CD Reviews

Published on March 16th, 2017 | by The Beige Baron

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MONK | Black Earth Beneath

Photograph: Marianna Roussou

While there’s nothing wrong with bands drawing on a specific influence and working it into their sound, there’s always a danger that things will end up sounding predictable.

From the tiny island of Syros in the Greek Archipelago, MONK has pulled off that tricky balancing act by celebrating their love of traditional doom while adding something unique to the sound on their debut record Black Earth Beneath.

The three-piece are clearly big fans of the crawling mid-period Electric Wizard aesthetic

The three-piece are clearly big fans of the crawling mid-period Electric Wizard aesthetic, with its throbbing sub-bass, walls of menacing fuzz guitar, and cult B-horror samples.

However, the most interesting moments come in melodic Mediterranean flavors that infuse opening track Given To The Lions, and the sonorous prog vibes of the 13-minute closer Zoltan Hypnotic Power.

As in other parts of Europe, there’s been a renaissance of ’70s-inspired heavy psych and millennial doom metal in Greece. Emerging from a vibrant underground scene are bands such as Villagers of The Ioannina City, Sadhus, and Agnes Vein, each drawing on elements of Greek folk heritage and incorporating that into the framework laid down by Black Sabbath.

A quick glance at Metal Archives shows a thriving abundance of heavy bands active and playing to enthusiastic crowds all over the country.

“Nowadays in Greece, the interest in underground bands is bigger than ever, and not only in heavy doom music,” MONK tells us. “There are a lot of great bands from many genres, and people support their work and support their live shows.”

For MONK, being a long ferry trip away from Athens has limited opportunities for playing regularly to bigger audiences, but they’ve used the half-dozen years they’ve been together to good effect, writing some solid songs, coming up with an overall concept for the sound, and working ever more closely together as a unit.

Taken completely on its own terms, Black Earth Beneath is an exceptionally well-crafted doom record.

“For us, any place can be the best place to play as long as the vibes are good. Unfortunately, we can’t manage too many live shows due to our regular jobs, plus the fact we all live on an island, but we always try our best.

“Recently we had a mini Greek tour in Ioannina, Thessaloniki, and Athens to celebrate the release of the record through Fuzz Ink Records, along with our friends Korsikov, and amazingly heavy rock band from Athens that are worth checking out. We’re planning on more live shows and working on new stuff.”

Taken completely on its own terms, Black Earth Beneath is an exceptionally well-crafted doom record. There is much for the purist to savor in the first two tracks, which are punishingly slow, brutal, and ripped at the seams by ragged and fuzzy guitar texture. The turnaround at the end of Given To The Lions will set many heads nodding.

Maisma feels like a turning point, a collage of spooky film-like synth sounds setting up the trippy prog-influenced second half of the record

Necronaut continues the mood with a classic B-movie sample, and continues the theremin-like horror-soundtrack creepiness throughout bolstered with some excellent drumming and gut-rumbling bass.

Track three, Maisma, feels like a turning point, a collage of spooky film-like synth sounds setting up the trippy prog-influenced second half of the record. Hex To The Sun flows into this atmosphere on crunchy bass notes and into grandiose male chorus fantasy, before settling back into crawling doom structure.

The big-haired hammer-on guitar solo mid-way feels dated and jars with the otherwise cold and depressing colors of this song, but the album quickly regains its footing with epic closing number Zoltan Hypnotic Power.

Opening in lush and sonorous saxophone and a repeated bass lick and shot through with shimmering cymbals and harmonic plucks of clean electric, the song slowly builds in intensity before unleashing around nine minutes in. The remaining five serve up some of the sickest riff-play you’ll find anywhere.

“The recording session took place in 2015 in our personal temple at Poskopio Syros Island with the help of our old friend and sound-lord Vaggelis Apostolou. Vangelis brought the equipment for the recordings and also took care of the production, mixing, and mastering.

“Those were the longest processes, and after about a year after the recording, the work was finally done,” says MONK.

“During the mixing and mastering period, Julio Sanka, a good friend and great artist, made the cover art for the album. The artwork for the CD was edited by another good friend, Stergios Tsiamis. So in October 2016, Black Earth Beneath was born and released by Fuzz Ink Records.”

It’s no secret that because of geography and economic turmoil, Greek bands face more of a challenge getting their music published and out into the world than bands from other areas.

But you need only look at the insanely good and super-primitive post-punk that emerged from Soviet Russia in the 1980s, or the priceless funk and fuzz from troubled regions in Nigeria, Zambia, and Mali during the 1970s, to see that a lack of access to top-quality gear is no barrier to making quality music.

If bands such as MONK are any measure of Greek underground metal, fans of the heavy would do well to keep a close eye on the scene.

Black Earth Beneath is out now via Fuzz Ink Records or Bandcamp. Follow the band on Facebook for tour and release information. Top image by Marianna Roussou.


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