“Defiance Of The Preconceived”

By: Lord Randall

From its beginnings in Florida nearly a decade and a half ago, one wouldn’t expect MONOTHEIST to be just now unleashing its first full-length. Yet time, life and opportunity don’t always follow our designs, and sometimes – just sometimes – the end result is worth the wait. Lord Randall entered the cathedral, snuck into the confessional, and discovered the truth about Scourge as revealed by founding guitarist Michael “Prophet” Moore and vocalist JJ “Shiv” Polachek…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Over ten years into MONOTHEIST as a band, was there a defining factor (or factors) that led you to know that now was the time for a debut full-length? 

PROPHET: As soon as “Unforsaken” was complete, I wanted to start work on a full length, but things just weren’t musically coming together. It was only after “Genesis Of Perdition” [2013] that things started to fall into place. It helped that in that time we were able to get a stable line up as well. After signing with Prosthetic Records last year, with their enthusiasm for the band's music, we knew it was the right time to drop the album. 

WC: With three vocalists – or at least people able to do vocals – in the band, how do you decide which part is best for each? LYNYRD SKYNYRD and MOLLY HATCHET’s three-guitarists model wasn't just born overnight, you know? And it seems just as daunting a task today, when you don't want "Oh, the melodic guy, the screaming guy, the guy who can kinda do both, but..." 

P: JJ is the main vocalist so naturally he is the one who does a bulk of the vocals but with Tyler and Cooper, there are some parts where they can augment what's going on and get their chance to shine, like a cool background part, or maybe as counterpart in a call and response kind of section. They all sound different but great so that's something we wanted to utilize on this album a bit, and hopefully more in the future to greater effect. We actually had four of us do vocals on this album, because Jose did the clean vocal part in the middle of ‘Scourge’, so there's a quadruple vocal attack thing going on. This album was the first time we tried it out and we hope to do it more in the future. 

SHIV: It almost entirely comes down to logistics. Since we're a pretty technical band on all fronts, some vocal ideas need to be assigned to whoever handles them best. The large bulk of it is on me, but for example, almost all the higher, black metal sounding vocals on ‘Abominable Acts’ were done by our drummer Cooper, because I just felt like his delivery worked better than mine. On the other hand, we have a song like ‘The Grey King’ where the vocals are very fast, and in order for them to have proper impact there is a reasonable back-and-forth between me and Tyler. The whole thing is very dynamic and based on the amorphous nature of what each song needs.
WC: From “Unforsaken” in 2007 on, it seems the lyrics have taken a darker, more bleak turn that before. What troubles you more? The seemingly hopeless state of a mankind born into sin and bent on its own destruction, or the political/environmental upheavals that seem to be taking place at an ever-increasing rate? 

P: Look at what's going on in the US, for example, with the extreme division among the people, racially, politically, etc. people are continuing to be pushed further and further apart, destabilizing and destroying society in the process. Living abroad has allowed me to see things more clearly and impacted how I write lyrics.   
Shiv: In the most simple and direct terms, we're just different people. We've both evolved since then, in different directions, and that's all it is. My lyrics are a reflection of who I am. That's all I can speak on. Mike gave me room to write what I had inside me, and that's what I did. The rest is all him. 

WC: Back in the mid-late '80s, a metal band where members professed Christianity would've been skewered if they'd admitted there were non-believers in the band. I've seen it happen. Nowadays with bands such as yourselves, ZAO, NORMA JEAN, it seems as if Christendom has become more accepting of individuals who may not believe the same, while the black/death metal community has, if anything, become tolerant of everything except someone standing up for their individual belief in Christ. What changed? Societal norms? If anything, the metal culture police need to remember most of us got into the music we love due to feeling marginalized in some way. 

P: I've actually been thinking about this a lot. Believers have always been called to be accepting of others, so if we are doing that, we are just doing what we were supposed to be from the beginning. Jesus always hung out with the sinners as well as the saved. It's always been about love and acceptance and unfortunately, too many of us aren't practicing what we preach. However, on the flipside, I find it ironic that metal culture these days finds pride in being so tolerant of literally almost anything, any religion, except for Christianity. Mention anything negative sentiment about any other religion and you're branded a hateful, bigot, but Christianity is the only acceptable target for derision, despite that Jesus preached about things that would help us become better people and make the world a better place if we followed His teachings. I find it interesting and it's only helped to reaffirm my faith because, as anyone with knowledge of the Bible knows, the world's enmity with God would only grow as time goes by and that's exactly what we are seeing these days. Hopefully, metal culture will become a bit less hypocritical in the future but whatever, if my belief in God ruffles some people's feathers because it's against the grain of what metal is "supposed to" stand for, then to me, that is pretty metal in of itself.

S: I mean, historically speaking the world at large has great reason to be suspicious of Christianity. It was the banner that horrible campaigns of imperial colonialism were under, and we live in a world that has been shaped by those horrors, to benefit those who follow in the footsteps of their orchestrators. So yeah I get the ideological unfriendliness. That being said, when it comes down to the music itself, most of the Christian metal bands that put in the work to establish themselves were genuinely really good. They were literally my gateway. I wouldn't be jocking DEAD CONGREGATION if I hadn't heard DEMON HUNTER at church when I was 13. LIVING SACRIFICE, CRIMSON MOONLIGHT, DROTTNAR, HORDE, EXTOL…all that shit still slaps hard. Love it. To discount the innovations those bands made on the basis of their faith is just dumb. Also as an aside, ZAO is definitely not a Christian band by any metric. I've become somewhat close to them in recent years, and ⅗ of those guys are faithless (including Dan who writes all lyrics). I wanna nip that misconception in the bud wherever I can. We're not a Christian band either, so I'd appreciate it if we stopped being approached as such. 

WC: How do you feel you've grown as musicians/songwriters between 2013's “Genesis Of Perdition” and now? Was there anything specific you knew you wanted to focus on with Scourge that maybe you didn't five years ago? Anything you knew you wanted to avoid? 

P: Well, I think we've becoming better at crafting compositions over time, more comfortable at utilizing our influences and musical abilities to achieve the sound we want. We wanted to make an epic album so we strived really hard to make sure to deliver. 

Shiv: I mold my vocalisations to fit the songs. I rarely go super guttural in Monotheist because it's very much aiming to be emotive and colorful, so I give it my proper lower-to-middle range, with lots of gusto. On the other hand, my other band NEKROI THEOI is almost entirely guttural, because it's brutal death metal. My approach to that is much dirtier and less based around getting razor sharp, perfect takes. I appreciate a vocalist who can bring life and personality to a song while staying low. Those are the vocalists who I would cover when I started doing this stuff. That's eventually the vocalist I aimed to become myself. 

WC: You can tech, prog and (God forbid) djent all you want, but if the songs aren't there, there's simply no lasting power. Have there been times when you've cut certain parts , because they took away from the song, times you'd added them simply because it's what the song called for? 

P: That's actually where most of the time is spent, arranging the songs. You're right, without having an actual song, it doesn't matter how many great riffs, slams, have. So we work hard on trying to make the songs coherent and cohesive. Sometimes you have a killer part but it just doesn't work in the context of the song and you need to cut it, no matter how painful it feels. Sometimes, something is missing, the part you need to bring it all together and you need to think about what will work. It can take days, it can take weeks, but then it comes. As a matter of fact, we are in the middle of writing our next album right now and it's bringing me back to the days when we were working on “Scourge.” What is exciting is that some of the great ideas we had for “Scourge” that we couldn't use back then, we will be able to use for the next release since they work better in the context of the current songs. 

WC: When it comes to the song 'Mark Of The Beast II: Scion Of Darkness', what were you alluding to by "...whose visage cannot be seen by the eyes of those blinded by pride"? Also, if you could speak a bit about how that song came together in particular. 

P: It's simple: Satan. [Laughter] Yeah, actually it's about the evil spiritual influence that people tend to become blind to as a result of pride, which is the origin of sin. 

WC: Who played the strings on the prelude to that song? Seems almost a nod to the early progressive death band BELIEVER, even if unconsciously... 

P: Originally we wanted to get a live string quartet to record the strings but budget and time constraints prevented that, so we went with MIDI samples. Hopefully the next album will have some live, classical orchestration, but we will see. I do like BELIEVER and I've heard Dimensions as a teenager so maybe that was an unconscious influence, although on a more conscious level, it was my love for Baroque music and Bach, as well as EXTOL (who had live strings on their first two albums) that inspired me to write that section.

WC: Fairly brave move, putting a 10-minute instrumental on your debut album. Did ‘Infinite Wisdom’ come together as an instrumental, and, if so, did it give you a bit of freedom to not have to "write around" lyrics? 

P: It was always intended to be an instrumental and definitely made it a different experience writing it since we didn't have to worry about making room for vocals. We didn't expect it to be so long but it is what it is. It was a bit of gamble but it seems many people really dig it. However, in the end, we in the band all were happy with the song and that is the most important thing.

WC: What feeling do you hope a listener is left with after their first experience with “Scourge”? 

P: I hope that when people first hear the record, they feel a strong urge to go back and listen to it a few more times to catch the things they missed out on. I feel like it is a bit of a dense record and there are lot of things going on, subtle things that most people will not catch the first time around. All in all, I hope they will feel that listening to this album is a journey that will want to go back on time and time again. 

S: This is a really good album to smoke weed to and just listen front to back. So definitely do that. Also, as Mike said, there are many layers to it and I want it to have moments that pull people back in and allow them to discover what they hadn't heard before. I want people to be excited about how this will come across live, because we don't aim to slack once the touring begins. The aim is for a work of art that offers substance beyond spectacle and musical athletics, and if people come away saying "I love that riff/moment/melody" instead of just "dude these guys shred" then I think we've hit our mark. 

WC: Plans for the remainder of the year? 

P: The rest of the year we will be finishing up writing the follow up to “Scourge” and then hopefully touring this summer and beyond as we find time. Only two of the guys live in the same state, and I live in a different country so it's not really easy to rehearse, but we are working on ways to make it work because we really want to get out there and promote the record.

S: Currently working on touring plans, but we will get out there. As Mike said, much of the next album has already been demo'd and is being worked on, and we aim to do something with much more grandeur, building on the expansive songwriting that always has been the MONOTHEIST tendency. This band has always been about the music itself above all else, and as long as we still have ideas for that, we will continue.