Monolith Cult – Prepare for DespairSaturday, 23rd December 2017
Generating a healthy amount of buzz, Monolith Cult seemingly have come from nowhere to truly impress the metal community on their second full-length Gospel of Despair. This UK group penetrate through a secure knowledge and understanding of epic doom/heavy metal – featuring bone chilling, crushing riffs, solid tempo mechanics, spots of twin guitar harmonies, and the emotionally connective melodies to top off the package. It’s the type of execution that embraces diverse outlooks from Black Sabbath and Candlemass to Confessor, Trouble, and Grand Magus.
Seeking to learn more about this fine outfit, we fired off a series of questions to vocalist Bry Outlaw – who happily fills us in on the band’s development, their studio versus live performance philosophy, their realistic views of success in today’s scene, and how a mental breakdown changed his views on life through recovery. In the interim, track down some material from these gentlemen – you’ll be satisfying that doom craving for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest musical memories during childhood?
Bry Outlaw: My earliest musical memory is from the early to mid ‘70s listening to Deep Purple- In Rock, Black Sabbath –Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Uriah Heep- Live in ‘73 on my dad’s 8 track stereo. Out of all of those albums I can’t recall not knowing Deep Purple- In Rock, that album is the basis for everything I like and do in music. In Rock is the best album ever made; it feels like it has always been part of my life. I’ve still got the 8 track cartridges and the player, though sadly it no longer works.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you make the advancement from music fan to picking up an instrument and wanting to develop your own original music in bands?
Outlaw: Growing up I loved hard rock and heavy metal, this was through my dad and a few of my uncles, even though I loved Ian Gillan, Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson etc… I didn’t feel confident enough to sing, so I initially took up the guitar, but soon realized that I didn’t have the patience to practice and learn, also guitarists like Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker were a million miles away with their talent, so much so that I gave up. At 18 some of my friends had a band in the local area and needed a singer to cover one of their gigs, I liked the band and decided to give it a go. It was awful and exhilarating at the same time, I don’t think I have ever been so nervous. A couple of years after that I started up an original band which looking back was mediocre, though the guitarist was a very good Joe Satriani style player. It wasn’t until I went to a rehearsal with (guitarist) Lee Baines who had started a new band after Serenity had folded that I found my voice. We started a band called Khang who became quite popular on the underground scene in the late ‘90s / early 2000s.
Dead Rhetoric: How did Monolith Cult come into existence? Did your work with Solstice and related acts factor into the type of epic, heavy doom metal you wanted to develop with this group?
Outlaw: Definitely the link to our ex-bands certainly gave us a direction of where we wanted to take this band. Initially Lee, (drummer) Damo (Clarke) and myself were looking to resurrect Khang, but I didn’t feel right and in the first rehearsal Lee brought in some new riffs and we ended up with a full song “Human Cull” which ended up on the first album. After writing that song we decided to create Monolith Cult. After the first album, Lee decided we needed to streamline the sound, adding more harmonies and stepping away from the doom rock sound that some of the first album has.
Dead Rhetoric: Run from the Light as your debut album came out in 2013 – how do you feel about the recording/song writing of this album, and where do you think this material sits in the catalogue now having a few years to absorb and reflect upon it?
Outlaw: I think we have taken an initial leap in songwriting quality since the first album, the first album was written very quickly, and the last song on the album was basically rushed in the last week before we went into the studio. I still quite like a couple of the songs on the album and I think the track “Monolith Cult” could do with reworking, but I know Lee sees it for what it was, a very rushed set of songs that we didn’t edit or really change that much.
It was a well-received album, but I don’t think it is anywhere near Gospel of Despair, though others may disagree.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been four years since your last release. How did you attract the interest of Transcending Records, who recently issued your latest album Gospel of Despair?
Outlaw: I think what got Transcending to listen to us was Dan Goldsworthy’s excellent artwork, I then understand that they searched us out on YouTube and then got in touch with Lee. It was all a happy/despairing coincidence, which we are very pleased about. Transcending have been very supportive and have been doing a fantastic job pushing the band.
Dead Rhetoric: And where do you see the major developments or differences between this record and your debut?
Outlaw: I would say the quality of songwriting on Gospel is much better than on Run from The Light. We also spent a lot more time editing songs, writing and discarding songs, which meant that we weren’t just left to choose from the 7 songs we used on the album. We probably wrote around 15 for this album and then sacked off the weaker numbers.
Also recording at SkyHammer Studios with Chris Fielding (Conan) was a step up in sound quality. Chris was great to work with, and has a very good ear for when things are played slightly sharp or flat. He was a task master but definitely gave us confidence in the studio.
Dead Rhetoric: In looking at your bio information through your social media outlets, you mention an unquestioning commitment to the riff. Could you explain the importance of the right riffs to develop the best material within Monolith Cult – and does this process come easy to you or is it sometimes a long, torturous development?
Outlaw: Riff wise it is all down to Lee. Lee spends time sorting song structures and then brings them to rehearsal. We also do a lot of editing, songs like “Sympathy for the Living” had a completely different chorus riff and structure when we originally wrote it, but Lee knew that it could be better and changed it accordingly. I think Lee is a master of the riff, he makes the effort to work on his riffs, he takes his time constructing songs and is willing to get rid of riffs that aren’t quite what is needed. I know sometimes the riffs come thick and fast other times it may take a while for the right riff to appear for a certain section of a song. Once a song is written we demo it and then take it away to work on or to decide if something needs changing.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you draw your lyrical content from – is it a mixture of real-life situations and channeling of internal struggles/emotions or do you also seek out historical/fantasy based subject matter?
Outlaw: None of the lyrics are based on fantasy elements, it’s not something that I think I can write convincingly. I love Dio, Rainbow and Dio-era Black Sabbath and enjoy those kind of fantasy lyrics to some of those songs, I mean “Stargazer” is one of the classic songs of all time. But I would never attempt to write something in that vein.
The lyrics are definitely about real life situations, mostly they are expressions of attempting to overcome, or living within depression. A lot are about negative conversations which one may have within their head. I cover other aspects such as Atomic Weaponry (I blame seeing the film ‘Threads’ on my 13th birthday), some of the lyrics are a dig at the right wing political selfish bullshit that currently resides in the UK and US.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the band avoid stagnation or monotony in a specific sub-genre such as epic doom metal?
Outlaw: I feel that epic doom metal is an exciting sub-genre, within this genre the bands are coming from many different angles and not just singing about smoking bongs. From the point of view of Monolith Cult, as long as we are keeping it real and writing songs with a meaningful content then we will avoid stagnation. For me, any song that deals with everyday issues and aspects of psychological struggle will never be monotonous.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the striking cover art for the new record? It appears to my eyes to be something that could easily have appeared during the King Diamond or early Entombed years…
Outlaw: We are glad that you like the artwork for Gospel of Despair – that is all down to Dan Goldsworthy who created it for us. Dan has created artwork for bands such as Hell, Accept, Alestorm, GloryHammer and Xentrix. It was Lee that made contact with Dan and we are very pleased with Dan’s awesome work. We agree that Dan has created a classic album cover which is very reminiscent of great metal bands of the ‘80s. The one thing that we asked for was that it had to include a mushroom cloud.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the differences between Monolith Cult in the studio versus performing on stage?
Outlaw: Monolith Cult in the studio is always time constrained as we paid for it all ourselves, the first album cost around $1,000 done over 2 weekends at Stuck on a Name Studios in Nottingham with Ian Boult who got a real dirty sound for our first record. For Gospel of Despair we spent around $3,350 for roughly seven days. We do this for love because there isn’t anyone funding our recordings, but we knew that we had songs that deserved to be heard.
As for the recording process, I personally find it difficult to get into, I find it hard to relax into the studio, and for Gospel of Despair we arranged (things) so I could record vocals for two songs a day rather than doing all seven in one go. I think because the studio is a much more clinical process we all end up either stressed or fucking up parts we’ve played hundreds of times. But Chris was very supportive and creates a pretty mellow atmosphere. It might sound like we don’t really enjoy it, that isn’t the case at all, it is a great feeling hearing the songs come together in the studio. I think everyone is just very critical of their own performance until they have chilled out enough to enjoy it. Another aspect is that we can add vocal harmonies, background vocals and double track when needed. This is also true for the guitar parts.
On stage is a much more enjoyable experience due to the immediacy of the feeling that you get, the volume and energy of it makes it seem somewhat easier. Also, you can get into it and move around a lot more, which you can’t do in the studio, unless you’re KK and Glenn from Judas Priest. I feel after being in bands for all these years we are much more relaxed on stage. To be honest when you start a band it’s to play live and get people to hear your songs in that environment. Playing live is something that we love to do. Personally I feel we have much more confidence on stage and that comes across in our performance.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of your most memorable performances, and what types of reactions do you get from the audience?
Outlaw: Audiences seem to dig what we are doing, but we are definitely an underground band, so there may be a few people that know some of our songs, but the rest of them you are just trying to win over with a good performance and good songs. Thankfully it generally works.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you look at the landscape of the UK metal scene these days? Do you believe social media and its various platforms has made things easier or harder for bands to break out and develop a following, especially in comparison to the underground/tape trading/ in print fanzine network of say 20-30 years previous?
Outlaw: To be honest in this digital age we have been pretty rubbish at self-promotion and I have no fucking clue how people create a buzz via Facebook or other internet platforms. Also, people have access to hundreds of thousands of bands, it’s like crawling through glass whilst covered in shit, how does anyone take notice of you when there are a million other distractions?
I know that Lee preferred the tape trading days, as it felt more personal with more friendly connections, the digital format can be impersonal and it’s so easy to download a plethora of albums and demos which people may never ever listen to. But we are where we are and Transcending seem to know how to create a digital interest much better than the band ever has, which is a real help for us.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the progress of Monolith Cult at currently – especially in terms of establishing yourselves locally as well as internationally?
Outlaw: Locally we are doing ok and hopefully we can increase our following with a few more local gigs in the near future. International recognition is something that is possibly just starting and thanks to Transcending, people from many different countries are starting to hear about us.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you satisfied with your level of success – and if not, what do you think it will take to get up to that next level?
Outlaw: I’m perfectly happy with whatever level of success we achieve. When I first had the idea of getting into bands and writing original music the idea was to play some gigs and record an album, those initial ideas have never left and still hold the same kind of meaning as they did when we first started creating music. From my point of view and experience, you have to have realistic expectations. As long as we are writing, gigging and recording then I feel we have made a success of things, I have a long list of friends and acquaintances who were desperate to ‘make it’. Their idea of ‘making it’ was unrealistic and out of reach, as it is only a minuscule percentage of bands out there that make it. The other 99% of bands remain underground or ignored. Those people that are desperate to make it end up falling by the wayside and giving up. Whereas we have stayed true to the original intentions, without having pretensions of rock stardom, it’s all about the love of creating music and not the idea of being a star.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your passions, hobbies, and interests that the members of Monolith Cult like to pursue when you have the free time to do so away from music?
Outlaw: I read a lot of books and watch documentaries about nuclear and atomic history, it’s somewhat of an obsession, and not very healthy but you need to know your enemy. For the sake of my own mental health I enjoy running, it gives you time to sort out your mind and kick in those endorphins. I also do stand-up poetry every now and again, with maximum profanity and anger.
Dead Rhetoric: Over the past five years, do you have any specific belief or behavior that has changed your outlook/ perspective on life, and if so how did this come about?
Outlaw: Is life not to understand and accept that everyone is struggling within their own minds, and attempting to cope with their own life. Having a mental breakdown in my 20’s (way longer than 5 years ago) and the recovery process of that was the thing that changed my perspective on things. I can still be a prick but have the self-awareness to try and avoid such shitty behavior.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Monolith Cult over the next twelve months?
Outlaw: We are looking forward to seeing how the album is accepted into the doom metal world. We have a couple of gigs planned with doom metal masters Solstice in 2018. Obviously, we are looking for more UK gigs and hopefully we can get into Europe as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Will there be a conceptual video for one of the songs off the new album – and has work begun on writing for the follow-up?
Outlaw: We have just finished shooting a video for the opening track of the album, “Disconnection Syndrome,” which will hopefully look like the depressing aftermath of a nuclear attack whilst attempting to survive in a basement. It’s low budget but I don’t really think the production values of a video filmed after the bomb has dropped would be of the highest importance. We are looking to have it edited and finished in the new year. We have nearly two songs written for the third album and Lee is currently working on the third song, which when finished he will bring to rehearsal and we will add vocals and guitar harmonies.