The number seven holds a particular significance on the latest album from French doomsters Monolithe. The Parisian outfit have made a name for themselves through lengthy compositions of progressive funeral doom, often bolstered by atmospheric electronics and industrial tinkerings, but throughout, chief songwriter Sylvain Bégot has retained a penchant for epic concepts. The group’s first four albums form The Grand Clockmaker saga, and were all comprised of one 50+ minute track each. Then, after line-up changes in 2015, they released twin albums Epsilon Aurigae and Zeta Reticuli, with each comprising three tracks of precisely fifteen minutes.
Their seventh LP, Nebula Septem, keeps its sights set on this number: performed by seven members, it features seven, seven-minute-long tracks with seven different tonalities, and features song titles that start with the first seven letters of the alphabet. Sonically, it retains the band’s heavy and expansive sound, but when fitting into the band’s discography, Nebula Septem will be characterised by its comparatively shorter track-lengths, and an increased influx of expressive melodies that aid in the creation of its captivating atmosphere.
Enthralled by its grand sound and intriguing concept, we had a chat with Monolithe bassist Olivier Defives to find out more about Nebula Septem, and why the number seven is so important.
Could you tell us more about the concept behind Nebula Septem?
Nebula Septem is Monolithe’s seventh full-length album, so we wanted to find a way to celebrate this particular number. So, everything is based on it: seven musicians, recording seven songs, which are seven minutes long. Moreover, the titles of these songs all begin with a letter from A to G, which are the seven notes of the western musical scale.
This isn’t the first time you’ve released an album in which all the songs are the same length. What is the significance of the seven, seven-minute tracks?
The number seven is some kind of mystical number. You can find it so many times over the centuries in different civilisations, that you finally can ask yourself if seven is not the number that rules our world. There are seven musical notes, seven sins, seven days in a week, seven world wonders, seven chakras, and so on… Some say that even humans are made of seven degrees.
Anyway, Monolithe always wanted to explore the mysteries of universe and mankind, so it sounded like a good time to pay our tribute to this strange number.
Monolithe’s career is lined with exceedingly long tracks, was it a conscious choice to go down a slightly different route for the new album?
Yes… and no. We have no limit in creation, no predetermined plan. Sylvain, Monolithe’s composer, always wanted to be free to write what he feels, when he feels it. But, when he thought about the fact Nebula Septem would be our seventh album, I think everything got really clear in his mind: album number seven… Let’s go for it! Sylvain is definitely a man of concepts.
Did you have to make any artistic sacrifices to ensure the tracks all end up the same length?
Of course, there are artistic choices; but not sacrifices. Perhaps some slight adjustments. But at the end of the day, everything that should have been on this record, is on this record. Like in the balance of the universe, finally, everything found its place. You know, Sylvain is used to working like this. Our previous albums, Epsilon Aurigae and Zeta Reticuli, were two albums of three songs of exactly 15-minutes length, so he’s mastered the craft to do it.
What musical progressions, if any, do you think the band has made on Nebula Septem?
I think Monolithe has always been an exploring experience: in the themes (the universe, the origin of mankind, space, stars, extra terrestrial life etc.), but also in the music. Before I was in the band, I listened to Monolithe’s music and really enjoyed that mix of metal, classical, progressive, dark, even sometimes gothic… In Nebula Septem, I think that most of our musical influences are represented in the songs. There’s more electronic material and more progressive parts, but the atmosphere is still dark and doomy. Nebula Septem is the perfect summary of our first 17 years of existence and opens to the many ways that Monolithe will probably explore during the next 17 years!
Your first four full-lengths were all single 50-minute-long tracks, then Zeta Reticuli/Epsilon Aurigae formed a sort of double album. With this in mind, does Nebula Septem mark a new era for Monolithe?
In my mind, there are more or less three chapters in Monolithe’s career. The four firsts albums, (Monolithe I to IV) can be seen as a whole – a saga called The Grand Clockmaker.
Then, Sylvain decided to launch Monolithe on stage with our first live gigs, and in space, with the twin albums Epsilon Aurigae/Zeta Reticuli – which are binary stars.
With Nebula Septem, it was time to explore something else. We still are in the universe, but we suggest the possibilities of other life forms… So we wrote doom songs but with another approach and other influences. It’s too early to say if it’s a new era or a one-shot exploring trip, though.
It’s been noted that Monolithe were once going to separate after Monolithe IV, what is it that’s kept you going?
There was no real possibility of a “split” in Monolithe after The Great Clockmaker, because Monolithe was quite exclusively Sylvain’s band. Of course, Benoit (guitar) and Richard (vocals) were band members too, but as it was only a studio project, they just met for recordings and then got back to their other bands. Then, when Sylvain had new ideas, the other musicians came back to studios.
Nowadays, even if we are a touring band of six people, the configuration hasn’t changed much. Sylvain is the leader, so if he decides that we have to take a break, we do. But I think we still have some more years to go, because he’s such a creative musician. As long as he will be inspired, Monolithe will record new material. And I think the band has a lot of ways to explore: the universe is so vast!
What’s next for the band?
We are currently rehearsing for the coming gigs. We are working on two different sets that will combine excerpts of old songs and a large part of the new ones. And we’re also planning to go back on stage, probably further than ever: Europe, of course, but we are thinking of other continents too, perhaps Asia. We are very excited and really want to play our songs live now.
Nebula Septem is out now on Les Acteurs De L’Ombre Productions. Pick up a copy here.
Words: George Parr