy record for those that like their doom served sludgy. If you’re looking for some easy to digest metal that delivers with a no-holds-barred attitude, then Architects of the Void is a record that you should not skip.