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Behold! The Monolith Reborn

Photo by Ides Bergen

Death. It’s a topic that heavy metal often takes lightly. The word itself ranked number one in The 100 Most Overused Metal Band Name Words. Bands dedicate entire albums’ worth of lyrics to dismemberment, gore, and violence. Metal music has tried for decades to conquer the fear and stigma surrounding death with humor, shock, and brazenness. And yet, when life comes to an end in the real world, it still hits like a ton of bricks.

On June 21st, 2013, Los Angeles’ Behold! The Monolith lost their bassist and vocalist Kevin McDade in a car accident. Like any band in their situation, the remaining members, guitarist Matt Price and drummer Chase Manhattan, were unsure of their future. “We didn’t initially know if we were going to keep going,” Price admits. “Me and Chase knew that we wanted to keep playing together but we were like, ‘Should we do it? Should we not do it?’”

Matt Price and I converse over coffee three days after the revamped Behold! The Monolith made a triumphant return to the stage at the Five Star Bar in downtown Los Angeles. Today, the reborn four-piece is hungry and fired up, ready to honor McDade’s legacy with a new record. One year ago, however, Price was still shaken from the passing of his friend. “Nobody was anticipating it to happen, it was such a shock getting that phone call.”

Like many metalhead friends, Price and McDade would nerd out over music via text. “I was bugging him. . . Like we just had this rapport. He was more schooled on the ‘trve kvlt’ black metal and grindcore stuff, and I was more of a classic metal, stoner metal, doom guy. Every time one of us went to Amoeba Records we’d text each other, ‘Hey, check this out.’ I had just texted him half an hour after the accident happened. I didn’t hear back from him, but I figured whatever. I was at Amoeba and I came home with a pile of CDs and a Judas Priest DVD and got the call. It was a shock, a total shock.”

For some time, Price and Manhattan put music on hold to mourn. “We couldn’t even go in the rehearsal room,” Price says. “I made myself go to the room just to kind of brace myself, but we couldn’t even go into the rehearsal room for a couple weeks. It was until right around. . . I made myself go right before the memorial, I popped in to grab something for Kevin’s mom. But yeah, we took a little bit of time off and we hung out a lot.”

McDade’s parents would ultimately be the ones that encouraged the band to forge onward according to Price. “Kevin’s parents, like I’ve said in other interviews, they kind of just gave us their blessing. They really appreciated that we continue, that Kevin would have wanted it. It’s the most cliché thing to say, ‘He would have wanted it that way,’ but I think he would’ve.”

McDade’s final musical work with Behold! The Monolith, the band’s second full-length Defender, Redeemist, was received warmly upon its release over two years ago. As time went on since McDade’s passing, Price has been able to make an honest appraisal of the record. “I think I took a closer look at some of [McDade’s] lyrics. He was still kind of finding his way,” Price says. In some ways, Behold! The Monolith did find their way. Price confidently maintains that Defender, Redeemist is where the band truly secured their place in the Los Angeles heavy metal jungle. “We found a sound that worked for us. We didn’t sound like — someone may probably disagree — but to us, we didn’t sound like a cookie-cutter stoner rock/doom band anymore. We also didn’t sound like the retro New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands. We had a little bit of everything, and for the most part we dug it,” Price says with a contented tone.

After a period of healing, Price and Manhattan went in search of someone to fill the vacant bassist position. A friend of the band and a local player in the scene, Jason “Cas” Casanova of Sasquatch was an obvious choice. “[Casanova] was the first guy we tried out and a month later, we wanted him. . . We always liked his vibe onstage and stuff, and his tone was awesome,” Price explains. “Totally different from Kevin’s because Kevin was way more ‘didn’t give a fuck.’ Like he’d plug in, turn the fuzz pedals up and hope that his amp was working. He was more fly by the seat of his pants, total punk kind of guy. Cas always seemed like a more meticulous tonesmith, which is where I come from too.”

Casanova’s tone-chasing attitude wasn’t the only factor that led him into the band. Price is happy to praise his natural kindness as an individual. “Also, he’s like one of the nicest guys, like ever. He’s a super nice guy, and he’s got his shit together.” Niceness may seem like a bonus when it comes to musicians, but for Price and Manhattan, being a cool guy was practically written into the job description. “That’s part of the criteria, like I want to play music but I don’t want to play it with a bunch of assholes,” Price asserts. “That was the thing about the band: we’re always friends, almost even friends first. Even though it wasn’t like we got together in high school or something, everything was always organic: the way we found Chase, the way Kevin and I met, it was just through friends. It wasn’t like under the guise of music, it was just something that happened. We saw Cas as a friend, and it made sense. We got him in there, and he’s doing great.”

The newly reformed band made an attempt playing as a trio once again, with Price taking on vocals himself. This incarnation of the band made an inauspicious debut at the Complex last April, when a Spinal Tap-ian incident nearly derailed their set. “That one show I did [on vocals], I was up there and I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad.’ I thought I was rocking it, but it turned out that my effects pedal. . . I had Kevin’s effects pedals, like a vocal delay pedal and there was a problem with the power at the front of the stage. The soundman came up, hit one of the knobs on it by accident, the mix knob. . . He turned it all the way up wet, and I had no idea because I had no monitors onstage. If you watch the YouTube videos, I’m screaming into the microphone but all you hear is the wash of verb and delay. . . It was good to play, but it wasn’t our best night.”

Little did the band know that their future lead vocalist Jordan Nalley would be in attendance. “Jordan was at that show, I didn’t know him yet, though. I met him at a Mastodon show and we just started talking,” Price remembers. “I thought he was a guitar player and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m trying to do vocals.’ ‘Oh really? I could probably help you with that,’” Unbeknownst to Price, Nalley made his living as a vocal teacher at Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. “I went to his apartment a couple times, getting to work trying to develop that voice. I can’t do that high scream thing.” Price attempts to demonstrate, but only an airy breath can be heard from the gruff-voiced guitarist.

Price brought over a copy of Defender, Redeemist to show Nalley the kind of vocals he needed to nail. The vocal coach would subsequently step up to bat after a few listens. “I get a call from him and he’s like, ‘Dude, this CD is awesome. Why don’t you just let me come try out for the band?’” Price remembers Nalley offering. “He came in, everybody got along and just like, boom. The gig really solidified that, that gig felt really good.”

And now, the newly augmented Behold! The Monolith is eager to prove their mettle in the studio. McDade’s final contributions will live on through the next album according to Price. “Most of the new stuff we wrote — like we wrote a thing with Kevin and instead of starting fresh, we’re kind of attaching the new stuff. We tend to write longer songs sometimes, so some of the new stuff has been incorporated with some of the other ideas.” There’s still a mound of riffs for Price to sort through, but he expresses confidence at the form that they will ultimately take. “We’re at the spot where once we get together in the practice room, I think it’s going to come together pretty fast. Everybody has ideas and everybody’s pretty inspired right now.” As for the production of the new record, the band intends on returning to the engineer that helmed Defender, Redeemist. “It’s not locked in stone, but we haven’t talked about working with anybody except for Billy Anderson. I’ve already gone back and forth with him about it and he’s super into doing it, super stoked and really happy that we kept going,” Price explains.

The legacy of Kevin McDade is something that Behold! The Monolith will always carry on its shoulders. To this day, fans and peers continue to ask about the man, to try and get to know the bassist just a bit better. “Everybody has asked. Every time I go to a show, it’s like somebody needs to say something, which is cool,” Price says warmly. “People need to get that off their chest I think. . . He was a good dude, and he was a character. He was very well loved and liked by the people that knew him.”

Death brings an end to life, but it does not stop the flow of music. It does not stop the Monolith, a truly mighty force at the peak of their power. Matt Price sees the band’s comeback show with Jordan Nalley and Jason Casanova as proof of that. “We could’ve gotten to that point with Kevin probably because we were geared up for that next record, but after that show it felt like finally we were putting that foot forward, that we were taking that step,” he says. “It felt right.”

— Avinash Mittur

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