Providing one of the most invasive, dramatically evocative and intimidating flights heard this year, Monolith the new album from Norwegian metallers From Beneath Billows sucks senses and imagination into a compelling and intensive journey through consumptive atmospheres wrapping sinister and emotionally challenging textures and transfixing soundscapes. The album is a smothering yet vibrant immersion into dark kissed ambiences and intensely provocative realms, an encounter which exhausts and inspires, suffocates and invigorates whilst thrusting its creators into a new potent spotlight.
Hailing from Oslo and formed in 2005 by bassist Øyvind Daaland Lesjø, vocalist Lars Sundsbø, drummer Lars Petter Strand, alongside guitarists Lars Kristian Jagtøyen and Kristian Malterud Moen , the latter replaced in 2006 by Bjørnar Børja, From Beneath Billows made a decent impression with their excellent debut EP Evolve of 2007. It placed the band under strong and acclaimed attention with its intimate and forceful climate of isolation and look at the inner turmoil of man. Monolith takes that potent base to another level and creative depth and it is hard to imagine the band’s stature and recognition not growing the same way as the album spreads its exacting glory.
It is not a release to go into with a casual intent or expect to emerge from without scars and emotional questions, its riveting sonic narrative and absorbing melodic adventure a dangerously hued examination of senses and thoughts, but Monolith with its themes of ‘colonization, industrialization and the imminent gloom’ provides an epically stretched canvas of imaginative extremes merged into one intrusively rewarding journey. It is a masterful exploration which needs plenty of revisits to devour all of its stark yet compelling dark beauty and a firm patience to travel through the labour intensive depths but the rewards from Beneath Billows are enormous and seductive.
The release opens with One Death and the Kings, a track which alone exhausts and ignites senses and imagination. A singular guitar coaxing provides a minute plus of melancholic ambience before being joined by an equally maudlin bass and percussive understanding. There is a slow building intensity to the track in the background which takes its time to expand allowing stronger voices to come from the instruments first whilst the excellent tones of Sundsbø lies with rich expression and emotion across the canvas being played out. Ferocity does break out at times, vocally and in raw energy, the track expelling a dark sigh and fury as guitars and bass rage before seamlessly submerging into the almost restrictive calm. The track is a bewitching soar with a skirting storm which has its say to stir up the emotive balance of song and listener, an impressive start from which the album simply bulges to greater heights.
The following Verity also lays seeds of gentle and beauteous intent though again there is a waiting shadow to the invitation. A sludge bred breath ambles with weight and purpose along the core of the track, guitars raising an even paced stroll whilst rhythms with a slower gait prowl the ears and outskirts of the track. The intensity of the song is dark and intimidating with a fiery sonic coating whilst melodically it weaves a tantalising lure which only pulls thoughts deeper into the predacious landscape. The rhythm led diversion midway through is pure contagion, simple occasional guitar strokes allowing the lyrical commentary and rhythmic enticement to enslave any doubts before returning to weaving more of the sonic enchantment within the burning atmosphere.
Both Darkens the Will and Frontier increase the ascent of the release into the imagination and emotions, the first a melody drenched intensively emotive saunter which draws reflection and emotional shadows into its deeply evocative beauty and dramatic textures. The track is a mesmeric fusion of progressive rock and metal but much more besides, it like the whole album employing and exploring sounds rather than styles to investigate the release’s intent and limits. The second of the two continues the merger of alluring beauty and voracious intensity with the scenic colours and adventure of the song the primary route of the aural narrative.
The album is completed by the captivating Enlivened and Sworn and lastly the equally tempting fascination and dark rapaciousness of the title track, a striking conclusion to an equally stirring album. With all tracks around the ten minute mark, some far more, it is a labour of love at times journeying with Monolith especially as all songs seem to have a similar entrance, a peaceful seducing welcome which with other surface and structure similarities between tracks, makes concentrated focus and attention crucial to reap the treasures within. The effort is rewarded handsomely by From Beneath Billows though as they make their presence within progressive metal an immense and exciting encounter
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