Upon first seeing the album art for Behold! The Monolith’s sophomore album Defender, Redeemist, the prog metal dork inside me thought, “This is going to be badass.” Who wouldn’t want their album cover to feature an interstellar knight riding what looks like a hybrid between a dragon and the aliens from District 9? Based off of the cover alone I was expecting something of a hybrid between Mastodon and Ayreon. Little did I know that I was about to enter something decidedly un-prog; there’s plenty of Mastodon-like sludginess, but the record doesn’t have anything resembling Ayreon’s grandiose concept prog. Behold! The Monolith is all about the power of the riff in all its distorted, downtuned, and amplifier-testing glory. In its hour-long run time, Defender, Redeemist packs in as many thrashy, stoner riffs as possible. Anyone listening to the album to rock out will leave satisfied.
Defender, Redeemist is dominated by a union of styles that, while not wholly unique, makes for an engrossing metal listen. First and foremost, it is heavy; the album doesn’t take many breathers. There is a quasi-Opeth acoustic segment in “Redeemist,” and one of the more tranquil segments of the 13-minute epic “Cast on the Black/Lamentor/Guided by the Southern Cross” recalls symphonic metal, but overall the album is a through-and-through head-banging affair. It’s an enjoyable ride, and it sets Behold! The Monolith on an upward trajectory to becoming a much more prominent group in the metal scene. (And they might even be the first band since Godspeed You! Black Emperor to make the exclamation-mark-in-the-band-name thing cool.) However, there are some things about Defender, Redeemist that, if overdone, could take the band’s promising career into generic territory. There are two I’d like to isolate:
1. Chill out with the epics, man.
Fortunately, Defender, Redeemist’s two epics, “Desolizator” (11 minutes) and “Cast on the Black/Lamentor/Guided by the Southern Cross” (13 minutes) don’t outstay their welcome. This is impressive, considering that each is basically a conglomeration of similar songs that together don’t add any conceptual or musical unity. Both tracks do have the acoustic breakdowns that have become something of a staple in the 10-plus minute metal epics, but in reality if the songs were split into multiple tracks, there wouldn’t be any noticeable change. One of the implicit tasks of metal music is to be imposing, and Defender, Redeemist is no doubt that. But there’s a value to brevity, and it doesn’t take an 11-minute track for a metal band to sound powerful. The opening one-two punch of “Guardian’s Procession” and “Halv King” is the album’s best moment, and at six minutes it does so without dragging on. Closing track “Bull Colossi” could have benefited from such editing, as it wears out its eight-minute length after four minutes. An hour flies by pretty quickly here, but if this formula is repeated over and over again, it’s likely that these lengthy tracks will lose their strength.
2. Riffs are cool, but if you’re just going to riff for an entire hour, you might consider experimenting. See: Trivium.
I can’t tell if I’d love or hate to have to perform this material on stage. Drone masters Sunn 0))) once described their insides feeling like “jelly” after their eardrum-shattering performances, and I imagine that the guitarists of Behold! The Monolith share that sentiment. Though the record’s somewhat weak production value undercuts a lot of the heaviness, for the most part the riffs are what good riffs should be: pummelling, bass-heavy, and groovy. To be standing in front of amplifiers emitting sound waves as intense as these songs would be either jarring or enjoyable, depending on one’s proclivities. (I lean toward the latter.) Yet despite my love of good riffs, by the time “Bull Colossi” concluded I couldn’t help but wonder if the band had any other things hidden in their bag o’ metal tricks. There are fleeting glimpses: “Witch Hunt Supreme” opens up with a thrilling bit of math metal shred, and “Halv King” concludes with some Dream Theater-like guitar lines. I wanted there to be more things like that, but for the most part the album’s stoner jam sonic dominates. I love the riffs, but like anything their mileage is limited.
Those two major concerns aside, Defender, Redeemist is a good album that comes close to being a great one. It’s grown on me over multiple listens, and it could even stand as one of 2012’s sleeper hits in a year of many highly anticipated metal releases. Though not the most nuanced of albums, Defender, Redeemist finds Behold! The Monolith refining with great skill their stoner/thrash stylistics. So long as the band continues trying to make something fresh out of this material, there will likely be much more to expect from these metalheads.