- by Jeff Penczak Rating:8 Release Date:2016-10-14 Label: Temporary Residence
The Japanese quartet’s ninth album explores the circle of life, from the epic, sidelong 18-minute title track, thematically (although posthumously) aligned with Dante’s Divine Comedy and its trip from Heaven, through Purgatory and down to Hell, through ‘Ely’s Heartbeat’, inspired by (and including actual heartbeats from) label owner Jeremy Devine’s newborn daughter, Ely.
But before we get to those, let’s not overlook ‘Death In Rebirth’, featuring their signature escalating storm of guitars and martial drums that ultimately comes off like Ravel’s Bolero on stun (or, more closely, listen to ‘Pios Den Mila Yia Ti Lambri’ from Mikis Theodorakis’ soundtrack to Z), and I half-expected fireworks to shoot out of drummer Takada Yasunori’s head by song’s end; or the more sedate, funereal violin/piano duet of ‘Stellar’. You can supply your own visuals, but for me it seemed perfectly calibrated to accompany a long pan of dead bodies strewn across a battlefield. The tinkling glockenspiel in the background adds yet another layer of sadness to the proceedings.
As for the title track, you need to clear your mind of distractions and dedicate your full attention to its subtleties, as it builds from gently-plucked guitars to full-throttled post-rock bliss. Halfway through, the bottom drops out and we’re floating through a no-man’s land of self-discovery and self-reflection, and I can completely understand the band’s synchronous discovery of the Divine Comedy connection – this is the Purgatory before the storm, the final descent into Hell. Guitars burst into flame on cue, and it’s five minutes of unbridled distortion and mayhem, culminating in a headbashing, the likes of which you haven’t experienced in quite some time.
The eerie live heartbeat thumping through ‘Ely’s Heartbeat’ adds a very human touch to the glistening guitars cascading across Yasunori’s strident drum patterns, and another uplifting tune envelops the listener like feathers from an exploding down pillow. Closer ‘The Last Scene’ does have an air of finality about its quietly stalking arrangement, but is it futility, regret, or resignation at having reached the end of...? You decide, as you ponder the sound of a band at the peak of its powers, wringing every last emotion out of a few metal objects, catgut, and drumskins. Anthropomorphism hasn’t been explored much in a musical setting, but MONO continue to extract emotional responses from the way they put chords and notes together, and the way they alter the velocity and volume of their chosen instruments.