Foremost, it’s a hell of a package. The whole release is billed, somewhat appropriately, as Monster Book. Released through Madlantis Records, the core of the thing is a limited-to-300 green-splatter 12” vinyl split between Lansing, Michigan, weirdo rockers BerT and abrasive Pittsburgh noisemakers Triangle and Rhino. That’s part of it. Monster Book, however, is not the first time these two bands have come together. Triangle and Rhino titled their side of the vinyl In the Company of Creeps and BerT gave theirs the name Wall of Bees, but all of the material on either vinyl side can also be found on an included CDR, as well as songs culled from prior BerT/Triangle and Rhino splits (there’ve been two that I can find, perhaps more are out there), and Monster Book also includes a killer foldout poster (image above; click the picture for the full thing) and an actual ‘zine. It’s small and hard to read and pretty clearly a homemade job, but it’s got interviews with Elk Nebula, Lord Vapid, Hordes, Switchblade Cheetah and others, as well as full questionnaires from both BerT and Triangle and Rhino and a section right in the middle where everyone who appears elsewhere in the 40-page ‘zine answers the age-old question of who would win if Godzilla fought King Kong – wait for it – in space. The ‘zine itself is no less harshly laid out than the jagged noise Triangle and Rhino get down with or the thickened garage riffing of BerT, and so it makes an excellent companion for its total fuckedness, and the two-sided cover the LP is textured and foreboding of the massive amount of information Monster Book contains. The occasion of the release was a just-ended tour that brought both bands eastward (much to my regret, I failed to see them both in Philly and Boston, though in the interest of full disclosure, BerT did crash at my house on their way north after the former; the LP/CD/’zine had long since arrived), and it seems a fitting occasion for a project of such a frankly intimidating scope.
Because my format preferences lend me to do so anyway and because I feel compelled to at least provide some focus to this review other than to say, “Gosh, look at all this BerT and Triangle and Rhino stuff,” I’m going to stick to the CD in terms of referencing the actual tracks. The reason I mention it is because while the LP has three cuts from Triangle and Rhino on In the Company of Creeps and six from BerT on Wall of Bees, the CD nearly doubles that, with a total of six from Triangle and Rhino and 10 from BerT, resulting in a total runtime of nearly 77 minutes. Tracks are taken from the current and past splits between the two bands and what BerT calls “some other extra jazz as well.” On its own, the CD is a lot to take in, especially with the leadoff Triangle and Rhino give it for the first six cuts, beginning with the three from the LP, “Limb Lopper,” “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths.” Their sound is a punishing sort of noise, with guitarist J. Lexso and drummer M. Rappa both contributing various sorts of synth, oscillations and programming, resulting in periods of near-unlistenable high-pitched audio knives. The moody rumble and electronic-sounding drums of “Limb Lopper” are dark enough, but it’s not long before Triangle and Rhino unveil just how challenging they want to be, in that song, the more frenetically rhythmic “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths,” the first half of which is hard to get through before the early Genghis Tron-style dance pop synth line kicks in and guest vocalist J. White gives new wave accompaniment. “Glowing Sphere” is basically a blown-out drum rhythm with noise behind, and that’s all well and good, but both “Planet Collider” and “Five Words in Broken English” are more abrasive, the latter playing at free jazz without committing to that more than it commits to anything else and the former stabbing with high-pitched chirps. It’s obviously Triangle and Rhino’s intent, but that doesn’t lessen the relief any when it’s over and I realize I’ve been clenching my jaw the whole time.
At 10 tracks/42:37, BerT’s portion of the split makes a pretty respectable full-length on its own, and a decently varied one at that. The band – fresh off a drone-minded split tape with Hordes called Grown Long and having recently launched a series of live cassettes – never want for sonic diversity, though when they put their heads to it, they lack nothing for crushing low end. The Melvins are an influence throughout much of this material, but “Karp,” which gets their portion underway, has an undercurrent of grunge melody in the vocals from guitarist Ryan Andrews that fits surprisingly well with the lumbering riffs. Bassist Phillip Clark and drummer Rael Jordan lock in a groove to match the guitar riff, and though the change from what Triangle and Rhino were doing is abrupt, it’s welcome at least to my ears. Someone who feels about ultra-low low end the way I feel about ultra-high high end will obviously be of a different opinion, but even as BerT blast and drone their way through the 1:33 “Samsquanch,” ultimately settling on a middling pace and a melody that’s striking even as presented through the rough production, everything seems to be working. BerT’s most Melvinsian moment might be the opening stomp of “Heart Shaped McBubba,” but at two and a half minutes, the track is barely developed as an idea before it’s done. That’s true as well for the ensuing two-minute-song duo of the quirkier, sludgier “Heisenberg” and the more thoroughly doomed opening “Seafoot,” which evolves into a Nirvana-type verse (makes me wonder if the tracks weren’t switched, given the title of the one preceding) before returning to its slumberous pace. The band have a clear idea of what they want to do with each track – it’s not that they’re confused – they just don’t let parts linger in a way that most underground heavy seems to very much enjoy. Sure enough, there are riffs I’d like to hear for another four or five minutes, but as BerT wind down their Wall of Bees LP material with the song “Wall of Bees,” I don’t find the songs wanting in any real capacity except perhaps for the production. “Wall of Bees” introduces an 8-bit noise line and gradually devolves its mid-period Neurosis stomp into acoustic weirdness and eventually give way to a swell of static that on the record serves as a fitting answer to Triangle and Rhino’s own sensory assault.
Both “New” and “Dad’s Doin’ Hookers off Craigslist” are culled from the prior Junebug Bong Compass split with Triangle and Rhino. The former is instrumental though not without some melodic resonance, and the latter is more along the lines of the creeping, garage sludge of “Heart Shaped McBubba,” though with more yelling and emphasis on the crash from Jordan. The closing trio of “Oh Baby” (2:28), “Golden Opportunity” (1:41) and “Indian” (10:40) are of unknown origin, but more crisply produced relative to what’s preceded them. I’d argue one way or another for their sounding out of place for that, maybe, but it’s moot. Monster Book is a two-band split and the CD has tracks from multiple sources. If Wall of Bees was a standalone full-length, that might be one thing, but by the time the sample starts off “Indian” and the post-punk churn takes hold, BerT could head in just about any direction and it wouldn’t affect the flow one way or the other. “Indian” comes on in stages, not quite using its full 10-plus minutes, but breaking after two minutes in to silence before picking up with an amp-crackling plod of a secret track just after 5:15. It should say something that after more than 70 minutes, BerT and Triangle and Rhino would see fit to include a bonus cut for a release that already includes multiple listening formats, a ‘zine and a poster, but what exactly it should say, I’m not sure. As much as Triangle and Rhino’s intent was violent, I don’t doubt BerT’s was to confuse or to catch anyone who might have made it so far off guard in their final moments, and in that regard, their aims are admirable. Monster Book is as advertised. There’s enough to it that you can take any number of approaches – squinting read the ‘zine while listening to the LP or staring at the poster while the CD plays, and so on – but as ever, BerT’s prolific output yields results that aren’t quite like anything else out there. Somehow those results work alongside the sharp contrast provided by Triangle and Rhino, and the whole thing plays out like a successful mountaintop exploration of the weird. Whether you think you can get down or you think you can’t get down, you’re probably right.BerT, BerT band, BerT band Michigan, BerT stoner, BerT Triangle and Rhino, Lansing, Madlantis, Madlantis Michigan, Madlantis Records, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Triangle and Rhino, Triangle and Rhino band, Triangle and Rhino Pittsburgh