Japanese experimental rock group Mono came together in 2000, choosing to forgo vocals and concentrate instead on atmospheric, classical-inspired rock music. They have crafted a dynamic, shapeshifting sound that lends itself to long compositions, delivered in varying ranges of dynamics, replete with improvisation, restraint, and an energy that bridges post-rock to heavy metal energy. Their recordings walk the line between spacious atmospherics, a lush yet delicate beauty, and overdriven, de-tuned raw power. Early recordings such as 2004's Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, relied on the contrast of various tensions in soaring rock that explored margins in the same way that Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky do. Two years later, on Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain, they began collaborating with World's End Girlfriend (aka Katsuhiko Maeda), an underground Japanese producer, mixologist, and multi-instrumentalist. They also enlisted a string section, chorus, a classical pianist, and a jazz saxophonist as part and parcel of their attack. These collaborations only grew, culminating in 2012's acclaimed For My Parents. In 2014 they pared their sound back to the quartet on two simultaneously recorded and issued albums, Rays of Darkness and Last Dawn.
The foursome, bassist Tamaki (the lone female in the group), drummer Yasunori Takada, and guitarists Takaakira "Taka" Goto and Yoda, released their first full-length record, Under the Pipal Tree, in 2001 on John Zorn's Tzadik label. In 2003, after switching to Arena Rock Recording Company, Mono issued One Step More and You Die -- a remix version came out the following year as New York Soundtracks. That same year, their fourth album, Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, recorded in Chicago with producer Steve Albini, was released on Temporary Residence. Albini also performed the same duties on Mono's April 2006 record, You Are There, and in September the band issued Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain, a mix between classical and rock that also featured a collaboration with World's End Girlfriend, among others. The fascination with classical arrangements, strings, and atmospheres became an integral part of the band's sound. In 2006 they recorded You Are There, which included cellos on one part of the album and a string section elsewhere while retaining the dynamic and tension-building sound that had become the band's trademark, where beauty and chaos are woven together until they're an inseparable whole. On 2009's Hymn to the Immortal Wind, the band played live with a 25-piece chamber orchestra that featured woodwinds, reeds, and strings -- and added a Hammond B-3 in spots to extend the orchestral dynamic. This culminated in 2010's Holy Ground: NYC Live, with Mono accompanied by the Wordless Music Orchestra, another large chamber ensemble featuring everything from harp and strings to winds and piano, playing the band's compositions. For 2012's For My Parents, the band employed a smaller chamber group, conducted by Jeff Milarsky, dubbed the Holy Ground Orchestra, comprising two violins, two cellos, viola, upright bass, timpani, and cymbals.
After a global tour and a break, Mono returned to the studio in 2013 and recorded two albums simultaneously as parts of a whole. The Last Dawn was lighter, briefer, and more melodic; once again, it placed the band in sonic juxtaposition with strings. The second part, Rays of Darkness, included no strings for the first time since 2003. It was far blacker and heavier, and featured a guest vocal appearance by Tetsuya Fukagawa of Envy. Both albums were released by Temporary Residence in October of 2014. The following year, Mono signed with the Pelagic label of German metal act the Ocean. Both bands collaborated on a split album called Transcendental. The recording was a preface for a joint European tour. Each band contributed a single extended track. Mono's "Death in Reverse" served to complement the Ocean's "The Quiet Observer" in that both cuts explored themes of life, death, and rebirth/regeneration, as well as the in-between "bardo" states. The album was released at the end of October by Pelagic. In July 2016, Mono released the 18-minute "Ely's Heartbeat" via the Internet. It was the pre-release single from the full-length Requiem for Hell, issued by Temporary Residence that October.
In December of 2017, after the completion of an extensive world tour with the Ocean, Mono announced via social media that founding member Takada was leaving the group for personal reasons. He was replaced by Dahm Majuri Cipolla, just in time for the live performances that began in August of the following year. Mono entered Electrical Audio with Albini again earlier that year, and in September announced the full-length Nowhere Now Here, which was issued in January of 2019. ~ Marisa Brown