Guest article by Svennerick
Released in August of 1996, Monstrosity’s second effort Millennium is an album I personally hold in very high regards, considering I nearly spent eight months listening to it multiple times a day. This is an addictive album and each new listen made it clearer why this album stands head and shoulders above anything released under the term “technical death metal.”
To explain why this album should be considered as the holy grail of a rightfully despised subgenre of metal, we need to take a deeper look at what technical death metal is today and what the original ideas of death metal are and how Monstrosity merged the two worlds together, long before Necrophagist or Spawn Of Possession and their offspring brought this music to its fall.
Modern technical death metal is very formulaic and each band shares many similarities, considering most of them are on the same label, using the same equipment etc. This originates from the idea that people just hide their lack of creativity and taste behind worshiping any of the pioneers, which gave the modern technical death metal its sound during the early-mid 2000s. Fast picked eight-note riffs with weird intervals, diminished scales and chords and a lot of pinch harmonics and monotonous, almost double time growls while blast beats or “creative,” asymmetrical jazz fills support the riffs. This is cool if you are someone who thinks that instrumental ability equals quality of the music, or if you are just interested in seeing how “weird” and “freaky” it can get. Boldly said, many modern technical death metal bands hide their lack of creativity behind aesthetics and tools, which only attracts those who actually care about how many beats per minute your song has.
This opposes the initial idea death metal portrayed. I understand death metal song writing as a way to tell a story. Guide the listener through a labyrinth and after many repeated listens he will find his way through the labyrinth or the story and he will enjoy every step of the journey, since it is very fleshed out and detailed. Musically many of the old Bands, be it Suffocation, At The Gates or Immolation, achieved this through variation, breaking up patterns, reintroducing them with slight modifications or totally twist and turn them until something new is created.
And this is where Monstrosity’s Millennium builds a bridge between those two worlds:
This is pure death metal at heart, no Chuck “Died of AIDS” Schuldiner worship or metalcore riffs played at 240 beats per minute without the drop tuning and “pleasant” note choice. The technical abilities of each musician are used to enhance this maze of riffs, churn out every elemental part of a riff, mutate and reshape it, so to draw a bigger picture of this labyrinth they are guiding us through. There are no flaws in writing to be glossed over with random sweeps so the listener gets distracted from what’s actually happening and where the song is heading.
On Millennium Monstrosity totally benefits from the production. Guitars are sounding thick and textural, but very detailed, every note can be heard and none of the flawless playing gets lost under the production. The drums have a very three dimensional sound, every crash and snare hit is perfectly audible, which helps to get a great sense of how Monstrosity link guitars and drums together. The vocals are very present in the mix, but they don’t guide the songs or distract in any way. This is definitely George Fisher’s best performance, showing us that he was a powerhouse that got it all. Fast growls, insane screams and even the slower piece “Fragments Of Resolution” benefits from his ability to perform longer growls as well, while his vocal lines ascend and descend, showing that there is some emotion behind the post-human lyrics. The aforementioned track also shows us some of the great bass work played by Kelly Conlon, but it’s mostly shadowed by the sheer lunacy and childlike interplay between Drummer Lee Harrison and SINGLE guitarist Jason Morgan.
Most songs on Millennium mostly consist of a handful of riffs, while each song starts with a motif that sets the tone for the rest of the entire track, May it be the slow “Fragments of Resolution” or the very busy “Manic”. This initial idea is repeated a few times until a second riff kicks in which then mutates slightly before the initial theme returns, which then chases and fights the secondly introduced theme before they merge together and the songs reach their climax.
The Riff craft on Millennium consists out of neckbreaking power chords, hellish fast runs across the fretboard, tremolo picking which even surpasses some of the big names at times, or slower parts with more groove and emphasis on the aforementioned interplay between guitar and drums. Guitar solos are played in a more regular fashion, although contrary to most Death Metal of the time Jason Morgan put a lot of emphasis on structure and harmony compared to most bands of the time, who mostly used dive bombs and fast clusters of unrelated notes, which were inspired by Slayer and Morbid Angel. Speaking of Morbid Angel, the riff craft here could be compared to what Morbid Angel did on Blessed Are The Sick.
Very phrasal riffs, each making sense on their own right and then glued together into a song they are so powerful that the listener is able to perceive how the patterns of each instrument interact. This almost reminds of a recursive function, which draws itself over and over again until the whole picture is there, so the riffs start to bloom more and more as the song progresses. That clearly proves that each song was written with a clear goal in mind and it was achieved on every of the ten tracks of this album.
As an example I would like to focus on the song “Dream Messiah,” being my most listened song of all time and also showing that Monstrosity even managed to include modern metal techniques into their writing and made them work so well that the song reaches new heights. Analyzing the structure of this song was hard, considering the nature of Monstrosity’s writing. So many parts were merged together to new riffs or riffs changed in only the slightest detail. This is the rough structure I came up with:
A A1 | B C C1 B1 C B1 A1 | B + C2 + B B3 + C2 + B1 C A1 | B A1
Riff A is the initial theme of short sixteenth note bursts which are followed by an eight note which is a fifth lower, followed by a fast legato after a few repetitions. Riff A1 seems to be the same general idea, just played an octave below. Riff B follows after the drum fill (indicated through “|”) and consists of some short tremolo picking and a resting power chord, while B1 seems to consist out of the same tones, just that they are played in a start-stop rhythm. Riff C is a merge between the fast runs of Riff A and between and the tremolo picks of Riff B. Riff C1 just spices up the chords of the riff prior. Riff C2 only appears during the two guitar solos (indicated through “+”) and seems to be a variation of riff C1, without the fast runs which originate from Riff A, but with some filler notes between the power Chords from Riff C1. After the first solo Riff B returns, which then is followed by Riff B3 which shortly replaces the last Power Chord of Riff B with some eight note lick.
At first this structure might seem very random, even brain melting, but in the context of the riffs it allows the song to have a very natural flow. As the song progresses the riffs merge more and more together, taking different elements from their predecessors while removing some of their own integral paths. This can be linked to the lyrics in a way that the drug addict (Dream Messiah might refer to drugs altering your perception of reality and giving you a temporary break from all the troubles of real life and it’s struggles) gets deeper into the more serious matter of his addiction until he is at the bottom and can only cope with more drugs until he “pushed his body to the final day” and reaches the stage of suicide being the last viable option. So as the addiction and need to cope grow the song twists and turns and interferes more with itself until the last Riffs A1, and then again A1 show the resolution which might have been found.
Logic of sanity
Revel in agony
Pushing their bodies to their final day
In depth thrives
By mortal lives
Creating kingless slaves
THE DREAM MESSIAH!
Confined to a matrix of corruption
Entwined in this political surgery
Some will make it look so easy
By embracing their addictions to a vice they crave
With Millennium Monstrosity unleashed a beast which transcends the term technical death metal. This is not music that primarily wants to showcase how fast or technical it can be, it doesn’t borrow from anyone else and reigns within its own set rules and nature. This surely is a very muscular album but the beauty lies within the detail which I discovered after absorbing this album more than everything else, but that’s not because I forced myself into this Album, it’s just that Millennium wants you to discover its intricacies and while doing so you get addicted to it. This happened because the Album flows so well, the songs feel natural and the chemistry between each musician makes this album an absolute force of nature and encourages you the see the patterns that hide in it’s rhythms and structures.
An album that stands the test of time, unsurpassed and never imitated in an genre that tries to surpass itself in every aspect and imitates too much for its own good.
Personal highlights are: Dream Messiah, Fragments Of Resolution, Stormwinds, and Seize Of Change.