Vinyl Treasures: The Monks – Black Monk Time

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There’s an old phrase that says why let the truth ruin a good story. Sometimes the truth is way better than any story, however, as with the history of The Monks. They were five American soldiers who started out jamming British Invasion influenced rock ‘n’ roll music to let off steam while stationed in Cologne. After their discharge they remained in Germany: a band of brothers in exile developing a brand new breed of rock. It was a provocative, abrasive, and cutting edge sound that was unlike anything else in contemporary popular music.

By choosing to stay and record their debut album Black Monk Time in Europe, the band were liberated from the constraints of the American music market and this enabled them to experiment and basically do whatever the fuck they wanted. And that’s exactly what they did. Listening to the record today, it’s amazing to think it’s almost fifty years old. The songs, which include such titles as Shut Up and I Hate You, remain as untamed, unhinged and unrestrained as the day they were written.

From the first note of album opener Monk Time, the heady mix of feral rage and manic joy throughout this album is both brilliant and also bonkers. The crazed dance between Gary Burger’s fuzzy guitar feedback, Dave Day’s electrified banjo, Eddie Shaw’s pulsating bass lines, Larry Clark’s demonic keyboard playing, and the tribal percussion of Roger Johnston creates an utterly unique listening experience. Throw subversive lyrics such as “Why do you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam?” and “I hate you with a passion, baby” into the mix, and you’re left with a mutilated monster of an album.

The band took their name quite literally too, shaving monk’s tonsures into their heads and wearing all black. They even wore ropes around their necks, as a metaphor for the stifling nooses around humanity. Looking like that during the otherwise ‘swinging sixties’, with such loud and aggressive songs about murder, war, death and destruction, and it’s no wonder Black Monk Time didn’t make any impact when it came out in 1966. Even with their more melodic leanings, and the release of joint single package Complication/Oh, How To Do Now, they failed to reach international audience.

The album has since been reappraised as a lost classic and a key stepping stone in the development of heavy metal, punk and alternative rock, but sadly they failed to keep up or repeat the unholy formula, and it would remain The Monks’ first and only statement of diabolical intent. History has taught us that one album is sometimes enough to change the course of rock ‘n’ roll though, and the likes of Mark E. Smith, Jack White and the Beastie Boys all cite Black Monk Time as a hugely important and influential album. We’re more than a little bit inclined to agree.