On the 2012 album “For My Parents,” instrumental rock band Mono went big. Recorded with the 25-piece Wordless Music Orchestra, the album reflected a band that had finally completed a musical journey that it started more than 15 years ago performing grandiose, symphonic instrumental rock.
But while touring in support of the album in the United States, guitarist and composer Takaakira “Taka” Goto says he felt a strange disconnect with the material.
“It seemed like we weren’t rocking hard enough and that was a big dilemma,” he says. “So I decided that on the next record we would recapture our noisy guitar sound, something that would grab American listeners.”
This mind-set led Goto and his bandmates, guitarist Hideki Suematsu, bassist Tamaki Kunishi and drummer Yasunori Takada, to pen what could be its darkest and heaviest record yet, “Rays of Darkness.”
Goto explains the whole process was easier said than done.
“I got too caught up in the darkness,” he says. “I didn’t speak to anyone. I was locked up in the studio for the whole time. At one point I couldn’t take it anymore and I put it all aside.”
Fortunately, Goto’s self-inflicted descent into darkness only ended up being half of the story.
“We started getting offers for soundtracks. I decided to work on them to refresh myself,” he says. “I usually write at night, but I decided to wake up early in the morning, at around 5 or 6 a.m., and started working in the daytime. It became almost therapeutic for me.”
Goto’s re-emergence from the darkness resulted in a second album, “The Last Dawn.” Both it and “Rays of Darkness,” which are being released simultaneously via Magniph today (the albums were released last month by Temporary Residence Limited in North America and Pelagic Records in Europe), are intended to be, as Goto puts it, two sides of the same coin.
“It’s the dual nature that you can’t avoid in life. It’s part of the human condition,” he says.
The two records both serve as a back-to-basics approach for the band. “Rays Of Darkness” contains no orchestral instruments and was recorded as a four-piece. The opening 13-minute track, “Recoil Ignite,” takes a simple, sparse guitar motif and builds it up into a flurry of scorched, almost black metal-like guitar riffs. It’s Mono at its most aggressive. The album even ends with a six-minute feedback-drenched ambient noise track.
“We wanted to capture a raw performance, almost like Black Sabbath,” Goto says. “Before Mono, the members were all in metal bands.”
In a first for Mono, the track “The Hand That Holds the Truth” features a guest vocalist — Tetsuya Fukagawa of hardcore band Envy. While he’s only on the song briefly, fans of both bands will certainly appreciate the long overdue collaboration, with Fukagawa contributing his trademark screams to “Rays of Darkness.”
The more hopeful “The Last Dawn” serves as being a leaner, digestible version of Mono’s previous offerings. “Kanata” opens with a beautiful piano arpeggio, which is later joined by the band’s signature delay-ridden 16th-note guitar passages, while on “Where We Begin,” a simple guitar riff evolves into a dreamy, tranquil sea of distortion. Many of the tracks on “The Last Dawn” are minimal, and the tight runtime of the album allows the band to eschew the slow build-ups and climaxes in exchange for something more to the point and accessible.
“I think people only have two emotions: positive and negative,” says Goto about the reasoning of releasing two albums. “Being perfectly in the middle is best, but human beings can’t do that. On ‘The Last Dawn’ you’re going up the positive staircase and on ‘Rays of Darkness’ you’re going down the negative staircase. That’s the difference.”
“Rays of Darkness” and “The Last Dawn” are in stores now. Mono is currently touring in Europe and will return to Japan for shows in Sendai, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya in January. For more information, visit www.smash-jpn.com or www.monoofjapan.com.