Remember when Darkthrone became a weird traditional-metal/d-beat/black-metal mutant?1 Black Monolith is like that except better, and by a dude from Oakland, California.
Black Monolith2 is the solo project of Gary Bettencourt, a former live guitarist of Deafheaven; and is signed to All Black Recordings, a label founded by Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke. Passenger is Bettencourt’s debut release under the project, notwithstanding a short three-track demo from May 2011. As Stereogum said upon the release of Passenger back in April 2014, it is impossible to discuss Black Monolith outside of the context of Deafheaven; but it is unfair to judge the merit of the former in how well it emulates the style of the latter.3
Black Monolith utilizes similar post-black metal tendencies as Deafheaven, but the similarities end there. Whereas Deafheaven’s influence is shoegaze, Black Monolith’s is Swedish d-beat. Whereas Deafheaven’s lyrics are inner-directed, Black Monolith’s are extrospective. Whereas Deafheaven’s soft moments are demure, Black Monolith’s are bold. Whereas the strength of Deafheaven’s harshness lies in its juxtaposition to melody and transcendence, the harshness of Black Monolith enhances the extant malevolent milieu rather than serves as a contrasting element. Black Monolith is not a jejune vanity project for self-recognition; it is genuine and original.
“Intro/Void,” “Adhere,” and the first half of “Gold Watch” are pure blast-beat-and-teeth black metal, with more in common with the brutal Norwegian styles of the nineties than the progressive thought-pieces of the post-noughties.4 5 “Dead Hand,” “Victims & Hangmen,” and the latter half of “Gold Watch” are Swedish d-beat and crust punk with hints of the desultory enmity that black metal does so well. Closing track “Eris” is a blackened doom metal instrumental; these kinds of tracks are occasionally indulgent filler – see Downfall of Gaia’s “Excavated” from Aeon Unveils the Thrones of Decay6 – but on Passenger, it’s a decent and logical conclusion to the album’s themes without which <i>Passenger</i> would suffer – and in major key, too!
Black Monolith is a promising project for Gary Bettencourt, and it demonstrates his skills not only as a guitarist, but as a songwriter, too. Passenger is a fresh, imaginative synthesis of the oft-maligned subgenre of post-black metal and the old reliable crust punk.
1. Intro/Void – (7:10) – ★★★☆☆
2. Dead Hand – (4:25) – ★★★★☆
3. Adhere – (8:18) – ★★★☆☆
4. Victims and Hangmen – (3:13) – ★★★★☆
5. Gold Watch – (9:20) – ★★★★☆
6. Eris – (7:26) – ★★★★☆
[UPDATE 26 April 2016: Changed the overall rating from four stars to three-and-a-half stars.]
2Is that a 2001: A Space Odyssey reference?
3“Stream Black Monolith Passenger (Stereogum Premiere) – Stereogum,” SpinMedia, accessed 19 November 2015, http://www.stereogum.com/1675286/stream-black-monolith-passenger-stereogum-premiere/mp3s/album-stream/
4I still have no idea what to call this decade. Post-noughties is all I’ve got.
5Jeez, sorry for the hyphen abuse.
6The verb tense in that title is damn awkward.