Good Things Come in _III_
Through the Star Gate with Monolithe composer Sylvain Bégot
by: Dan Lake
One of my most fulfilling flirtations in 2012 was the significant number of hours I gave to Debemur Morti Productions, an eclectic metal label out of France that unleashed stellar material from Blut Aus Nord and Manetheren into the world during the last months of the year. Alongside these singular rock-solid releases comes the third full-length (and fifth release, overall) from the Paris space doom collective Monolithe. Simply titled _III_, the hour-long crusher writhes through a major movement in a story about the origins of man and mind, which the band initiated on 2003's _I_ and continued through _II_ and a pair of shorter EPs. The astonishing variation of sounds and themes keeps the experience fresh and vibrant, and even with all the incredible doom committed to tape this year, _III_ is some of the most colorful and consistently engaging.

Head lithographer Sylvain Bégot took some time out to respond to CoC's questions. Here's what we were able to squeeze from the stone:

CoC: Is there a reason France is home to so many high quality metal bands?

Sylvain Bégot: That's a very interesting question and I'm quite pleased that you noticed. The French metal scene has improved a lot during the last ten years; I have the feeling that it's one of the most interesting current European scenes. There are many bands here in France who do something of their own without caring much about what is popular at the moment. It's probably a cultural thing. That's why a lot of them sound fresh and new. There is without a doubt a "French touch" in our metal scene now, and its specificity is that those high quality bands we're talking about are very different from each others, which is great.

CoC: Has Monolithe's approach to songwriting or playing music shifted over the last decade?

SB: I would not say "shifted"; I'd rather say "evolved". As musicians and human beings, we are always going through some changes that are reflected in our music. Every record is the product of a specific moment in time in our lives and in our musical "careers". _Monolithe III_ is the testimony of a certain stage in this band's existence, just like all previous albums where also accounts of their own time.

CoC: Do your lyrical themes relate directly to Arthur C. Clarke's vision of extraterrestrial involvement, or is that more of an aesthetic, tangential inspiration?

SB: It's related to Clarke's (and Kubrick's) monolith but our story is different. The monoliths are, in _2001: A Space Odyssey_, interfaces and sentinels which push humanity to development and that's where the connection with our own story starts and ends. Beyond a pragmatic explanation to its use, it symbolizes a lot of things. Its shape being somehow perfect (pitch black, square [actually rectangularly prismatic, with dimensional ratios being ascending perfect squares, but who's counting... --DL], smooth, ...), it represents wisdom, knowledge and, above all, consciousness and intelligence. It can only be an artifact because nature doesn't create such things. So, it's the symbol of creation, creation that is itself born from a conscious mind. Monolithe is all about metaphysics, and you know, that fascinating and mysterious thing that we call "sentience".

CoC: Certainly, _III_ is a complete album all by itself, but you've said that the albums and the _Interlude_ EPs represent a continuous story. Is there value in hearing the music chronologically end to end?

SB: The records can be listened to independently of course, but they are all part of the same story. There's no real need to listen to them in a chronological order. But there is an evolution both in the lyrics and music that actually follows the story. The idea when we started all this was to get, when the saga is complete, as kind of monster concept album that would last a few hours or something. So there are certainly some values in hearing the music in the "correct" order, but you don't need that to enjoy each album for its own specificity.

CoC: _III_ is constantly interesting over its entire length. How long are you willing to extend a musical idea before moving to the next? Are the changes dictated by the song or do you make conscious decisions during the writing/recording process?

SB: I don't really know how to answer this question... There are no rules; it's just something I feel while composing. There are parts that need to be stretched in order to reach a climax of intensity, and others that require brevity because they're just transitional or don't express much else if they're repeated or stretched. It's also a conscious decision of course, I'm always trying to get the best out of the ideas I have. So it's done with a mix of skills and some sort of "knowledge" of how it has to sound. I can simply sum-up by saying that it's above all a lot of work.

CoC: Monolithe members have experience with multiple other bands. Do those experiences bring specific qualities to the music that might not be there otherwise?

SB: That's for sure, yes, but only performance wise during recordings. There is one composer only, which is I, and the other guys are performers with whom I share the playing duties. Their input starts and ends on the level of playing the part I entrust them to do. They all have their own qualities in the way they are playing and our albums would certainly not sound the same if that were just I and myself doing all the parts like it is the case in most one-man bands. Monolithe just stands in between a one-man band and a real band. I asked the other members to join in the first place because I required their skills and efficiency as players and that's exactly what they give.

CoC: Do you play your mammoth compositions live?

SB: Actually no, we don't play live. We're not a live band. We have never even rehearsed. This music doesn't fit, in my opinion, a live situation. It would spoil the "magic". I consider myself as a composer rather than a live performer. I used to play live with another band in the past, and enjoyed it, but that's not something I'm interested in anymore. The other guys in Monolithe do play live with their respective bands though.

CoC: What non-musical lives do the members of Monolithe lead?

SB: Honestly, it's not very interesting. We have quite normal lives, with normal jobs, families and all. In my case, I work in the audiovisual post-production field, which is allowing me to get into an artistic activity pretty much all the time besides my musical involvement with Monolithe.

CoC: If our readers were interested in venturing outside their musical comfort zone, do you have any non-heavy recommendations that are moving you right now?

SB: Actually yes, I have. It may surprise you, but I've been pretty much into Middle East traditional music lately, thanks to a Bedouin I met during a trip to Jordan. I just love it. It's very deep, emotional and freaking rich. I've been listening especially to some live albums by Mohammed Abdu, which is a very famous artist in the Arab countries. A Monolithe fan from Iran also sent me some Iranian traditional music by Mohammad Reza Shajaria, which is also very interesting, in a more relaxed and melancholic style. This music is intense, honest, enveloping, and that's what I like about metal too. Any music with a soul, intensity, may appeal to me.

CoC: You've said that _IV_ will complete the story. Does Monolithe end then, or are there further directions for the band to explore outside this narrative?

SB: Well, technically the band is supposed to end when the story is complete. That's what we planned when we started. But in all honesty, I can't tell you what we'll decide right now. Maybe we'll stop or maybe we'll go on with something else. But if we wish to continue our musical journey, that won't be for the sake of going on. It would require something new, another concept maybe, and some major changes in the music. I have a few ideas, but I'm not sure they belong to Monolithe... Time will tell!

(article submitted 29/12/2012)

11/27/2012 D Lake 8 Monolithe - III
10/14/2003 P Azevedo 8 Monolithe - Monolithe I
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