Mono – The Last Dawn & Rays of Darkness (Album Review)


Influenced by a range of musicians from Classical composers such as Ludwig Van Beethoven to noise mongers Sonic Youth, Japan’s Mono crafts elegant soundscapes teeming with intricate interplay between members Takaakira “Taka” Goto (lead guitar), Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu (rhythm guitar), Tamaki Kunishi (bass, guitar, piano), and Yasunori Takada (drums, synthesizer). Releasing their first album, Under The Pipal Tree, back in 2001, the band has gone on to create five engaging records to follow as they built an international following of fans.  Following the release of 2012’s highly praised For My Parents, many wondered where the band would go next in their progression.  Then in 2013 Mono went into the studio to take on an unprecedented task of recording two full-length albums.  Miraculously accomplishing the feat, they released the two pieces of work on October 28th, titling them The Last Dawn and Rays of Darkness.

The Last Dawn is an exercise in restraint from Mono.  All the tracks seem as if they are about to take off into a crushing swell of loud guitars and pounding drums, but just at the last second, they reel it in.  Where the Pixies and Nirvana cannot help themselves and revel in the soft/loud/soft realm, Mono, for the most part, keeps it soft.  However, the playing is as upfront as atmospheric music can be, with lots of staccato/one note solos up front.  This is a good thing as Mono takes the listener on a pleasure cruise rather than a rough ride on a sea of screaming guitars.  The music is somewhat repetitive, but like Neil Young’s best Crazy Horse tracks, there is a lot of technique with many notes, but none are wasted.  The keys and percussion are a perfect accent to the loose, languid rhythm guitar that is ever present throughout.  This music is the perfect soundtrack for both a Slasher film and an intense on-screen romance.  All of the tracks meld beautifully into one another in a seamless suite.  Strings are sprinkled in, but not overpowering, letting the keys, bass, guitar, and drums take their place in the fore.

Critics have called Mono jazzed up Easy Listening, or worse, glorified background music, but they are not paying attention.  The drummer very rarely keeps a simple beat, and the keys somehow manage to sound bouncy amidst the slow burn of the guitars.  These are soundscapes of the highest order.  Despite no lyrics, the listener cannot help but be taken on an emotional ride, and this is what Mono does best.  The tense, yet dreamy music evokes both feelings of joy and sheer terror.  Listening to this album cover to cover is akin to a marathon dream.  One where you begin eating ice cream on a sunny day with your childhood friends, followed by running from an axe-wielding masked man, closing with you sipping strawberry lemonade on a tropical island.  The songs meander together, with the occasional brief quiet in between tracks.  Six tracks are listed; “The Land Between Tides,” “Glory,” “Kanata,” “Cyclone,” “Elysian Castles,” and “Where We Begin/The Last Dawn,” but it is truly a suite.

Where The Last Dawn is teeming with lighter sounds, Rays of Darkness is downright menacing at times.  It opens with “Recoil, Ignite” and “Surrender,” clocking in at a little over twenty minutes.  The guitars are often down tuned with plenty of feedback.  Pulsing drums coupled with steady bass is topped with crunchy guitars making for a perfect blend of pulse and thunder.  Takada and Kunishi keep the pocket tight while Goto wails away throughout most of the album.  The dual guitars simultaneously play Flamenco and Emo Rock rhythms only to explode into fuzz laden riffs reminiscent of the best of 1970s Hard Rock and Metal.  It is an audio onslaught bringing the listener elements of the best Stoner Rock, Doom, and Classic Rock.

“The Hand That Holds The Darkness” features Envy’s Tetsuya Fukagawa on vocals; it is a tour de force.  Churning drums and wailing guitars with guttural vocals make for an absolutely terrifying track.  It is quite unsettling at times, but the excellent musicianship keeps it from being campy or over the top.  Closing track “The Last Rays” is almost exclusively monotone feedback; a brilliant cap to a deep, dark album.  Mono is free of pretense, they know what they do well, make no apologies, and have completed two excellent slabs of Atmospheric Noise Rock.  CrypticRock gives The Last Dawn 5 out of 5 stars and Rays of Darkness 4 out of 5 stars.

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