Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Black Monk – Flowstone [Arbor/Not Not Fun]

Black Monk was a duo consisting of Roy Tatum (Changeling, Quintana Roo, the Buried Valley label) and someone else whose name I cannot ascertain. They kept a pretty low profile only releasing two cassettes over their lifetime, one on Buried Valley and one on Maim & Disfigure. But now the crew is given the “box set” treatment. While Flowstone is an LP, it collects the out of print tapes and offers unreleased material just like those expensive box sets in the locked glass cases, but way more affordable and with 100% more analog sweetness.
Side A consists of the previously released material. It starts with “Murmur” which apparently collects the entire cassette of the same name. Black Monk establish their sound right from the get-go. Heavy, low-end drones and free/tribal drumming. There are no credits, but the drones sound like they're coming from guitar. Not e-bow style though, slow singe strums letting the drone swell and taper based around a few chords. While the guitarwork is pretty simple and repetitive, it’s effective. It also balances the hyperactivity of the drumming, which is a constant, though varied, barrage. Whoever the drummer is does a good job of not falling into the standard role of drone drummer (i.e. basic, measured drum hits) or the role of rock drummer sitting in on a drone session, which always ends terribly. I don’t know very much about (describing) drumming, but the guy moves from frantic to emphatic rather easily. The drums are mixed pretty low in comparison to the dronemaker, which gives the whole track a really odd disembodied vibe. The audible but utterly indecipherable “background” noises going on certainly help that cause as well.
The second half of side A is an untitled track originally released on the V cassette on Buried Valley. Immediately, it establishes a totally haunted, wobbly seasick vibe. Unlike “Murmur”, the guys are working entirely in unison on this one; forming like Voltron to create some of the most effortlessly eerie, pulsating drone I’ve come across. It’s much harder to pick up on individual elements than in the previous track. There is a main loop that sounds to me almost like a slowed down locomotive whistle. That loop is surrounded my heavy fuzz fog, and various subtle changes occur throughout. There isn't much (any?) drum presence that I can hear, sometimes it sounds like there might be some buried under the miles of murk and other times it sounds like there is none at all. Maybe you can tell me. Sweet track though.
The B side is the previously unreleased title jam. “Flowstone”, in some ways, is a marriage of the two styles on the other side. The drums are pushed to the fore-front. Showing off some serious free jazz chops. There is expansive, low-end smog that coats the rest of the track, providing a subtle, groaning bed for the drummer to shred some heads. The dynamic between the two elements is interesting because the drone is pretty much unchanging; however, depending what the drums are doing, it kind of takes on those characteristics. I'm not sure, I think there might be two guys jamming on the drums. There is no way a mere mortal could pull this stuff off all by himself. Maybe it’s possible, but there is frenzied cymbal bashing and intense tribal tom-tom torture at the same time that I just can’t fathom coming from one set of hands. I really dig how the fiery, primal percussive assaults offset the cyclical drone cloud. You get the best of both worlds, the raw, physical high of witnessing someone just kick the shit out of their instrument and the buzzing, hypnosis of looped fuzz infinity.
The LP is pretty well organized, in that each successive piece takes it up a notch (there I go sounding like Emeril again). They all have the same DNA, but each takes a separate sonic approach. It’s a bummer Black Monk is done for, but maybe the release of Flowstone will warrant a reunion tour, any takers?
The LP comes in typical classy Arbor/Not Not Fun fashion. A stark design lay out, a fold out crazed-scribble poster by Black Monk and black labels on a black LP, which is the coolest black vinyl has ever looked. It’s like a twelve inch black hole. It’s sold out on the Not Not Fun end, but Arbor still has copies. You know what to do.

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