Intensity and drama unify my musical palette. As unalike as Count Bassie and Ulcerate are, they’re both able to serve up a shitton of excitement, albeit in quite different ways. But the differences between dramatic genres are still immense, which makes a Mono record quite the refresher in between this year’s big tech-death releases. The minimalistic and highly emotional compositions of Taakira Goto and his cohort rarely fail to impress, but at times the music asks for far more emotional investment than it warrants. The Last Dawn and Rays of Darkness continue the band’s tradition of blending atmosphere, noise, and simple melodies together in truly emotive combinations. This format is absolutely adhered to on The Last Dawn, during which it would seem the albums are par for the course; but Rays of Darkness proves otherwise.
Though the latter of the double albums is far more metallic in nature, The Last Dawn builds tension and anxiety quite well. “Land Between Tides Glory” utilizes a string section to quiver over chords while a sputtering guitar repeat the song’s motif endlessly. “Cyclone” and “Elysian Castles” are also very well structured, utilizing post’ rocks classic crescendo convergences expertly and reminding us all where Rosetta gets their melodic sensibility. The title track closes strong, and after the vague and forgettable “Were We Begin,” it ends just in time to keep The Last Dawn from becoming too ponderous – a real danger for this band and shoegaze in general.
Rays of Darkness‘s first track, “Recoil Ignite” proves to be heavier than anything else on the double album, wandering further into post-metal territory than The Last Dawn felt comfortable with. It’s also probably the bleakest and heaviest music Mono has ever written; Rays of Darkness spurns orchestral elements almost completely and at times could be mistaken for a post-black metal record. “Recoil Ignite” stretches on for an eternity and gets louder every second of it, whereas “The Last Rays” elects to end the record with six minutes of noise. The record strikes a balance somewhere between Rosetta and Sun O))) but brings with it its own surprises – the trumpet choir in “Surrender” is the first, but “The Hand That Holds the Truth” packs a punch far weirder, and a lot more brutal. Just when the sound has retreated, the band pummels back into you with Tetsu Fukagawa (Envy) roaring away at the mic. Guest vocals? On a Mono album? Sure enough, it works and it works well, crowning the album by catching you completely off guard with an unprecedented black metal assault.
The Last Dawn and Rays of Darkness are far more stripped-down than the For My Parents LP – the melodies are less complex, the instrumentation more focused on the band’s core. Not only are the guitars far more prevalent as melodic leaders, they also sound a lot more like guitars than they did on For My Parents. The guitar tone is a bit rougher, a bit noisier, and played slightly more forcefully. Also more forceful are the melodies, which often turned towards the melodramatic and flowery on For My Parents, but here are focused and almost utilitarian in their emotive efficiency. The band also restrains the urge to transform every song on these albums into a grand event. While “Kanata” and “Cyclone” are by no means sterile, they don’t beg the listener for empathy like Mono songs so often do, making them a lot more listenable, especially since they’re both under six and a half minutes – quite snappy by Mono‘s standards.
While The Last Dawn offers little in the way of innovation from Mono, it’s a lot more palatable to the average metalhead than their recent releases. Alone, it would be a forgettable release, but paired with Rays of Darkness it becomes a potential landmark in the band’s discography. The songs on both albums are more enjoyable than any of the band’s previous material, the orchestrations are better integrated, and the material is at times just plain heavy. Even if you’ve passed over Mono before due to their often melodramatic shoegazing, give Rays of Darkness a listen. It’s a fair bet you won’t be disappointed.