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From Exile - "Monolith" (CD)

From Exile - "Monolith" CD cover image

"Monolith" track listing:

1. Arrival (4:51)
2. Impure Visionary (3:58)
3. Apparition (3:33)
4. Exhumed (3:33)
5. Veritas (2:13)
6. The Unlearning Dissent (2:21)
7. Monolith (7:12)
8. In The Faded Silence (4:13)

Reviewed by on January 10, 2010

"'Monolith' is not only for instrumental/progressive-obsessed music nerds, but those that value substance over monotonous metal clichés."

In the current digital age, the idea of a band being “independent” has blossomed to levels previously thought unimaginable. Record labels will always have an omniscient presence in the music industry, but the Internet has given a voice to unknown and aspiring talent. From Exile has used this tool to put their debut album “Crushing Reality” up for free and market themselves to the masses in anticipation of their sophomore effort “Monolith.”

Marking a new direction for the band, their second album focuses heavily on the instrumental aspects, as guitar duo Eric Guenther and Ben Wetzelberger put on a clinic that is ear-opening in its execution. “Crushing Reality” was a melodic progressive death metal album, highlighted by raspy screams, ten-plus minute opuses, and an unfortunate tendency to wander haphazardly through dull sound pieces. The most noticeable difference between the two albums is how tight the band has gotten as songwriters on “Monolith.” The eight tracks pack in plenty of tempo shifts, atmosphere changes and crushing riffs, with none of the filler that was present in their debut.

“Monolith,” while split into separate tracks, could be seen as a conceptual piece of music. Each song fades into the next one, creating a half-hour epic that never ceases to astound on a musical level. The guitarists work together as a cohesive pair, trading off spell-bounding solos and soaring harmonies that trail off into an unknown oblivion. There are more dimensions to the guitar playing than just wanking and overindulgent tomfoolery; witness the classical acoustic interlude in “Impure Visionary” or the soothing vibes transmitted on closer “In The Fading Silence.”

More than anything, From Exile knows how to set a mood. Ambient sections give off a light, airy feel to shorter number “Veritas,” while brilliant opener “Arrival” crushes the listener’s chest in with the impact of an exploding fire hydrant. The epic title track sums the entire album up in one song, as the sublime guitar interplay builds to a soulful piano outro. The instrumental front on “Monolith” is important, as the vocals have been toned down a great deal. The harsh barking has been replaced by an occasional Cynic-esque clean vocoder style that is cold and mechanical.

The band got several members of death metal heavyweights Daath to have a part in the creation of “Monolith.” Daath guitarists Eyal Levi and Emil Werstler handled production and guest solos, respectively, while the drums were played by the legendary Kevin Talley. Having a band with the brutal sound of Daath interact with the progressive sound that From Exile brought to the table combined into a perfect match. While the bass is too low in the mix, and the drums seem to lack some punch as well, Levi did a stellar job putting an emphasis on the guitar work, where it belonged.

It’s nice to be surprised every once in a while by an unsigned band and From Exile does just that. After a major line-up change that saw the amount of members split in half, the band pushed forward and took this new-found opportunity to explore unfamiliar territory. The biggest improvement in the three years since their debut is the tighter songwriting, which puts quality over quantity. “Monolith” is not only for instrumental/progressive-obsessed music nerds, but those that value substance over monotonous metal clichés.

Highs: Guitar wizardry of the highest order, tight songwriting, a unique progressive sound, nice flow from one song to the next.

Lows: Bass is too low in the mix, the little vocal work that there is on the album isn't anything special.

Bottom line: A progressive metal treat for those that enjoy instrumental work and unpredictable song structures.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)