French outfit MONOLITHE have just unveiled their 7th album “Nebula Septem”, which has many references to the number 7, is dedicated to science fiction. Sylvain Bégot, the mastermind behind the band, enlightened Pest Webzine about all details regarding the new album, new vocalist, live shows and “Innersight”, a five-episode documentary about Monolithe.
Monolithe began as the side project of Sylvain Bégot but now is a force to be reckoned with… The band has its sound rooted in the doom genre. Which bands influenced you the most?
These days I tend to think that the band doesn’t rely on influences to get its business going. Especially not from the Metal sphere. But of course the music I listen to is added to the great soup of influences that impregnate the music I do. So lately I got interested in electronic music, synthwave especially, and this is why you have traces of it on “Nebula Septem”. In the early days, MONOLITHE was a sort of product from the Peaceville three – Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. Overall, the British Doom and Death Metal scene with an emphasis on the heaviness, such as Bolt Thrower, Benediction… A little bit of Scandinavian Doom too, which was a little more melodic. And some stuff from the 70’s as well, Pink Floyd, Progressive Rock, etc.
The band has a rather unique way of working because your first albums “Monolithe I, II, III and IV” included only one track each. Then the 2 albums after that included 3 tracks only. Now “Nebula Septem” includes 7 tracks. Why this consistency? Some kind of superstition?
No superstition, it’s rather the effect of seeing each of our albums as a body of work, a piece of art, rather than a collection of songs, so we try to make them be whole, with a concept both on the musical level and on the formal level. It’s also fun and inspiring to think about what you want to do for your album before you actually start to work on it. It gives guidelines and drive.
“Nebula Septem” is your 7th full-length played by seven musicians. Plus the title of the new album, which has the number 7 and includes 7 tracks and all of them are 7 minutes long. Why this insistent use of the number 7? What’s its meaning?
Well the answer is in your question. “Nebula Septem” is our 7th album, and since we have always been playing with numbers since the inception of the band, we did that again, but we pushed things a little further. There are many references to the number 7 on this album, some of them obvious, and some others not so much. The number 7 has also a lot of meanings in the human collective consciousness. We didn’t develop on that aspect though, but we are fully aware of that and of course it’s adding to the mysterious aura around the album.
Your first 4 releases used roman numbers “I, II, III, IV”, then you released “Epsilon Aurigae” and Epsilon is the 5th letter of the Greek alphabet, and “Zeta Reticuli” being Zeta the 6th letter of the Greek alphabet. Now you use Septem, which is Latin for 7. Why are you so meticulous with every detail?
As I said earlier, we like playing with numbers. You can either see an album just as an assemblage of songs or you can see it as an achievement on a higher level. I can compare this to directing a movie, in which you have different sequences shot at different locations and with different actors; but when you edit them together, they make sense and tell a story. For me an album is just like that so the formal aspects are very important too. A MONOLITHE album is a statement, a unity, something whole in which every aspect serves the purpose of the ensemble.
The title of the 7 tracks follow the alphabetical order… I am organised and stuff but this is a bit over the top, don’t you think?!
The alphabetical order is part of the concept. 7 first letters of the alphabet, and each song title first letter is also the tonality of the song, from A to G. The 7 notes of the western scale.
The main singer in the album is Sébastien Pierre but he isn’t a member of the band, he just filled in to help you with the vocalist situation. I believe the projects he’s involved in seem to be working at a slow pace… did you invite him to join Monolithe?
Yes, we did ask Sébastien to join the band. Slow pace or not, it doesn’t make him less busy and that’s the reason why he could not join. He’s also not a big fan of playing live, which was the second reason why he’s not part of the band. That being said, he didn’t only fill in to help. I really wanted to work with him, as he is a very talented guy and a great vocalist. I hope we can work again with him in the future.
Yet live, Rémi Brochard will take over vocals, right? Will he be handling both guitars and vocals?
Rémi has been handling both vocals and guitar duties for a few months, yes. We’ve done a handful of shows in that configuration and it’s been working well so far.
How complicated is it adapting to a new vocalist, even if he was already a member of the band?
It’s not complicated, except for him, as he needs to work a lot more. Being a guitarist/singer, is not like the addition of playing the guitar and singing. You also have to train at doing both at the same time, which is quite challenging in a band such as MONOLITHE, in which we have a lot of different time signatures. It’s changing the dynamics of live shows of course, but I think we won on the sobriety level and personally I like it better this way.
All your previous releases were written according to “The Great Clockmaker” concept and now “Nebula Septem” has a different concept dealing mainly with extra-terrestrial life. What else can you tell us about it?
“The Great Clockmaker” saga included the first four albums, “Monolithe I”, “Monolithe II”, “Monolithe III” and “Monolithe IV”, as well as the EPs “Interlude Premier” and “Interlude Second”, and the compilation “Monolithe Zero”. Then we did the duology “Epsilon Aurigae” and “Zeta Reticuli”, which, despite being two separate records, constitute a double album. “Nebula Septem” is a stand-alone concept so to say. Yes, most of the lyrics are dealing with aliens; or rather alien civilizations. 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 artefacts 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.
The band always appreciated having something special in every album… what’s special in “Nebula Septem”?
There are a few different things on this album, compared to the previous ones… First, obviously, the songs are shorter. I think they are denser and straight to the point, straightforward. The pace is also a bit faster; we’re more on mid-tempos than before. There is also the inclusion of some electronic bits, such as the first half of “Gravity Flood”, which is almost a synthwave part. There are more vocals too and they are more rhythmical. The list would be long if I talked about everything, but these are the most striking evolutions and “special” things I think.
The band’s previous releases were mainly labelled as funeral doom but this album has a shift in style. What’s the best way to define your sound now?
We had some Funeral Doom influences in the early days but they are long gone. We have been cursed with that tag for a long time because that’s how we appear on Metal Archive and most of the reviewers are just blindly following it. It’s been getting on my nerves for a while. There is no best way to describe our sound, though. It will always be restrictive. But to give a guideline to listeners while remaining vague enough, we usually label ourselves simply as Doom Metal or Dark Metal.
All music and Lyrics were written by Sylvain Bégot (except for “Delta Scuti” which was composed by Sylvain Bégot and Rémi Brochard). What inspired “Nebula Septem”?
It’s always difficult to answer a question like that. I don’t overthink things. I have an idea and I develop it to the point it becomes an album. There is nothing special that inspires it as a whole. To be creative, you need culture. So my answer would be that what has inspired “Nebula Septem” are the records I listened to, the books I read, the movies I watched, the travel I made, the museum I visited, etc, etc, during all my life, all this filtered and processed by my personality and that’s how it ended-up being this music.
How does the writing/recording process take place?
Well, smoothly. We record mostly with our own gear these days, so it’s a smooth process. We take our time. We’re not a band that books a studio for a few weeks and record intensively. It’s always done in different moments in time during several months. We prefer to do it this way because the process of recording doesn’t swallow up your energy and it’s not stressful at all.
The cover features a figure, which contains seven hexagonal rings, and it was done by Robert Høyem. How did he come up with that design? Did he listen to the music to get inspired or did you tell him exactly what you wanted?
He didn’t listen to the music but we told him about the formal concept around the number 7. I also told him that we would like something simple and straightforward, almost logo-like. The rest was up to him, as we always did so far. He came up with two ideas, one was the 7 heptagons and the other one was the 7 circles. I asked, “what if we mix the two?”. And boom, that was it. I really like this cover. There’s an inherent class, elegance in this artwork. It’s also very strong and mysterious. It leaves a door open to interpretation and imagination.
Robert has been working with the band for a long time now… why do you use the same artist over and over again?
Robert has been working with the band since 2012’s “Monolithe III”. He worked on the covers of the previous albums when we released remasters in 2013 and 2014. We were not satisfied with the original covers, which were done by different artists, so he did them. The purpose was to give a sense of unity to our discography. And then, since we always had been satisfied with his talents, there was no reason to change. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be forever though. I don’t know what will happen in the future, we might want a change or not, I can’t say right now.
Ever since the release of “Epsilon Aurigae”, the band has been quite productive and has released a full-length each year… in 2017 there was no release but “Nebula Septem” in released in January 2018 so… where does all the creativity come from?
We’ve been productive, in a sense yes, but on the other hand I don’t feel like we have released more material in the recent years than any other active band. “Epsilon Aurigae “and “Zeta Reticuli” have been composed together in 2014, then recorded during the first 6 months of 2015. EA has been released in December 2015 and ZR in June 2016. “Nebula Septem” has been composed in 2016, recorded from January to July 2017 if my memory is good, and then released in late January 2018. I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like a frantic pace to me. The creativity comes from the accomplishment you get from creating. The thing is, MONOLITHE isn’t a professional band. We don’t need it to make a living. So every album is the result of a real artistic ambition, and not a commercial need in order to earn money.
“Nebula Septem” is already fully available on your Youtube channel. Why have you opted to put it available so soon? Doesn’t it affect sales?
It has been made available on the day of the release. Well, there have been some major shifts in the music industry over the last 15 years; so, of course, you can’t release music the traditional way anymore. People will hear your album before buying it anyhow, may it be illegally or legally. So it’s better to accompany it instead of being a victim of it. A few years ago, the release of a CD was the actual release of an album. Nowadays it’s not like this anymore. The release of an album is when people can hear it, end of story. CDs and vinyls are merchandise now. The music itself is basically free. To be honest, I don’t mind at all. I prefer my band to be listened to by more people, even if they don’t buy it. That being said, we do need people to buy merchandise or support by, for example, buying the digital albums on Bandcamp. A band needs money in order to finance its albums. As long as some people will care about physical objects, we will be able to survive. You also have to consider that some people will listen to your music because it’s free. They would have not bought your album anyway. But these people might potentially become fans and come to a concert, or buy a CD, a T-shirt, anything, and that’s at least something you got back. They might also speak of the band on forums, which will increase your reputation, etc. So overall I find that better for development than staying in your basement with your fans and complaining endlessly against the situation.
The band was with Debemur Morti Productions for 4 releases and now you’re with Les Acteurs d L’Ombre Productions. Why the change?
Debemur Morti and MONOLITHE had a very fruitful collaboration during 5 years, and it has simply come to an end. DMP’s business model has shifted and MONOLITHE needed to try new things. So the timing was right to split apart. It has been done smoothly. It’s a great label and they have been very beneficial to the band. Les Acteurs de l’Ombre’s label manager Gérald Milani saw us play live and asked us to join his roster immediately afterwards. At the time, we were still with DMP so we declined. Then we contacted him again after the split with DMP and he was still interested, so here we are now.
Your current label Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions mainly works with French bands… is this an advantage? Do the bands on their roster get along? How’s the French music scene these days?
Is that an advantage?! I don’t know. I mean, speaking the same language makes things easier, that’s for sure. There are no cultural differences and misunderstandings. We have met the guys from Regarde Les Hommes Tomber in the Netherlands in 2016, I think it was in Leeuwarden for the Into Darkness Festival. They are pretty cool dudes. Other than that, I’m not sure we know personally the guys from other bands on the label. The French scene is, as far as I know, very interesting and lively. I’m not really up to date to be honest, but we have a lot of good bands here now. It’s been now 10-15 years that the French scene has been slowly rising as one of the best and more original Metal scenes in the world.
Considering that Monolithe were never supposed to be a live band… what is the most difficult part about playing live? Do you prefer smaller or bigger venues?
The most difficult part is to rearrange the songs in order to make them work well in a live situation. MONOLITHE’s music is very layered, with many things happening and we have to transcribe that full, rich sound on stage with “only” 6 instruments. But we’ve done it for 2 years now and we have crafted the live songs. Personally I prefer big venues, big stages. Summer festivals are what I like the most. I like the ambiance and the playing conditions. I like to play in front of a huge crowd. It makes me feel like it was worth the trouble to do it at all, you know?
In the early years, the band didn’t want to play live but then you changed your mind and started doing it, even it from time to time. Now, with the new album and songs that don’t last too long… will touring become a reality for you? Are you intending on doing it in order to promote the album?
We don’t tour in the traditional sense of the word. We play a handful of shows every year and we don’t want to spend our lives on the road. That being said, if good opportunities present themselves, why not?! We have been doing that already but we managed to keep them not too long. We’ll see what happens, it really depends on the situation, the countries involved, the difficulty of the travelling involved, etc.
Apart from music, do you have interest in any other forms of art?
Yes of course, all forms of art are interesting and personally I’m always eager to get to know new things.
In your opinion, what’s the best musical decade ever? Why?
If we keep on talking about electrified music as a whole (as opposed to classical music), without hesitation that would be the 70’s. There were great time for music, with great artists, a great freedom, a lot of experimentation, and not everything was based on how much money it will make. I have been listening to 70’s rock, prog rock and jazz music since I’ve been listening to music at all and I still discover a lot of new things all the time. It’s crazy how many great albums were born between 1970 and 1979. That being said, I like the 80’s too, for other reasons. Popular music has generated very good and timeless songs. As for Metal, for me the best decade is the 90’s. There is a usual convention saying that it was the death of metal because of grunge and all, but that’s bullshit. That was the demise of some of the bigger bands and Glam, not Metal as a whole. Extreme Metal has developed a lot, as well as Gothic, Doom, and a lot of new genres. In my opinion almost everything in Metal has been already done during that decade. There were still really new and fresh things back then. Nowadays, not so much. There are much more bands, but in my opinion only a fraction of them are really artistically important. I might be wrong, though. I was born in the late 70’s and perhaps I would not think this way if I were born in the late 80’s or later. We all are products of our generation in, at least, a few aspects.
What’s your favourite science fiction book/movie/author? Why?
My favourite movie is “2001 – a space odyssey”. No question about that. This is the best science-fiction movie ever. This is what SF is all about: big metaphysical questions. That’s not the only kind of SF I like, but this is the pinnacle for me. That being said, my favourite book might be Hyperion by Dan Simmons. There are many, many great SF books, but I got a lasting impression about that one because the story is great, it’s well written and you have all kind of different genres of SF into one story. Any SF reader would tell you the same anyway I guess. It’s a milestone in the genre and no other Space Operas have reached that level of grandeur. As for an author, I’d say maybe Robert Silverberg. He has been very consistent all along the 70’s, with many masterpieces and he talked about a lot of very interesting topics. His books are short, well written and nervous. I like his very dry writing style, he goes straight to the point and you get sucked in the story very fast.
The band released a five-episode documentary titled “Innersight”. How did you come up with this idea? How are fans responding to it?
Oddly enough, the director of “Innersight” is a neighbour of mine. It happens that he’s a director for television and I don’t know how it happened, but we spoke about MONOLITHE, which he heard about without knowing I was involved in the band. So he got interested and said he wanted to make a documentary about the band. So he gathered a small team and did it. Of course it’s self-made without any money, and he did it with his own gear. We planned to release it in episodes as a teaser for the new album, which we did. At the end of the day, it got fewer views than what we expected, but people who watched it really enjoyed it and learnt a lot of things about the inner mechanic of the band.
Are all band members fans of science fiction? What are your interests/hobbies?
I’d say everybody in the band has some knowledge about Science Fiction, but I’m probably the more interested in the lot. As for interests and hobbies, I can speak mostly for myself; besides music and the usual (movies, books, etc), there might be sport and sauna. I’m a sauna addict actually!
Monolithe is a band that tries to capture the universe in its sound and essence. How do you react when you see what’s happening to our planet and the universe in general because of all problems caused by humanity?
Well, to be honest nothing happens in the universe because of humanity. Humanity is a small meaningless fortuity in a gigantic ensemble and nothing humanity does hurt it at such a scale. On planet Earth though, yeah, humanity is a problem. Its greed is destroying its own habitat, which is rather absurd. It’s like shitting where you eat. The song “Delta Scuti”, besides its obvious SF dimension is also a warning about that. Harvesting resources is ok until a certain point. When it’s crossed, you might have clenched your own demise.
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Interview by Sónia Fonseca