MONKS OF DOOM
BOW TO THE MONKS OF DOOM.
From their humble beginnings as a surrealist spin-off “Imaginary Band,” through their hard working days as veteran DIY road warriors, on to their arrested state of suspended animation and later re-birth, Monks of Doom remain one of the classiest, heaviest and most strangely unclassifiable bands to emerge from the late 1980s independent music scene. When the band put themselves on ice in 1993, they left behind five virtuosic, rocking albums that somehow fused post-punk sensibilities with prog rock decadence and folk tradition elegance.
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Like molecules are made of different types of atoms (I know I’m writing a music blog, stick with me here), four disparate musicians have bounced together to create a band, and we are lucky enough to have them at Underwater Sunshine Festival. Drawing equal comparisons from melodic psychedelia bands like the Fairport Convention and heavier more progressive rock like King Crimson, the Monks of Doom is a side project composed of Camper Van Beethoven’s Victor Krummenacher, Greg Lisher, and Chris Pedersen, along with David Immerglück of Counting Crows.
It’s hard to describe their music without mentioning tension: there is a tension between the instruments and the influences, between the guitar and the amp, between the drums and the bass. Somewhere along the line, they picked up a way to combine their influences in classic and punk rock— with just enough folk rock to soften the edges a little.
Their first record, Forgery, came out in 1992. I want you to stop and think about what you were doing in 1992 for a minute— because the entire industry changed underneath them before their next album of original material, The Bronte Pin, came out earlier this year. In the 26 years between then and now, these musicians have continued honing their craft, but the atoms hadn’t bounced back together with original material in a long time.
Those of you who are already familiar with the Underwater Sunshine Podcast have already heard a little bit about the band, but they’re hard to describe— especially for someone who usually goes in looking for lyrical content to grasp on to narrative. (That would be me.) I was immediately captivated with the Monks of Doom, however, because they’re able to use tone to tell a story without actually needing narration— making the instrumental tracks like “Dua! Dua!,” which uses vocalizations, but no words— just as striking as songs like the Sandy Denny (of Fairport Convention) penned “John the Gun,” which seems to borrow equal parts melancholy from Sweetheart-era Byrds and the direct heaviness from rock that came much later.
For me, the immediate takeaway from The Bronte Pin is that there is perfect tone on every instrument. It’s clear that all of the members of this band are pulled in different directions, because they are the people you’d want to have in the studio session with you, no matter the genre. But for such varied influences, the way the sound congeals is incredible.
Often when comparing bands, I’ll start with guitar, because I’m most familiar with that, but there are two guitarists (outside of Immerglück himself) I never use for comparison— because they transcend their primary instruments, and because usually when you see a journalist comparing a new band with either of them, they’re using hyperbole. However, in this case, it’s actually valid to mention both Jonny Greenwood (whose tone and composition lends a haunting nature to Radiohead) and Nels Cline (who is responsible for the otherworldly nature of Wilco). Like the eeriness Greenwood often adds or the expanse Cline can create in a Wilco track, the Monks of Doom molecule has come together to create a soundscape, one which doesn’t seem to come from anywhere on this planet.
It’s hard for me to say, “You’ll enjoy this record if you like…” because there really isn’t much else like it. But I will say this: they are heavy rockers, half who come from a punk background and half from a psychedelic/prog background. Anyone who has ever listened to a Led Zepplin record, though, knows that heavy doesn’t always mean “hard.” The last song, “Osiris Rising” is an excellent example: the heaviness comes from the space between the notes and from the sparse lyrics:
The slow runner
Is falling fast behind
The carnival lights
Are fading into the night
Pack up the caravan
Phoebe, hitch up the horses
While you can…
Though the song starts somber, and the instruments seem to slowly be chasing each other (and picking up speed), “Osiris Rising” is not actually about running from something or even about friction. In fact, the last track of this diverse record ends with these lines:
…we’re scattered by a wind
That shows no sign of ending
Until you have embraced it
As a friend.
I’m dying to embrace the absolute beauty in the chaos of Monks of Doom, and I have a feeling that the entire audience will be allowed and welcomed in as friends. I can guarantee you it’ll be an unforgettable rock show. But most of all, I hope that it doesn’t take 26 more years for this atomic structure to combine again.