"Kevin actually leaked the last album before it was out," says Matt Price, guitarist and founding member of L.A. doom-metal outfit Behold! The Monolith.
His bandmates — vocalist Jordan Nalley, bassist Jason "Cas" Casanova and drummer Chase Manhattan — all laugh. They sit crammed together in Price's van, AC blasting in the blistering August heat. They're parked in front of Complex in Glendale, where the quartet is about to perform.
"He was part of some super-secret torrent website that had put out a bounty on the album," Price continues. "So he figured, why not upload it himself? That was totally who he was."
It's been two years since Behold! The Monolith, then a trio consisting of Price, Manhattan and vocalist/bassist Kevin McDade, suffered a devastating blow when McDade was killed in a car accident. The tragedy happened just two weeks before they were set to go on the road in promotion of their critically acclaimed second full-length album, Defender, Redeemist. They were forced to cancel the tour and, due to scheduling conflicts, have not had any luck getting on the road since.
It's been a long way back to performing and recording, the band members admit. But with a new lineup, and album Architects of the Void out in late September, Behold! The Monolith have re-emerged more powerful than ever.
"There was never any question of whether or not we were going to continue on as a band," Manhattan says. "We owed it to ourselves, to the music we've made and to Kevin to continue on. It's been hard at times, and it's been really strange, too, but when Cas and Jordan came into the picture, things started to happen."
Behold! The Monolith have remained one of the seething L.A. metal underground's best-kept secrets since they releas their self-titled debut album in 2009. Anchored in brutally heavy riffs, explosive rhythms, beastly vocals and ever-changing time signatures, the band's live performances come across like fire-breathing sermons delivered by a metal prophet — a furious energy Behold! The Monolith captures on recordings as well.
Oscillating between grandiose melody lines and monolithic (no pun intended) riffs that tie the tracks together like Wagnerian leitmotifs, Architects of the Void is the type of album that, like a 19th-century Russian novel, requires commitment on the part of the listener. You have to soak in it — a bathtub filled to the rim with pitch-black water — to fully understand it.
Expanding the lineup has given Behold! The Monolith more space to operate in musically. "We needed two people and a division of labor instead of one person to come in and try to do what Kevin did," Manhattan explains. "Everybody has their own thing they concentrate on now."
Casanova also slings bass in L.A. stoner-rock band Sasquatch and was a fan of Behold! The Monolith before joining in December 2013. Nalley, a member of local technical death-metal band Fractalline, signed up six months later, not without some trepidation.
"I really dig what Kevin did as a vocalist, but we're very different," Nalley says. "I wanted to go in my own direction without taking away from the original style. It definitely took time."
"I didn't think about it during the recording process, but it is a pretty dark record, and of course it is, because our friend had just died," Price says. "It wasn't contrived. It just came out like that."
Manhattan says, "I didn't hear how dark it was until I listened to the entire record, but [producer] Billy Anderson was a big part of creating that atmosphere, too."
Renowned producer Anderson, whose résumé includes credits on some of the most artistically daring metal albums of the last 25 years (The Melvins' Houdini, High on Fire's Surrounded by Thieves, Neurosis' Through Silver in Blood), has worked with Behold! The Monolith on every album they've put out. The producer's not the fifth member of the band, but he comes close.
"He's the type of producer who just lightens the mood in the studio. He knows what he's doing on a psychological as well as a technical level," Price says. "We are always writing with him in mind like that."
Behold! The Monolith are at the vanguard of an underground metal scene that has experienced a global renaissance over the last decade, with bands such as High on Fire, YOB and Pallbearer breaking through to a wider audience.
Doom metal originated with Black Sabbath's late-'60s, black-clad, proto-heavy metal, and the genre has since thrived in underground clubs and DIY venues. But after decades of being confined to ever-dwindling circles of heavy-metal connoisseurs, the power of the riff once again seems to be enticing the mainstream.
"The L.A. scene is totally thriving right now," says Ryan Avery, who heads Midnite Collective, Long Beach's underground metal label and booking agency. Avery has been involved with L.A.'s doom-metal scene since 2009, when he started booking shows for friends and bands he liked. Today, in addition to running the Midnite Communion concert series, Avery releases albums and tapes and collaborates with visual artists all over the world to promote the music and the scene.
Doom isn't big business for Avery, who has a day job as a graphic designer, but he acknowledges a tectonic shift that has come with more mainstream attention. "I'm eating ramen noodles every day to make it work financially, but there's so much interest in this right now, it's hard to keep up," says Avery, who performs himself with the band Pigeonwing. "One band making a difference locally is Behold! The Monolith.
"They're a phenomenal band," he adds. "Matt and Chase have always been an absolutely unstoppable musical force. With the addition of Jordan and Cas, they've only gotten stronger. They're a world-recognized band at this point, and they have the potential to really take that whole realm."
When asked about being labeled a doom band, Price shrugs it off. "We're a metal band. Me and Kevin always wanted it to be like the anti-Mastodon or the anti-Baroness; instead of getting poppier with every album, we just want to get gnarlier."
With the new lineup in place, Behold! The Monolith are ready to take another stab at touring, hopefully sometime next spring. Europe, where they have a sizable following based on their recordings, is high on the list of priorities.
Meanwhile, there are already rumors that Architects of the Void has been leaked online. Price says they can't be sure who did it yet, but only a select few have copies of the album.
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The quartet discusses possible suspects as they exit the van to catch a last cigarette before the show. "Who knows," Manhattan says. "Maybe it was Kevin again."
Behold! The Monolith's Architects of the Void is available for pre-order via Bandcamp.