Hailing from Germany, The Monks were an unconventionally timeless band, making their mark with a single record. Originally released in Europe on Polydor in 1965, with only 3,000 records issued, Black Monk Time failed to garner U.S. distribution. And after three-odd years of exhaustive touring, the band dissolved. It would be difficult to imagine then that this record would later make such a huge impact on the punk and garage and Krautrock movements in the years following. It preceded the avant garde rock debut of The Velvet Underground by a full year. Fortunately, the label Light in the Attic has released a smartly packaged reissue. And over four decades later, Black Monk Time maintains a vibrancy and intensity.
Five discharged U.S. GIs formed an intense bar band called the 5 Torquays, playing gigs throughout Germany. They attracted two art students, Karl Remy (from the progressive Ulm School of Design) and Walther Niemann, who eventually became their managers and reshaped them into The Monks. The band wore all black, sometimes with black capes, with a thin white rope tied in a sailor's knot (which looked like nooses) wrapped around their necks in substitution for the skinny black ties that adorned the likes of the Beatles. Neimann and Remy also had the band members shave the top part of their scalps, in a large round egg shape, as an exaggerated monk tonsure.
"People stopped and crowds parted for us," commented bassist Eddie Shaw, in the reissue's liner notes. "It was pretty strange, but it was interesting so we became quite wedded to it."
Not only did The Monks strike their audience visually, but they knocked them sonically. They played loud, often with distortion, fuzztones, wah-wah pedals and offbeat percussion. Guitarist and vocalist Gary Burger shouts, "Why do you kill all those kids in Vietnam? Mad Vietcong! My brother died in Vietnam ... I don't like it!" in the opening cut, "Monk Time." Remember, this was 1965.
Black Monk Time is chock full of short punctuated riffs, often repeated, until they pummel the listener. Primal rhythms provided by drummer Roger Johnston, distorted bass lines by Shaw, heavy dense organ riffs by Larry Clark and the unusual electrified six-string banjo of Dave Day added an abrasive percussive element, separating The Monks from their contemporaries, even in the fringes of the garage circuit, with only The Sonics as a possible exception. In short, The Monks' sound was heavy.
Even with its obvious borrowings (such as lifting Ike Turner's "I'm Blue" for their song "We Do Wie Do"), Black Monk Time really sounds like no other. It's serves as a milestone that built a foundation for such diverse bands as Can, The Fall, The Clinic, The Sex Pistols and even The Danielson Famile (and its eccentric leader Daniel Smith), all of whom owe a debt to this maverick band.