Review: Two Shades of BLACK MONOLITH
Variety is good, variety is great. I tend to do a lot with my day, and like many of you, I like to curate appropriate and multifaceted soundtracks that coincide with my ever-changing activities and moods. Trouble arises when, on occasion, I’m in two different moods simultaneously, and I resort to making a playlist that features tracks from two jarringly distinct tone realms in an attempt to satiate my audible duo-lust. I mean, what if I feel like somberly dragging a corpse barefoot through the woods, but also want to hack down some birch trees in a berserk, plant-murdering frenzy?
Thankfully, Black Monolith is here to make this shit easy on me by creating a record with two distinct, yet occasionally intermingling moods. Specifically, Passenger is a satisfying mix of black metal and d-beat crust punk.
Generally, the tracks on Passenger bounce back and forth between the two styles, giving the record a clear pacing. I love d-beat and find good black metal transfixing, but I sometimes struggle to make it through a full record of either genre because the power of the mood can quickly dwindle as my prog-addled mind craves a break from what I’ve heard over the last 8 minutes. Black Monolith’s ping-pong track order trick solves that problem, albeit with an occasionally garish manic-depressive technique.
The record kicks off with a pure black metal piece followed by a (mostly) typical d-beat banger, quickly establishing the parameters by which this record should be understood. The following tracks successively become more of a fusion: the vicious shoegaze of “Adhere” makes way for a double time drum break at the 3 minute mark, and some serene finger picking lets us down gently in the final third of the earnestly evil “Victims & Hangmen.” “Gold Watch” is the most successful blackened crust integration, managing to find common ground and natural transitions across the whole 9 minutes, whereas the other tracks may merely use an oppositely-aligned section as a novel genre piece to keep the song moving after the second chorus.
As Darkthrone did before, Black Monolith makes it clear that black metal and crust punk share enough of their respective gestalten to be considered part of a single project’s sound, even in their purified forms. However, in the case of Passenger, save for the triumph that is “Gold Watch”, I feel that chances were missed along the length of the LP to make one truly cohesive whole from the two disciplines. Then again, perhaps the strict dichotomy in the earlier part of the record is intentional, to show that the styles don’t need one another as a reactive crutch to be relevant or compelling.
I have to hand it to single band member Gary Bettencourt for the commendable drum programming. The parts are well written and reasonably detailed, and it took me until the 3rd track to be absolutely sure they were canned drums and not just an impressively robotic player. Overall, I give the drum production a B- (Heads up for all you drum programmers out there trying to recreate a human performance; the too-perfect 16th note snare fills of identical volume and tone are when it became glaringly obvious. Also, having the EXACT same hi-hat sound on every 8th note over the course of a song that’s seven minutes long is mighty fishy indeed).
Shout out to my good buddy and amusing social media personality Tom for pestering me to listen to this record. In the past few months I’ve joined a crust punk band and have been exploring black metal quite a bit more earnestly than I ever have before, so this record has really been hitting the spot. It’s available both on vinyl and as a pay-what-you-want download from All Black Recording Company, the spankin’-new brainchild of Deafheaven’s George Clarke. If you’ve read this whole thing and still give a shit, what’re you waiting for, homie?