By: Nick Dodds

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Released on October 14, 2016 via Pelagic Records

Ahhh MONO. Just a murmur of their name is enough to give a shiver to most music aficionados. They have one of the most constantly solid outputs in any genre, have remained true to their word of producing beautiful music, and have evolved and grown over the years to be a truly special, impressive beast. From their early days of slightly formulaic loud/quiet/loud to their current sweeping, orchestral output, they have always remained a favourite of mine. They have an ability to carve right through me, render me vulnerable and then wrap me up in sonic layers before depositing me back on my feet.

As one of the ‘pioneers’ of this genre, they have always been at the forefront of showing what a traditional (guitar, guitar, bass, drums) line-up can do, releasing live albums with orchestras, scoring movies, collaborations, etc etc… And always pushing forwards. I’m hesitant to use the term ‘post-rock’ to describe them, as they simply make beautiful music. Music to live life by. Music to watch sweeping sunsets with. Music to cry with. Music that can rattle your core, and rightfully so. Lyrics aren’t needed here.

‘Death In Rebirth’.

A single guitar note slowly fades in to begin this album, quickly evolving into the riff, light distortion edging around the tone. Before long the second guitar comes in, countering the first riff and providing clean counterpoint with a full stereo pan. The kick drum is there, urging the track onwards, yet with quiet determination, not urgency. Then the traditional Mono sweeping guitar riff breaks, swooping upwards towards the end of the first section. It’s spacious, bright and while not happy per se, it’s definitely not as bleak as some of their other tracks.

This track reminds me of songs like ‘The Kidnapper Bell’ – a more linear storyline/motif at play here with the same riff playing over and over, slowly building with layers and tones as they mesh together, knowing they’ll eventually reach climax, but in no hurry to get there.

It’s 5 minutes before the track starts its ‘peak’, a fuzzing guitar tone cutting through everything, yet somehow still just peeking out of the mix. Yasunori’s drumming gains some urgency, propelling it forwards, adding to the tension as the track writhes and pulses, new life breathed into it until there’s a brief lull and coda, before the fairly abrupt finish and minute or so of decay and feedback at the end.

‘Stellar’.

This track reminds me a lot of ‘Hymn To The Immortal Wind’ or ‘Walking Cloud…’, and for good reason. The lush, slow string arrangements wash over you, slowly breaking and churning like an ebbing sea at low tide. It conjures up moments of fragile beauty, delicate forgiveness and that unique Mono unquantifiable sound. Then the glockenspiel comes in, an old favourite of theirs and making a welcome return. It’s light, ethereal chiming as always works well with the piano and layered strings, Albini’s mix giving space for everything. The multitrack glock is a nice touch, and while this track feels a little to me almost like a ‘filler’ track between tracks 1 and 3, it works. It’s a counterpoint. A reminder of day versus night. Light versus dark…..

‘Requiem From Hell’.

Because this is next. And it’s a monster. Coming in at a touch under 18 minutes, this is MONO’s longest album track. I saw this live last year and they chose to finish their set with it, and boy was it a corker. It’s barely restrained violence. A sonic kick in the teeth. Starting with 5 minutes of quiet fury, dissonance nestling within the harmony and distortion before Taka’s guitar kicks in the main part proper, a standard rock beat coming in before a minute later a two-note guitar solo that takes the top of your head off. Seeing beauty in ugliness, Mono have captured a moment. The guitars slowly build and chime, that riff continuing as the strings fade in and out in the background, adding depth but not always seen/heard. Yasunori’s drumming is excellent here (I always enjoy when he’s able to rock out), urging the track onwards towards what feels like a conclusion – except we’re only halfway.

The track peters out, seeming to finish and expire in a long fade out…. Except a new guitar riff comes in. It seems to be on you quickly, but in fact is almost two minutes of fade and quiet riffage before we get some cymbal work and then a new guitar line. And it’s not happy. At all. Things are bleak. Dissonant. This is the final stop. We’ve traversed down through all of Dante’s layers, hitting rock bottom of hell. It’s confining – and that’s what they want. Building tension, they keep it going for a little while longer until a brief decay, and then BANG.

It explodes.

It’s all buzzsaw guitars, throbbing bass and rapid, punchy drumming, with what I’d put down as MONO’s most dissonant riff ever. It lurches, careens, and falls from section to section. It’s a mad fool in an asylum, certain of the existence of god and afraid of it. Its ugly noise, not beautiful noise. No carefully constrained chaos here, this IS chaos. This is MONO throwing back the curtain and showing you their psyche, your psyche and a glimpse of hell.

And inevitably, it has to end. This sort of sonic assault can’t sustain itself forever, and so it reaches an expected climax and peters out, a plaintive wail from the guitars washing around the zing of the cymbals like a house collapsing on itself. And with one, last painful climax it’s the end, a single cymbal ringing out as you exit the track.

‘Ely’s Heartbeat’.

This is almost a fugue to the chaos of the track before. A quiet organ chord sequence begins it, before the sound of a friend’s child’s heartbeat in vitro (the titular Ely) swirls around you, perhaps reminding you of the cycle and birth of new life as the guitars come in, all classic MONO. Spacious, melodic and achingly beautiful, nobody can do a guitar tone like them. Some clean, punchy drums bookend it nicely as we build, a major key ringing out and providing a moment of solace after the assault from before.

We then have the guitars dropping back down a little, rebuilding the riff and continuing onwards. This is the track that could fit on most MONO albums in my opinion – it definitely has a timeless feel, apart from perhaps the production. About five and half minutes in we get a hint of strings as the track builds slightly, adding to the overall effect and slowly overtaking the guitars a little, clawing their way to the front of the mix. Yet before too long they’re fading again, leaving us with a blend of guitar and strings, as only MONO can do. It’s beautiful, delicate and a very swift 8 minutes.

‘The Last Scene’.

Quite often MONO albums finish with a redemptive streak. A final melodic flourish. A kiss on the forehead and a musical equivalent of a hug. Well, not this time. This is all sadness, shades of grey and while not quite despair, it’s perhaps not far off…. This is a man dying alone on a dark road at night, wishing he could have lived his life differently, yet knowing his choices brought him to where he is.

This is all strings and melody, slowly lurching through the riff until it gets to about 5 minutes in. It’s all minor key here, that redemption missing completely. There’s a brief climax and we continue, very slowly tapering off as instruments die off here and there, until all we’re left with is an empty, slow echo. Laced with reverb and delay it slowly dies out, the final note(s) of this album.

And that’s it. A fairly short, linear album this time around for them. It might not have all the nuance of previous releases, but it’s still as important as anything else they’ve done. It sits proudly among their catalogue, and really, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t get it. This is beautiful music, well thought out, crafted, mixed and quite simply a band that you need. If MONO are the soundtrack to traversing Hell and slipping through its layers, then I’m totally fine with being there.

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