Eric Van Wonterghem has been making hard techno and rhythmic noise as Monolith since at least a couple years before “power noise” and “technoid” were coined as a descriptors, and his work under the alias has never wavered significantly. Even while working with Dirk Ivens on the second incarnation of the similarly minded Sonar, or the resurrection of their legendary Absolute Body Control project, Van Wonterghem has retained Monolith for his own specific brand of forceful beats, often eschewing crushing power for subtler and more textural swells and eddies.
2016’s Domination places Monolith directly in that wheelhouse, building rhythms from the ground up into full-fledged songs, carefully holding back and releasing energy to create mounting pressure. The earliest tracks of the album are especially adept at keeping the tension simmering, with the machinegun rattle of the title track giving away to the understated “Angel of Death” and the evolving arrangement of bass and drums that give “Bridges” a feeling of life and movement. Van Wonterghem doesn’t tend to place fast and loose with his kicks, keeping them near the center of his songs and locked to grid, with grooves built from the proximity of other instruments and sounds.
Occasionally the record takes a more explicitly atmospheric turn, like on “Baigari” where Indian instruments are sampled and looped around one another, with sharp edges born from lower bit rate sampling and saturation. It’s interesting stuff, but less arresting than when he applies similar compositional ideas to the beat-oriented pieces. Witness “Black Fire”, which keeps the tempo up and uses echoing rubbery percussion elements to create layers and textures that read as melody or rhythm depending on the angle at which they hit your ear. There’s a decent amount of trad power noise numbers here as well (“Reconstructed”, “The Bell Witch”): well-executed, but often acting as filler between some of Van Wonterghem more inspired efforts.
Really, the appeal of Domination is in hearing a genre loyalist (and some would argue progenitor) do the thing they do well. Some 20 years since he first started using the Monolith moniker, Eric Van Wonterghem is still making exploring what can be done with these sounds, and what stylistic additions and subtractions can do to renovate his own productions. In an age when industrialized techno and noise influenced music of all stripes seems more prevalent than ever, it’s good to see one of Our Thing’s old hands still working away at and perfecting his craft.