Functioning as the soundtrack to the comic of the same name, Monocyte is a different kind of project from Menton J. Matthews III (or Menton3), the man behind hybrid neo-classical trip-hop project Saltillo and member of Sunday Munich. As accompaniment to his abstract horror comic co-written with Kasra Ghanbari, the music retains much of the mystique that made Saltillo’s 2006 debut Ganglion a minor classic, violin and cello buffeted by looping percussion and a painterly sense of composition and texture. In direct relation to the graphic (both in form and content) nature of the project, Menton3’s music has taken on an even more theatrical and unsettling flavour on Monocyte, encroaching on the sort of cold symmetry brokered by your more cinematically-oriented dark ambient artists
Set on a timeless and blighted earth, the titular character Monocyte arrives as an avatar of death, set to end the reign of two warring tribes of immortals, the Olignostics and the Antedeluvians and deliver them unto, well, death. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in the comics review game, but I’ll indulge for a moment; Menton’s artwork is of the abstract school pioneered by Bill Sienkiewicz and favored by contemporaries like Ashley Wood and Ben Templesmith, all of whom have coincidentally been tapped to contribute cover illustrations and back-up stories to the 4-issue series. Menton’s fully painted iteration of the style works well for the scale and timber of the tale at hand, and although the dense, exposition heavy dialogue occasionally falls short of the lyrical feel it’s aiming for, it makes for a nice package; a high concept pseudo-biblical horror storyset at the end of ages, with a dash of dark absurdity.
The music of Monocyte appropriately mirrors the bleak palette of the comic. In contrast to their dusty organic feel on Ganglion Saltillo’s drum loops and programming have become rusted and mechanical, the lush use of strings stripped down to a razor’s edge. Ghostly samples punctuate the mix, either to suggest the wasted human civillization of the setting or to provide loose metaphorical soundbites. Unsurprisingly, the tone is universally dark. It’s quite functional as a soundtrack: I played it during my read-through of the two released issues and felt it complimented and added dimension to the experience. In listening to it after the fact further details revealed themselves, namely that the album is constructed like a traditional movie score. Themes are established early and repeated, the melody of “The Right of Action” turning up slightly mutated several times across the album, slowed and broken up on “Forced Vision”, and transferred from violin to female vocal on “Veil”. Each song bleeds into the next, valleys and peaks that mirror the surreal violence of the narrative. The occasional dalliance with other elements, like the jarring big-beat breakdown on “To Kill a King” or the banjo on “I Hate You” do distract slightly, but not so much as to spoil the overall effect: Monocyte is just as moody and blasted as it should be, all things considered.
Comic book soundtracks are a tricky affair, the temporal nature of release schedule being a particular sticking point in this case: I’ve still read only half of Monocyte the comic, any further revelations regarding how the music and the page interact will need to wait ’til the story is complete. Still, as projects of this nature go it’s a success, due largely to the Menton’s authorial role in both the visual and audio aspects of the work. While neither side is intractable from the other, they fit well enough to justify the soundtrack conceit and provide an added dimension to the consumption of the other. In execution and content Monocyte proves to be a welcome return from Saltillo, albeit in a new darker form.