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Comrade Aleks talks to band founder Sylvain Bégot about Monolithe's history, plans, and the forthcoming new album 'Nebula Septem'...

Interview with Monolithe.
"Monolithe was founded in Paris in around 2001, and two years later the debut full-length appeared. It was simply titled 'I', but from this very first official album Monolithe showed that they were no group of amateurs. The one hour long composition was constructed on a Funeral Doom basis, but it has a distinctive sound and despite the genre's laws I wouldn't describe it as monotonous. They knew how to draw listeners' attention with a vast atmosphere, some guitar hooks and an enigmatic concept. The album was recorded by Benoît Blin (guitars), Sylvain Bégot (guitars, programming), Richard Loudin (vocals), Marc Canlers (bass) and Nicolas Chevrollier (guitars). Now, after 15 years and 6 full-length albums, there are only two original members left in the band – Benoît and Sylvain. A massive band with massive albums deserves a massive interview: I'm grateful to Sylvain Bégot for patiently answering all of my questions; this great interview is a must-read for Monolithe worshipers."

Monolithe: Matthieu Marchand (Keyboards, Olivier Defives (Bass), Rémi Brochard (Vocals, Guitars), Thibault Faucher (Drums), Benoît Blin (Bass, Guitars), Sylvain Bégot (Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Programming).

Salute Sylvain! So what do we have… Monolithe's new full-length album 'Nebula Septem' should be released on January 26th through Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions. It's your first album on this label, how do you like collaborating with them?

Hi! Things are smooth with Les Acteurs de l'Ombre. They're doing their best for their bands and we're glad to benefit from it. They have a great roster too and it's pretty cool to be a part of it.

Do I get it right that the new material was recorded with new vocalist Rémi Brochard, as Richard Loudin left the band not long ago? How quickly did you manage to solve this problem?

It's a little more complicated than that…

MONOLITHE's main singer was Richard Loudin, and yes he did leave the band not long ago. As for Rémi Brochard, he has been a guitar player in the band for the last 2 years and a half and he also became the vocalist a few months ago. But that's not him growling on "Nebula Septem", except for one song called "Delta Scuti", which we co-wrote together.

The main singer on the album is Sébastien Pierre, who is a member of Enshine, Cold Insight and Fractal Gates. But he didn't join the band; he only featured on the album. The reason why it happened this way is because we were unsure about who would be the new vocalist after Richard's departure. And since we were already committed to recording the new album, it has been a safe choice to collaborate with Sébastien. Rémi was already a potential new singer for MONOLITHE at the time, but we weren't sure he could do it because he is already a guitarist/singer in another band and we thought it would be too much of a burden for him to have that role in 2 bands. But finally we went for that option and it turned out great.

However… does that mean that Rémi will take the role of frontman for Monolithe gigs in 2018? And is 'Delta Scuti' a kind of test for his skills?

Rémi has already been the frontman since July 2017 and he already performed 7 gigs as such. It went very well so it comforted us all that it was the correct choice.

About "Delta Scuti", it's more because he co-wrote the song with me so he sort of wanted to sing it because that song was more personal to him than the others I guess. We already knew about his skills, but as I said, he was already quite busy with his other band he we didn't want him to carry too much things on his shoulders, because this position requires much more work and training than being "just" a singer or a guitar player.

Why did you choose Sébastien Pierre as main singer on 'Nebula Septem'? How did you organize the whole recording session with him?

Sébastien has proven over the bands and projects he has been involved with that he's a very talented and reliable musician and vocalist. So that was sort of a safe choice because we knew he would deliver the goods. And he's a very cool dude too. To be honest, I felt quite relieved to be able to trust him completely and let him work on the flow and rhythm of the vocals part almost all on his own. I suggested some things here and here but overall 95% of the vocal lines are his, and they totally rock. His work ethic is incredible and that has been the best collaboration I ever had with another musician. As for the organization, that's pretty simple, he recorded demos on which I gave my opinion, and then we booked the studio to record what we agreed on. During the process, we had, like it's always the case, new ideas here and here, so the vocals ended-up being like what you can hear in the album.

Monolithe - 'Nebula Septem' (Official):

There were clean vocals on 'Zeta Reticuli', will we hear some clean singing on 'Nebula Septem'?

The clean vocals on "The Barren Depths" were a one-shot thing. There is a little bit of clean voices on "Nebula Septem" though, performed by Rémi, but it's not lead singing, they're rather backing vocals.

We always liked to have something special on every album, and having clean lead vocals on the "Zeta Reticuli" album has been one of them. Perhaps we'll do it again some day, perhaps not.

Sylvain, there are only two original members in the band today - you (guitars, bass, keyboards) and Benoît Blin (bass, guitars). Has the appearance of new members impacted on Monolithe's inner workings?

Songwriting-wise, not really, except for that collaboration between Rémi and I on "Delta Scuti" which would obviously never have happened if he never joined the band. The inner dynamic has changed though; everyone has a personality and brings something along with it.

Sometimes it's easier to achieve things because the more people you have to back you up, the stronger you are. Some other times, it's more difficult because everybody has an opinion and you need to convince him that your vision is the one that should be followed. But overall it's cool, the relationship between the members is very good and everybody knows his place.

Early discography and original covers: 'I' (2003), 'II' (2005), 'Interlude Premier' (EP, 2007) and 'Interlude Second' (EP, 2012).

For a long time, from the very first album 'I', you followed one lyrical concept, so what now? Will 'Nebula Septem' continue this tradition or are you performing some new ideas in these songs?

Actually "Monolithe I", "Monolithe II", "Monolithe III" and "Monolithe IV" do belong to the same concept, called "The Great Clockmaker". You could also add the two EPs, "Interlude Premier" and "Interlude Second", which can be seen as spin-offs to it.

"Epsilon Aurigae" and "Zeta Reticuli" are set in the same universe described in "The Great Clockmaker" but they are different stories. After those albums where released, we were pretty much done with that world, so "Nebula Septem"s lyrics are different. We're still deeply rooted in the science-fiction genre, but this time they speak mainly about extra-terrestrial life.

"The Great Clockmaker" CDs and reissues: 'I' (2013), 'II' (2014), 'III' (2012) and 'IV' (2013).

And how do you represent extra-terrestrial life in 'Nebula Septem'? By the way, do you allow yourself (as a serious man who prefers sci-fi) the guilty pleasure of watching and reading movies and books in a more popular fantastic manner?

Well, the theme of E.T.s is addressed differently depending on the song.

On "Anechoic Aberration" that would be the absence of them. Human beings have been searching for aliens for centuries but never found them. All they could find were artifacts of extinct civilizations, but never actual living alien. These lyrics have been influenced by the Fermi paradox, as well as Jack McDevitt's books.

"Coil Shaped Volutions" describes an encounter in space between humans and another sentient form of life that goes wrong. They are so different from each other that they can't communicate and they both perceive their attempt of contact as aggression. It has been in parts influenced by Peter Watts's novel "Blindsight" and in parts by over novels such as "Solaris", which addresses a similar topic.

"Delta Scuti" is about a very advanced alien civilization, which harvests energy directly from stars with gigantic machines and structures, such as Dyson spheres. The problem is that they're overexploiting the available energy, which is slowly fading, leading to the premature demise of the universe. It has been influenced by the postulated sightseeing of Dyson spheres in recent years, due to weird patterns of light emitted by star such as KIC8462852 or EPIC204278916. I thought: what if those assumptions were true and what if this alien race was as greedy as humans?

"Engineering the Rip," tells the tale of a suicidal alien civilization whose only purpose is the extinction of the universe. This civilization grows and progresses over the ages, to finally reach the required technological advancement that will allow it to proceed to the disappearance of all that exists. This has been a recurring theme in Science Fiction, under different forms, such as the inhibitors in Alastair Reynolds' books, from which it has been partially influenced. "Fathom The Deep" is about an aggressive, sectarian and religious alien civilization, which crusades the universe with the purpose of converting all sentient life to their beliefs by force. Their religion consists in worshipping the universe, a sort of cosmic pantheism.

"Burst in The Event Horizon" has a different theme. It's about a ship trapped in a black hole's gravity and slowing approaching the event horizon, the point of no return. Of course, there's no way the crew can get out of this. And "Gravity Flood" is an instrumental song, but in my mind it's a sequel to "Burst in the Event Horizon", exactly at the moment when the ship is crushed by the colossal gravity.

Yes, of course I also like more popular and easy books and movies. I have been to the movies to see Star Wars VIII lately and I enjoyed it for what it is :)

Latest discography: 'Zero' (Compilation, 2014), 'Epsilon Aurigae' (2015), 'Zeta Reticuli' (2016) and 'Nebula Septem' (2018).

Monolithe was long-known as that French band with majestic sound and huge songs - which usually were tagged as "Funeral Doom" - but the band constantly evolved despite its funeral roots and the latest full-lengths 'Epsilon Aurigae' and 'Zeta Reticuli' show how far you went with your experiments. What did you prepare for listeners on 'Nebula Septem'? Do you again follow that industrial direction, or did you return to a more or less traditional sound?

Well, "Nebula Septem" is without a doubt different from the rest of our discography. The "Doom" in it is still in there, but does not prevail as much as before, because we enriched our musical vocabulary as much as possible. So that means a little shift in style. It's also more progressive I would say, and more concentrated on the core ideas, the bone marrow of the songs. We've been told it's catchier and easier to listen to than the previous albums, which is perhaps the case. It's also pretty diversified. It's a journey, really. It's not easy to tag it as it's this or this, I'd rather say it's a mix of different things, while style belonging in the Doom Metal genre. But some people will definitely be surprised by some of the tracks.

Well, shall we keep these "surprises" secret, or are you ready to share some details of these new experiments?

I think it doesn't make much sense to speak about every detail in the songs that are done differently or that are new in our music. At some point, the fans and casual listeners that are interested in listening to the album will do it and then they'll know what's different from what they heard from MONOLITHE before. I was mostly referring to the song "Gravity Flood", which first half is musically closer to what is called "Synthwave" than Doom Metal, or to "Engineering the Deep", where we delivered a very progressive songwriting. "Fathom the Deep" might also surprise people who haven't heard our EP "Interlude Second".

Monolithe - 'Everlasting Sentry':

Sylvain, I read about your love of '70s music: can you name any particular bands or genres? How do these influences reflect on your new material?

I do love music from those times, right. I enjoy classic rock and prog rock mostly. Especially English. Some jazz-fusion too. There was a profusion of talents in those years and music that has aged very well. I'm not a fan of lists, but here are a few names: King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, Alan Parson Project, early Mike Oldfield, Camel, Van Der Graf Generator, Soft Machine, Hawkwind, Can, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc… On the American continent, there are The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Santana… And many, many more. That's an ocean of great artists to dive in, really.

I think the influence on MONOLITHE can be seen through the long songs and long epic guitar solos, a taste for experiments, concepts and the genuine "bound-free" nature of the music. But this also comes from the metal bands I grew up with in the 80's, such as Iron Maiden, Metallica and such, the big acts of those years, which songs were more than just a straight-in-your-face tunes.

On "Nebula Septem", a track like "Gravity Flood" is the representation of the wide panel of influences within the music of MONOLITHE. It starts off like a futuristic soundtrack with machines and an overall synthwave feel, just to morph and end up in a 70s-ladden emotional epic guitar solo.

It seems like the length of 'Epsilon Aurigae' and 'Zeta Reticuli' was almost calculated, what about the new material? Did you try to fit it into some format, or did you just gather in one work everything you had at the moment?

It was not "almost" calculated; it was absolutely, deliberately calculated. We had 15 minutes songs on those albums. On "Nebula Septem", we reduced the songs to 7 minutes. The reason why is that we created a whole concept around the number 7, as the album is MONOLITHE's 7th full-length album. There are a manifold of references to the number 7 throughout the music, song titles, number of songs, artwork and such. We always try to make an album to be more than a collection of songs.

By the way, how did you come to the excellent idea to perform one composition per album, as you did for Monolithe's first four records? Did you see it as some risk? Did you have problems with labels who didn't want to release such "difficult" (from the first glance) works?

It came from the writing of the debut album, "Monolithe I". While composing the music, I realized after a while that it was just one song, that's it. And I stopped writing when I felt the song was over. It turned out to be +52 minutes. So that was pretty much the blueprint for the 3 next albums to come. When I started to write for the second album, I knew that I would compose one long song again. And that became a trademark for the band. Like I said earlier, MONOLITHE always liked concepts and experimentation, and that particularity in our early albums was one of them. We never think in terms of risks. A MONOLITHE album is what it is, take it or leave it. We always had labels to back our albums up, fortunately, thanks to Appease Me…, Debemur Morti and now Les Acteurs de l'Ombre. Candlelight Records did fuck up big time with us, but at least they released "Monolithe II".

I remember 'Monolithe I' very well, and its main theme is an attractive one, the arrangements catch the listeners' attention and hold on till the final riffs. 'Perfect album' would be too pompous a title, but how did you decide back then that 'I' was finished, that it was a completed, whole composition?

"Monolithe I" was not really meant to be like this in the first place. I had written the first 15 minutes back in 2001 and only then the idea of making one long song out of it started to take form. From that point, I had to think about the structure of the song-album to keep things interesting all along, with parts coming back, and so on. I thought it would last around 50 minutes and when I reached this timing I thought yeah, this is the right length, the album is going to be good like this. All you have in this album is all I wrote at the time. It's been a little bit different with "Monolithe II", as the album lasts 50 minutes but I originally wrote 54 minutes of music. During the mixing phase, I decided to cut 4 minutes that I thought were not reaching quite the same standard of quality than the rest of the record.

What's the longest live set Monolithe ever played? And do you have tracks which you've never performed live?

I think that might have been Metaldays Festival, Slovenia, in 2016. We were given a 75 minutes slot. I don't really remember if played that kind of length again. So far, we have played excerpts from all of our full-length albums. We play medleys so the parts they contain might change from time to time. For example, we played at least 3 different versions of the "Monolithe III" medley. We never played anything from our EPs and do not intend to do so at the moment. We have 7 albums out and 2 EPs so that makes a lot of music to choose from, that's why we tend to prioritize what works well in a live situation, as well as the popular stuff.

Do you plan to support the release of 'Nebula Septem' with a tour or some gigs? Do you already have some dates?

Yes we do, but we try to avoid long tours. We actually prefer to stay around 10 gigs a year, more or less. It takes a lot of preparation to play live and we can't always afford the time. And in our opinion, it's better to keep the possibility of seeing MONOLITHE play live an exception and not something usual.

It seems that the band had a long break after the release of 'Monolithe II': what slowed down your activity in that period?

Long story.

After "Monolithe II" was released, we wanted to release an EP called "Interlude Premier", featuring a 20 minutes song called "Monolithic Pillars". We were on Candlelight at that time and we were not very happy with them. Communication was really hard and they changed the artwork of M2 from a digipack to a conventional booklet without even telling us, which left us really pissed off. When we spoke about the EP, they said OK, we'll do it. Alright, let's give them another chance. And then, a few weeks before the release date, they cancelled the whole thing, pretexting that EPs don't sell anymore. Why haven't you told us in the first place then? So I told this Edward Christie character to fuck off and we decided to release the EP ourselves on Internet free of charge. I'm talking 2007 and that was quite new at the time. It turned out to be an interesting thing to do, but we were left without a label then. Then we decided to write and record what would become "Interlude Second". The thing is, our sound engineer at the time went through personal changes that kept him away from the mixing board for some time. So we waited and waited and waited for him to finish it and all he did was drafts. We had no money to hire someone else. I went to some personal changes too, I got married and got more involved in my professional career so I didn't bother much about the wait anymore after a while, especially after being discouraged by everything that had happened. And time passed, 2007 turned into 2008, 2008 into 2009, etc. The band was pretty much done. In late 2011, I listened to the mixing drafts of "Interlude Second" and decided to release it unexpectedly on Internet in January 2012 just like we did with "Interlude Premier". I was not happy with the sound of it, and I'm still not to this day because it has never been fully mixed, but at least it was a way to kick start the band again. The rest is history I guess. We signed a deal with Debemur Morti and released "Monolithe III" at the end of the same year. Since then, MONOLITHE has been quite prolific.

Monolithe - 'Synoecist' (Live 2016):

What do you think – are there any limits for your experiments with Monolithe? Do you feel that there's any line which you won't cross?

Yes, I think there is a line we won't cross. We won't change our sound as radically as some bands have done, that's for sure, like for example what Opeth did when they released their "Heritage" album. I don't think it's the right thing to do. But stagnating isn't either. So I'd say the best path to take is to slowly evolve to keep things fresh and interesting. I guess it worked so far for MONOLITHE. If you listen to 2003's "Monolithe I" and 2018's "Nebula Septem" back to back, they are obviously very different albums. But it's the same band and there's something in there that unmistakably belongs to MONOLITHE. The core of the band's music is always going to be there, even though the form it takes is still going to morph and explore new territories.

Sylvain, I'd like to thank you for this massive, monolithic and interesting in-depth interview. I wish you and Monolithe luck reaching new listeners with 'Nebula Septem' and continuing this journey further in sonic space. Any last words of progressive funeral wisdom for our readers?

Thank you very much.

We have released a five episode video documentary called "Innersight", in which MONOLITHE band members speak about the history of the band as well as the new album. That might interest some people! It can be seen on Youtube or Facebook:
Monolithe official YouTube channel.

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Monolithe bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-01-09 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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