October 24 (EU), October 27 (UK)
October 28 (North America)
November 5 (Japan)
When cult post-rockers MONO announce a new album it is guaranteed: many a heart will skip a beat and so will sad eyes let go of numerous tears. However, when 2 September saw the news of two albums being released, hell broke loose in the hearts of music aficionados.Mono have been a constant force on the post-rock scene and after the pinnacle of flamboyant greatness that was “For My Parents”, it is more than natural that the emperors of J-rock come up with something new. Not surprisingly, “The Last Dawn” and “Rays of Darkness” are so different from each other in theme and sound, that we can’t pass judgement over both at the same time. Yet, these albums are inseparably bound on the account of opposite attraction, and because of this; they need to be examined side by side.
THE LAST DAWN
Upon reading the words used to describe “The Last Dawn” on the Mono website, I was filled with a sense of indignation. I felt alienated in the face of these lauding words, which speak rather condescendingly of the bands former work. It is true that “The Last Dawn” with its modest arrangement and simplistic instrumentation is a step in a different direction than “For My Parents”, but that does not place this album out of the latter’s league.
“The Last Dawn” certainly carries an intriguing title, which makes me wonder whether it is the last dawn before eternal darkness – making this a sad album – or the last dawn giving way to everlasting light – insinuating a happy ending? This album is a strange paradox that fits both sentiments. “The Land Between Tides / Glory” feels like setting for the Undying Lands; like the voyaging with the Dawn Treader to the end of the world. “Kanata”, which was released last year as a single, is like a snapshot of that glorious journey; you’re stagnant on the open sea, in a heavenly vessel bathing in light. With “Cyclone” the trip finally picks up speed and we feel the rowdy waves clashing with the ship’s bow. Now “Elysian Castles” takes us to the shoreline of our destination. The sound of breaking waves is softly embedded in music that recalls past Mono grandeur in a subtle and perhaps more elegant fashion. “Where We Begin” moreover sees the band swelling to the intensity that was so common on “For My Parents”, but in the process of doing so the band seem to be shouting over themselves with a riff that really is too bland. In the context of this album, the intricate clamour of this final passage just isn’t relevant enough.
The juxtaposition of comfort and discomfort plays a large role on both albums. “The Land Between Tides / Glory” starts out feeling like the exit music for a sad movie. The bittersweet major scale is ruptured by a screeching lead guitar and the advent of vibrating strings only increases the listeners uneasiness. However, “The Last Dawn” is more prominent in its quiet parts, with the music being less bombastic and less laying, Mono have provided themselves with more breathing room than ever before. As a whole, the piano seems to have taken on a bigger role in comparison with previous Mono albums. The faint and filmesque passages provide the dough of many of the songs, and this is where Mono have definitely excelled on “The Last Dawn”.
Something that has lastly gripped me on this album takes place on the title track. Mono is known for its endless wave of tremolo picked melodies recalling lands of melancholy and beauty. On “The Last Dawn” – the song that is – and also on “The Hand That Holds the Truth” from “Rays of Darkness”, we find a playing that is a little more expressive than the steady wave of sixteenth notes we normally hear, showing off a Mono that is able to grip the listener more tightly than ever.
RAYS OF DARKNESS
Now we come to “Rays of Darkness” and I already like the way in which the artwork remains the same in style, but subtly shifts to a bleakness in mood. The lines become heavier, the picture gets more crowded and we see dead birds and abandoned gypsy caravans make the scene. In the same way this album is still a typical Mono album, but it’s very different in atmosphere from “The Last Dawn”. The band have completely shed their orchestral arrangements and piano parts, now opting for a darker and heavier sound, which to my surprise is more elaborate than anything Mono have ever done.
“Recoil Ignite” is really “the” epic out of all the songs on both albums. It is long and slow in its build-up and it has such an incredible aura of impending crime or disaster hanging around it. The song starts out in the same basic arrangement found with songs on “The Last Dawn”, but proceeds to burst open into sonic greatness of bygone Mono albums, and here it becomes them better than on “Where We Begin”. The next song is “Surrender” with its impeccable horn-section. It is a masterpiece of doom metal elegance, which seems to be ruined by imprecise drumming. I am not here to slam Yasunori Takada’s musicianship – and I can almost see him being sloppy on purpose – but it pales in comparison with the tight hits that are so crucial in doom metal.
The appearance of envy vocalist Tetsu Fukagawa on “The Hand That Holds the Truth” really is a surprise which sees Mono march along with black metal behemoths like Enslaved and Immortal. This very interesting development gives “Rays of Darkness” a sound that fits many metaphors; impending crime, hellish marching or blazing jet engines – and in that sense this is a very good record. However, in the light of Mono becoming more elaborate, one could say that “Rays of Darkness” has become very unfocused as a record; especially when juxtaposed with the tight unity that is “The Last Dawn”. “The Last Rays” is really a dead end with its wall of dense noise, and together with the diversity of sounds and influences, there is something to say for this opinion. But then again, “The Last Dawn” is different, but not so different from the bands previous work. The question here is, whether “Rays of Darkness” really brings anything to the table. I want to say that this is new, this is fresh, this is exciting, but only in a Mono-perspective. Yes, “The Hands That Hold Truth” puts an interesting spin on the black metal story, but the post-black metal and blackgaze movements have long taken flight in a much more interesting direction.
Where “The Last Dawn” is like a flower stripped of its sepals by a doubtful lover, “Rays of Darkness” is like a rose which has its petals harvested by a malicious boy – what remains are saw-edge sepals and a barren stem lined with thorns. The album sees a change of sound which might alienate some of Mono’s fan base. The dabbling in metal and post-hardcore is nice, but it feels inconsistent and incomplete. It’s not bad when an album contains songs that sound completely different from each other, but in this strange long EP/short LP-format of four songs, it doesn’t sound like the masterpiece-making Mono that I know.
I remember listening to “Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain” for the first time on my laptop, and within ten minutes I was already checking in anticipation, to see when the album would end. The music didn’t sink in, or rather, I kept floating around on that massive sound. The same happened with “Hymn to the Immortal Wind”, the same happened with “For My Parents” and to be perfectly honest, these are the first two Mono albums with which this didn’t happen. It seems like Mono all of a sudden became more accessible, even on “Rays of Darkness”. On the other side, I was still amazed by the power of some of the music on “The Last Dawn”, even after two weeks of continual airplay. With these albums Mono have stretched themselves out in both directions and, even though there are some things to be commented on, I still think it’s for the better.