January 23, 2019 MONO – Nowhere Now Here (Album Review)
The conflict inherent between darkness and light is both a timeless and a universal theme, artistically speaking. Japan’s MONO know this fact all too well, and have their own relationship with the concept, one that they are prepared to dance macabrely with on Nowhere Now Here. This rich, storytelling soundscape arrives Friday, January 25, 2019, thanks to Temporary Residence Limited.
On the wings of 2016’s Requiem for Hell, Experimental Rockers MONO (who intentionally stylize their band-name in all caps) mark their latest release by beginning the descent into their second decade as a band. Formed in 1999 under the leadership of Guitarist Takaakira “Taka” Goto, the international touring quartet of multi-instrumentalists also features Rhythm Guitarist Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu, Bassist Tamaki Kunishi, and, most recently, new Drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla.
Just five years into their career and the band were already touring extensively throughout the United States and Eurasia, with releases ranging from their 2001 debut Under the Pipal Tree to 2014’s Rays of Darkness. Then came the epic Requiem for Hell, and now a new chapter arrives to mark their twentieth year and tenth studio album. Enter Nowhere Now Here. Whereas Requiem seemed to descend into the pits of Dante’s inferno, Nowhere Now Here explores above ground — lamenting what lies beneath, in ruin. It is the end and a beginning, a new chapter in the storied history of a talented and always experimental band.
Nowhere Now Here begins with subtly weeping strings that open “God Bless,” which flow into a discordant, somber horn section. This does not last and the tension mounts into “After You Comes the Flood,” where the guitars anchor a piteous wailing that is quickly overwhelmed by white noise. This explodes the band into the proper body of the track, a darkly-layered rocker that twists and turns through sadness and anger, bitterness and melancholia. Yet, it rises, like Godzilla from the ash, to continue a roiling stomp across the apocalyptic landscape.
They go low-thrumming ambiance for “Breathe,” where Bassist Kunishi makes her vocal debut, adding something brand-new to the MONO portfolio of sounds that is both breathy and haunting, softly intense. This inhalation is required before beginning the titular “Nowhere, Now Here,” an in-excess of 10-minute epic. It begins a kind of combination of all things previous: a soulfully emotional lament on what was lost but a reflection on what is here now. This builds into moments of triumphant glory full of twinkling guitar work and marching drum beats that ebb and flow. Like soaring over the city skyline from a great height, MONO detail each nook and cranny with their cinematic, HD soundscape.
In reaction to the boldness of its predecessor, “Far and Further” is another gauzy respite, a quiet contemplation of all that we have just experienced. The guitars twinkle in contemplation as the sunshine beats down upon our faces, but this revelry has somber touches too. Amidst a growing sense of urgency, a maelstrom of emotions provide a whirling dervish for the spirit. Appropriately, “Sorrow” is beautifully emotional, and Goto’s guitar weeps as Cipolla’s drums provide a calming threnody. This build up of emotion provides the album one of its clear highlights, a stunning, over 8-minute track that will hit you right in the feels as it builds toward a powerful climax that includes some starry-eyed synth work.
Like the morning after a great cry, “Parting” begins with hesitation, a fog that comes on the littlest cat feet to prance cautiously into the soundscape. Anchored by piano work and strings, it dances across the senses as it grows in strength and determination. “Meet Us Where the Night Ends” picks up this hesitation and bobs as well as weaves throughout the mood. As it explores, the darkness seeps back in and the bass increases its heart rate. The sonic chaos that ensues is dark and dirge-y as the band spirals away from hope and towards a bleaker denouement.
Appropriately, the next step in our journey is entitled “Funeral Song.” Horns provide a somber send-off, one that is suitably affecting and despondent. It culminates in the album’s closer, “Vanishing, Vanishing Maybe.” All that we have experienced previously melds together to formulate an ending to our story, one that is ruminative and mournful but with hope and acceptance, as well. Here is where MONO shine, weaving together all of their myriad talents to paint a sweeping soundscape befitting of the highest order cinema.
A heavy-hearted aural tale of loss, Nowhere Now Here sees MONO toying heavily with despairing emotions, haunting intensity and an apocalyptic landscape that incorporates synths, horns, strings, and more. Known for their inspiring instrumental talents and aural storytelling abilities, MONO continue to prove that they are masters in their field. Nowhere Now Here takes their previous sound profiles, injects new weapons, and shows the band’s passionate drive to continuously evolve their craft. It is powerful, it is bold, and it is entirely MONO! For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give MONO’s Nowhere Now Here 5 of 5 stars.