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Date Posted: 10:20:42 02/12/02 Tue
Author: Mike Fornatale
Subject: Online BMT review

Hi folks.....long time no post....

I've just been alerted to the following online review of "Black Monk Time" and thought I'd pass it along....it's at

http://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/reviews/index.php?review_id=479

But here's the text, just in case it disappears:

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Reviewed by T-34, 08/02/2002CE.

"It's beat time,it's hop time, it's monk time", shrieks tonsured singer/guitarist Gary Burger in the (near) eponymous first track of Black Monk Time.Given the bludgeoning aggression which characterises much of this album,who are we to argue?

You really couldn't make this shit up. A disaffected bunch of ex-GIs stationed in Germany mutate from a besuited Anglophile "beat combo" into purveyors of hyper-repetitive proto-punk/Krautrock, drenched in distortion and feedback,with squalling,agitated organ, caveman drumming and slashing, rhythmic electric banjo. The lyrics are blunt and minimalist, apparently so that the German audience could understand them.And this band, once called the Torquays,(Why not the Bridlingtons-or the Whitley Bays?) dressed in black monks'habits. With nooses round their necks. They looked hard, with dour countenances. They could have given Alex Ferguson lessons in how to look like a miserable get. In 1965. No wonder they sank without trace a couple of years later having drastically compromised their look and sound, succumbing to the lure of the flowery shirt, and letting their tonsures grow out. Most of them went back home, obscurity looking certain for this most daring and innovative of bands.

Thirty years later, the inclusion of a Monks track in the Nuggets canon aroused substantial interest in the US, elevating The Monks to cult status,with various musicians citing them as an influence. You can even hear them in the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' "The Big Lebowski".
The Monks were hunted down, and coaxed into reforming. They played at Cavestomp '99 to a near-hysterical reception, the gig being recorded for the album "Let's Start a Beat". (Frustatingly dificult to acquire in the UK at present. If anyone can locate a copy, please let me know.) Unsurprisingly, a US film company is showing an interest in their story.

Depending on your point of view, the cover of BMT(all black) is either inspired, ahead-of its time minimalism, or laughably cheap and amateur. References to Spinal Tap's "Smell The Glove" often arise on first seeing this cover, predictably accompanied by unfunny Nigel ("none more black") Tufnell impersonations. Each to his own. The original sleeve notes, are, however, without a doubt a hilariously pretentious load of old monkey's toss eg: "Sunlight grids quiver in the system. Read on!" and "Let sapphires glide into the grooves. What is beat?" They don't write 'em like that any more.

As for the music, I doubt that anyone else was writing like that at the time ,or would do so until some years later. The first track,"Monk Time", sets the band's agenda: pounding drums with little or no use of snare or cymbals, fuzzy bass, interplay between strangled guitar and squealing organ ,and chugging, metronomic banjo. Gary's broken falsetto is accompanied by the "chanting" of the other Monks. Song structure is repetitive, but the songs are short; and their blistering, visceral delivery keeps the listener suitably on edge.

"Shut Up" (a song violated by Mark E Smith some years ago) is a real highlight; the vocals are chanted, spat and moaned; for much of the song the band are all thumping out the same riff; we are treated to that rare thing-a listenable bass solo. This is raw, vital punk music.

Tracks 4 and 6, "Higgle Dy Piggle Dy" and "Oh How to Do Now" take repetition to new heights. It isn't difficult to see why such songs have been described as forerunners to Krautrock. Both feature pioneering use of feedback and distortion,which the gutarist had apparently "discovered"
having left his instrument leaning against a crap amplifier.

The former of the two boasts a riff which could have come from The Stooges, such is its dumb simplicity. Take care when driving to either of these songs- they seem to induce psychosis of the leaden right foot variety.

"Complication" appeared on the Nuggets box set, and features one of the greatest mangled guitar sounds recorded. It also rhymes the title with "constipation", which can't be bad. Most of the rest of the album delights and surprises in equal measure--"Drunken Maria" is an increasingly desperate exhortation to a legless prostitute, (probably) "I Hate You" takes mixed feelings to a psychotic level, and "Love Came tumbling Down" even comes close to being a love song.

The post-BMT singles tacked onto the end of the CD version show how horribly it went all wrong-by trying to go commercial, The Monks didn't manage to sound conventional-just weird, but in a naff way.

If you like the sound of a band pushing boundaries at the expense of their own success and like to be surprised by what you hear, give BMT a go,if you can find a copy. The vinyl copy sells for big money. The Repetoire CD is available in some places, but is a dodgy release, so none of the band will get a penny; remember, monks are supposed to live on the donations of others.
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Not bad, eh?

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