The concept of a live album is an interesting one in 2019. It has, after all, been over 40 years since the heydey of The Live Album when records like Comes Alive, At Budokan, Tokyo Tapes, Strangers in the Night, and Alive! were many fans’ ideal introductions to a slew of legendary rock acts. In truly heavy heavy metal, you can count the number of worthwhile live albums not made by Iron Maiden on your fingers and toes, provided you’ve still got full sets of digits.
Their first live album, then, has to be mindful of these things, and thankfully From Equinox to Solstice – Live at Beltane does so with ease. Four of the the six songs here (plus an intro) are from last year’s Nebula Septem (one of the best records of the year), spiced up with two shortened versions of older tracks “Ecumenopolis” and “Monolithe I.” They knew just playing Nebula Septem straight through would make From Equinox to Solstice feel like an afterthought of its studio counterpart, so instead they moved things around to create unique experience. The result is a single journey no less complete than any of Monolithe’s studio records. Long time fans of the band should be about as (un)shocked by their ability to do this as they are by the record’s pristine recording and mix, but that doesn’t make it any less engrossing and fresh when heard as a whole.
The human element, meanwhile, only enhances the music. The band is as tight live as they are on record, but those tiny touches of individual expression really shine through. Other than original members Benoît Blin and Sylvain Bégot, every member of Monolithe joined the band in 2015 or later, and every second of From Equinox to Solstice is a showcase for the current lineup. Vocalist Rémi Brochard sounds just a tad unhinged at times, in particularly adding a haggard feel to the older songs, while keyboardist Matthieu Marchand shines throughout with a variety of tones that provide both a comforting blanket and atmosphere of barely-subdued terror. Drummer Thibault Faucher in particular deserves an extra bit of recognition. With his lively syncopation in “Ecumenopolis,” his ability to ease off just so towards the end of “Coil Shaped Volutions,” and by absolutely going off in the already beastly “Engineering the Rip,” he’s much more than just a timekeeper; he’s the glue that enables this band’s wide dynamic scope.
Perhaps most important is how From Equinox to Solstice feels like Monolithe inviting their fans into an intimate musical experience meant for the band and a very select group. It is in fact that—the album is described as a private gig, and the crowd sounds small but enthusiastic on the record. But for a band like Monolithe, who have had a small but constantly growing following for years, it feels a bit like a reward to all of their fans, whether they came on at the very beginning or just with the release of Nebula Septem. It also might be the ideal introduction if you remain uninitiated. A stunning record that also happens to be a live album. Get spaced.