I have this rule of thumb that if a band has "black" in their name, I at least have to try them on for size. Most often it works. In the case of Black Monolith some trusted Bandcamp buddies were willing to pay for their debut Passenger, so that was another easy plus. I laid down some hard earned review writing money (It exists!) and dove right in.
Turns out that was money extremely well spent. This Oakland, CA group take metal and crust it over some d-beat fire leaving a desiccated and charred ruin of your ears. As painful and tortured as it may be, every second is undeniably desirable.
Opener "Intro/Void" introduces the band with an atmospheric and noisy intro leading into oppressive USBM. It's raw and muddy, scathing and densely layered. The guitars cut like serrated blades of sound as the drums castigate incessantly and tremulous melodies lope from mountaintop to mountaintop. The galloping rumble isn't all about pressing inward though, as moments of triumph and airiness find their place here as well as elsewhere on the album.
The two shortest tracks in "Dead Head" and "Victims and Hangmen" show off Black Monolith's malicious d-beat side. The former joined to a lumbering acidity, with an underlying melody evolving into soaring yet still filthy black metal. The latter's swagger battles with sludgy hardcore and a scorching solo.
"Adhere" features windswept and forlorn melodies shimmering below relentless percussion and the tortured ministrations of the harrowing and pained vocals. Similarly, "Gold Watch" sees a forceful racing black metal cacophony give way to glorious epicness while maintaining that snarly attitude.
After enduring the first five tracks the listener is left spent. Black Monolith tear out their emotional core and wipe it all over your face. Inhaling its essence leaves little room for fresh air but the unending darkness recedes on closing track "Eris".
From a slow, downtrodden doom rises joyous post-metal. A glorious light streaks across the landscape soothing the wounds incurred and leaving the listener filled with a feeling of contentment. It's an unexpected but welcome counter to the acute darkness of the majority of Passenger, although shades of the "Eris" aura are woven throughout.
Passenger is a captivating album blended with enough elements to entice a varied audience. There's a commonality across it all that ties it together and makes it feel like a complete whole and more than just a band struggling to find its identity. It's comfortable to say this stellar debut is among the best USBM releases so far this year.
[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]