If you can imagine the sound that the Earth might make when it’s sleeping – if you can imagine its pulsating, heaving breaths, its snores, its slow, dark dreams – if you can imagine how it would grumble and groan when it turns and stretches in the night, and then goes back to sleep again; and if you can imagine how every sleep is a billion centuries old, but still new and now – if you can imagine even a little of that, then you might have a sense of what the Melbourne –based solo ambient drone project Monolith sounds like on his 2011 EP release, Spectres.
But only a sense. Only a bit. Because there is much more to Spectres than an old, sleeping Earth.
Spectres is a bit over half an hour of dark industrial hums and whirs, where the sounds pulsate and resonate, sometimes creating the feel of a thousand harmonic overtones bouncing off infinite walls, sometimes pared down to a single thread: but always, somewhere, you can hear the music’s heartbeat, slow and strong, as old as the hills.
But, even with its roots in a subterranean past, the music of Spectres is very, very new. It gives you a different take on minimalist drone music, relying less on those ground-rumbling bass lines where the guitars are tuned down to Q flat, and instead building its droning throb out of today’s world, like a spectre, if you will, of a factory siren held in suspension. It’s a sonic world kicked into being by the nerve and mettle of modern life – and kept alive by the sounds of the blood that flows through cities.
And when you hear the relentless sound of that blood, pumped through the music’s veins, and are hypnotised by it, so that those hard industrial sounds take on a spirit of the eternal, the picture Monolith paints becomes an unsettling one. It is a picture of that sleeping Earth made not out of rock and water, but out of steel and cement: cold, harsh, inhospitable.
Creating these deep, enduring images through long arcs of music that are moulded out of the barest of elements can only ever be done by someone who knows how to pace and shape sounds, as minimalist as these, in a way that gets your body to beat to its beat. This is music that slows you down and draws you down; it lowers your heartbeat and your body temperature until you, too, find yourself curled, foetus-like, not in the Earth’s womb, but in its bowels.
Just a few minutes before Spectres ends, its sleeping rest is disturbed by what could be the sound of dozens of metal sheets pounding into a concrete floor. It's a haunting portent of what this music seems to have been warning you of all along - this sleep is not a peaceful one, and it lulls you only to make you captive to its nightmares.