(All Black Recording Company, 2014)
Oakland’s Black Monolith is some of the hardest, grittiest, and funnest (and I use “funnest” absolutely purposely) black metal you’ll find, and 2014’s Passenger, which came out in April (I’m late, sue me), is like a beacon of hope on this year’s crop of releases. Or, wait – what’s the opposite of a beacon of hope? A black hole of despair? Anyhoo, Black Monolith isn’t really doing the hope thing I guess, yet somehow I feel lightened when listening to their black metal/d-beat/crust/thrash/post-metal/post-rock hybrid. Freshened, maybe is a better word. Oddly, then, refreshed.
Why is that? Surely a heaving and lengthy composition like album centerpiece “Adhere” would exhaust me at the end of it, yet it doesn’t in the slightest. The track moves deftly through its passages and fades out to nothingness, but does this over an eight-minute period. The vocals surely have something to do with it – barked through a redlined mic, perhaps distorted, there’s an immediacy to them that feels different than the average black metal vocalist. There’s some hardcore in there maybe, like the members listen to a lot of Converge. They probably do. Wouldn’t you listen to a lot of Converge if you got the chance? I would. I do.
Or maybe it’s the obvious connections to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 that freshens this thing and keeps me from spiraling some sort of depressive abyss – I mean, c’mon, Black Monolith (band) is obviously paying homage to Black Monolith (object). Even their heavy and dark sound fits the heaviness and ominous presence of the alien beacon. Consider “Intro/Void,” which begins with a deep-space sonic resonance, a cosmic form of communication transmitted before blasting into its breakneck shredding. Consider, again, Black Monolith (object) falling right over and crushing the pre-human apes. Black Monolith (band) and (object) prevail with extreme prejudice.
But that’s not all – “Dead Hand” and “Victims & Hangmen” are relative sprints showcasing the band’s ability to crush heads in short spurts as well. The latter features some reckless and violent lead guitar shredding, and is a highlight here. Consider, then, the sonic equivalent of Black Monolith (object) crushing its human discoverers on the moon. And re-erecting itself and smashing the remains over and over and over again. For a while.
“Gold Watch” begins and ends with another approximation of celestial transmission, and lasts for a marathon-like nine minutes before making a stylistic hard left into “Eris,” the last track on the album. “Gold Watch,” once again, smashes everything in its path (like Black Monolith [object] crushing freaking Jupiter over and over while HAL 9000 watches with blood in his teeth), but reviews and considers its damage before proceeding. “Eris” finds Black Monolith (band) in full post-rock/post-metal mode, like an instrumental Jesu finally weighing itself fully against all of existence within the universe, swelling to envelop all mass and reality before recreating it in Black Monolith’s (object … no wait, band … I’m not sure anymore…) own image. Oh, crap, there is hope at the end of this thing! And my hope is that that these guys know what they’re doing here. Wouldn’t it be a sorry thing if we were all reduced to mere interstellar pulp? Or … would it? Heck, maybe Black Monolith (band/object) is doing us a service. Maybe we need a reset button on the Big Bang. Black Monolith (band) is, happily, the soundtrack to that astronomic reboot. Maybe I am gladly crushed.
RIYL: Nails, Dishammer, Ramlord, Deafheaven