Monocyte – the album

Monocyte – the album

Saltillo – known as Menton3 in the comic book scene and Menton John Matthews III in the real world – is the disgustingly talented multi-instrumentalist behind the 2011 album Ganglion and the 2012 album Monocyte, written as an accompaniment to his creator-owned graphic novel of the same name. Alongside being proficient on the cello, viola, violin, guitar, drums, piano, bass and banjo, Saltillo is an expert in a slew of electronics and a master audio sampler; it’s no wonder Saltillo is often cited as a band rather than an artist, considering how remarkable it is for such a complex album to be accomplished by one man.

His music is most frequently described as a combination of trip hop and neo-classical, incorporating orchestral elements with samples and electronica synths, although there are also clear goth influences. The synthesised, echoing female vocals on If Wishes Were Catholics and Veil are incredibly reminiscent of early 2000 gothic metal bands like Evanescence and Lacuna Coil, and are provided by Sarah Matthews, the artist’s wife and a deputy coroner in Chicago , Illinois whom he worked with in a previous music project called Sunday Munich. Saltillo is one of those musicians who was never classically trained, but has managed to learn and master many instruments to such a high quality that the casual listener could believe he had been. After releasing his first solo album Ganglion, he took a break from music to dedicate his efforts to his artwork, but his graphic novel Monocyte brought back the passion of music. After living for months in the world he had created, an externalised version of his inner landscape, he felt compelled to write the soundtrack of that world. For him, the experience was so fully immersive that the world needed both visual and audible representations.

The album begins with slow, mystic-sounding strings and echoed fragments of speech before bursting into a cacophony of electronic noises and prophetic speech. ABEO is only two and a half minutes and already manages to conjure the feel of a mystical post-apocalyptic land when Proxy kicks in with an industrial trip-hop vibe. The combination of classical music and Shakespearean poetry over synths swells into a dark and dramatic song which ebbs and flows and seamlessly drops back into the piano-heavy If Wishes Were Catholics. The haunting female vocals of Sarah Matthews make this song more easily accessible than many on the album, although it is still masterfully assembled with amazing attention to detail evident in the many layers of music, and Mrs Matthews voice adds pure human emotion to the music.

The Right of Action feels like a soulful dirge, a steady procession toward hopelessness which echoes the graphic novels theme of immortality as a tiring curse against humanity. The next track, They Do It All The Same, begins like a religious chant but falls into slow, trippy club music with the feel of Eastern religious music mystery; it’s clear that Saltillo is influenced by the iconography which religion holds in music. Gatekeepers is much more experimental again with a variety of synthesised noises being brought together like an orchestra while a British voice that sounds crackled as though on vinyl talks slowly throughout, first quoting Euripides’ The Medea, then Shakespeare’s Sonnet 144 (which is an appropriate lament of the artist’s struggle between hope and despair), finally finishing with a passage from Henry VI about the pointlessness of war. I Hate You is more frantic, bringing in sharp strings, canned laughter as on a TV show, and what sounds like Saltillo’s trusty banjo – not something you’d usually expect to hear in either neo-classical or trip hop music, but it works. The juxtaposition of American sitcom laughter and selections of Bible passages create unease, and this song leaves you feeling breathless in parts, only falling back occasionally to incorporate elements of previous songs before moving on again.

Philosophical double-speak accompanies gentle violins for the beginning of Forced Visions; this song is a lot lighter than many others on the album, offering a brief respite from tension without allowing the listener to fall out of the very specific feel that this album has. It steadily moves on into Hollow – which invokes both the sounds of a 18th century ballroom and a modern industrial band – and The Locus Priory which builds up the tension yet again, still maintaining the consistent feeling of overwhelming sadness and human suffering, weaving in snippets of earlier songs to give the album a thematic feel much more like the score to a film than a collection of songs.

A female vocalist accompanies the music in Veil, and it’s unclear whether this is Sarah Matthews again or someone else, as the credits only assign the vocals on If Wishes Were Catholics to her. This song starts quite differently from all the others, with an early 20th century blues vibe with just a hint of a Vincent Price horror film, but by the time the singing is brought in it becomes slightly more normal, a soulful vocal performance over the crashing and grinding of synthetic noises. Religious chanting and the lamentations of an old woman (drawn again from The Medea by Euripidies draw the listener into a false sense of security at the beginning of To Kill A King, as it soon bursts into heavy, rhythmic drumming like tribal dance music. Full of a positive energy and more peace than has been felt for this entire album, the song drains out to the crackled matron’s voice and lets the listener slowly slip away with a real sense of completion – a feeling that echoes the emotions of an immortal who has finally been given the eternal sleep they craved.

Although this album is an accompaniment to the graphic novel, there is no reason it should not be listened to alone. Saltillo is an incredibly talented and nuanced artist – in every meaning of the word – and while the score sets the tone beautifully for the graphic novel it is an album which has no problem standing on its own feet, should it be to your taste. A craving for experimental music, a willingness to listen to mostly instrumental songs and an appreciation for mood, style and technical greatness over catchiness and marketability are necessary for enjoying the album. It isn’t easy music; neither is the graphic novel an easy piece of literature to digest, but it’s completely worth it.

Monocyte is available in two formats; the CD released by Artoffact records, and the EP vinyl Monocyte: The Lapis Coil which features Proxy, Gatekeepers and the Locus Priory as well as remixes of If Wishes Were Catholics and The Right of Action, and the added bonus track Necromancy. All with artwork by the musician.

Posted by jenny in Music, 0 comments
Monocyte – the graphic novel

Monocyte – the graphic novel

It will be no surprise to those who have read my review of Menton3’s Transfusion that I am a huge fan of this particular artist, so it’s possible that I may be bias in my review. Although almost nothing can be found about the writer of> Monocyte, Kasra Ghanbari, he is apparently a student of the philosophy of religion and biology and has built a biotech company – not necessarily vocations that would leave into the writing of graphic novels, but his writing is stilted, poetic and jarring in a very precise, existential way. The pair lived in the world that they created for months at a time, working side by side in a studio so as to have constant feedback and debate.

The idea of the graphic novel began with a love of superheroes and the need to create something new. Menton3 listed all of the traits he would choose in a superhero and, oddly enough, that person turned out as Monocyte, an immortal necromancer. He says that he felt that Monocyte had been inside him for years and now he was finally real, which is how his creativity works; taking dream material and turning it into stories. The world of the graphic novel is so deep and detailed that the events of Monocyte are just a period in time, and thousands of years before and after exist in the minds of its creators – it just so happens that this is a pivotal crux in time.

So, how did we get to this point?

Monocyte is the story of an endless battle between two immortal races. The Olignostics have come about through a convergence of political power and technology, thriving on the technological boom and spiritual collapse at the beginning of the 21st century. After attaining and harnessing absolute zero, they created a conduit which would continually recycle energy and keep them alive indefinitely. Humans became complacent, ignoring the signs of their power structures being destroyed. The world was split into members of the Oligarchy, who alone were connected to the conduit, and the human slaves that they owned; the power of each individual was dependent on the amount of human slaves they own, displayed as a number on their shoulder.

The Antedeluvians are much older than the Olignostics, a secret collective of creatures obeying an ancient code who are primarily seekers of knowledge. Their leader Al-Khidr was the first of these immortals which drew psychic energy from unknowing humans; when the Olignostics rose to power, the Antedeluvians gathered together and went underground, taking humans with them to feed off psychically – these humans were much better off than many others. For countless years the two races warred using weaponless human slaves which would just be brought back, no lives lost and no victory on either side. In a world without death, Azrael (Death himself) has found himself useless and summons Monocyte, whose search for death has lead him to an eternal sleep, and promises him true death if he can destroy the immortality power sources.

Before the rising of the Olignostics, Monocyte was a human named Augustus who was searching for his missing twin brother when he came across the Lapis, a spirit of the dark side at opposites to flesh. The flesh absorbed the spirit, and the immortal was born. Beatrice fell in love with Augustus but lost him to entropy before joining with the Antedeluvians, who she could always see as a child. A twisted superhero action tale, combined with philosophical and Shakespearean prose and a love story between two immortals finding each other at a crucial point in time, it’s not your usual comic book. An essential part of the direction of the story is the idea that the world is what we as humans make it. The collapse of humanity as the dominant power came about through apathy and complacency; “Anyone may look around and see the problems in this world. Anyone can follow the easy path of complacency, watching the wrongs take flight, but to have the courage to back you convictions and ask the question…How would you have it be?”

But we don’t only have this pivotal moment in time to read. Each of the four issues comes with two or three extra stories by guest artists representing the human side of the struggle. Some of these are quite abstract, some more detailed but all of them add a little piece to the puzzle. Kirk’s piece is an odd historical text about archers, and the origin of the raised two fingers as a defiant symbol; Riley Rossmo’s electropunk, frantic artwork shows the influence of the technological upon the biological in the rise of the Olignostics, and David Stoupakis deals with the origin of Beatrice, a child haunted by the ability to see the Antedeluvians and banished to a mental institution. Other contributors include Ben Templesmith, Chris Newman and Alan Hubbard, but this still isn’t it – the back of this beautiful and huge graphic novel contains poems by Steve Niles (writer of Transfusion), galleries of oil cover art and guest covers, a Menton3 gallery and a guest artists gallery including photographs of some very impressive Monocyte helmet designs.

The artwork is unbelievable; you could enjoy the book thoroughly without reading a word. Menton3 is an Artist in the truest sense of the word, someone who compulsively creates and brings to life his internal dreamscape, with Monocyte combining high art with the tradition of sequential storytelling. His interest in symbols, iconography and alchemy all give his world a very distinctive style – grey, apocalyptic, fruitless – and the heavy use of oil paint as well as ink and digital artwork make you feel that every page must have taken weeks to work. The creators fought to have a comic with no concessions and no adverts, pure content and it’s worth it; the result is a piece of work they should be utterly proud of, described as “like Deadwood being sodomized by HR Giger in a cathedral, as narrated by Tom Waits” – and if that sounds as awesome to you as it does to me, make sure you check it out.

The Monocyte graphic novel comes as a 9×13.5 inch hardcover with 224 pages of detailed content, and is now available in a limited edition Red Label, signed by the co-creators with a limited edition cloth cover and a limited edition slipcover, as well as artist-focussed limited edition Black Label editions with incredible bonus art, all published by IDW.

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Transfusion #1

Transfusion #1

One of the most interesting comics on the shelves this year has been Transfuion – Vampires vs Robots, a beautiful piece of work from Steve Niles, author of 30 Days of Night, and Menton3 (Menton John Matthews III, if you please) the incredibly talented artist of oil paint and watercolour, as well as a multi-instrumentalist who brought us the stunning artwork of Silent Hill: Past Life.

The back story is summed up succinctly on the first page, in the form of an ominous foretelling – “In the future, robots will run on human blood…and they will destroy the Earth, drinking deep the end of life.” The pages are cold and empty, showing the wasteland that Earth has become with its barren trees; a family are trying to survive by finding small patches of crops to harvest, but are forced to wear gas masks at all times. The mother holds a baby in her arms and cries when they find some food, thankful she can eat and feed her children tonight – until a huge “CLINK” bursts across the page and fills both the characters and reader with horror.

The robots are huge and towering and fill a two-page spread as they move across the scratched woods, the humans looking insignificant and weak in comparison. The neutral colours are suddenly ripped apart with the bright red of human blood as the robots eviscerate the family and steal whoever is left alive, including the baby. As one last character emerges from the crops, he is stopped by the near-dead father of the family whose eyes have sunken into small points and accuses the stranger of letting them die; the stranger responds by taking his weapon and killing the man with it. More details of how the world came to this point are shown through his story – how the world was growing more exciting with technological advancements but instead of the promised future of jetpacks they got robots, which turned on humanity within five years and now need their blood to survive.

The following four pages are speech-less, showing only the battle between the only consistent character we have seen so far and a roving robot which appears to have the skull of the human (which is incredibly haunting, and reminiscent of some of Dave McKean’s creepier work). The skull is eventually torn from the robot and blood splashes out across the page and just as he finishes destroying the beast he looks up to see the vampire clan joining him. A nude, bald woman with pinpoints of light for eyes and a child of just a few years with its lips sewn together make a striking image surrounded by the scratched eyes and mouths of their clan hiding in the darkness. It’s clear that the vampires are scavengers as much as the humans and are determined to find blood of their own.

The plot may seem a little odd at first, but it’s such a small part of what is wonderful about this comic. The shifting voices of the humans and vampires makes the emotional story much more complex and even the lettering of the narrative is beautifully, done as though Niles were writing the horror story in front of us. Like many great horror stories, the writing is simple but powerful, leaving enough to the imagination so that we may fill in our own gaps. The artwork is some of the most impressive I’ve seen and is oddly calm and dreamlike, making it not only impressive under analysis but a genuine pleasure to read.

Niles and Menton3 are working on another piece right now called “Nosferatu Wars” which follows two vampires in their time together and apart, meeting again as two tribes of vampires come to battle. Meanwhile there are two issues to come of Transfusion!

Posted by jenny in Comics, 0 comments