Album Review: Mono - Beyond the Past : Live in London with the Platinum Anniversary Orchestra
Reviewed by Dan Barnes
Japan’s instrumental Post-Rock behemoths, Mono, celebrated their twentieth anniversary back in 2019 by playing a one-off show at the Barbican Theatre in London, in front of around two-thousand adoring acolytes. In doing so the band revisited all ten of their studio albums and delivered a two-hour immersion into sound that will mesmerise the listener.
Short opener God Bless is a slow and deliberate set-up for what is to come. Waves of keyboard swell and a lone horn speaks a dirge before dropping effortlessly into After You Comes the Flood. Rich tapestries of sound are woven through the repetition of a riff; then the track explodes in drum crashes, adding so much weight to the proceedings as to create its own gravitational pull.
This juxtaposition of oh-so delicate fragility and absolute crushing weight continues across Beyond the Past, meaning every moment is an adventure of where the music will take you next. This is perfectly encapsulated in the lead track Nowhere, Not Here, a ten-minute ode to melancholy that is somehow both mournful and uplifting at the same time. Here, you will find a band in full mastery of their compositions as Mono deliver a perfectly crafted symphony designed to evoke a reaction from the listener. As you sit, engrossed by each precise note, you know that a storm is coming but not when it will hit; then it arrives, a tsunami of sound as the track soars and becomes an utterly immersive experience.
Tracks like Sorrow and Dream Odyssey revel in their gothic piano intros, mournful yearnings and huge scope of ideas. I’ve used the terms Widescreen and Cinemascopic to describe music before, but never has it been more apt than on Beyond the Past in general and Sorrow in particular. In engaging with this piece, images of swelling oceans and spiral galaxies are conjured, leading one to consider one’s own existence in the face of such enormity. Dream Odyssey sees Mono embracing their progressive side, pulling out some Pink Floyd guitar parts and the occasional Marillion moment.
Both Breathe and Exit in Darkness feature the vocal talents of A.A. Williams who underscores Mono’s melancholy with her morose and heart-breaking lilt.
For all the fragility, Mono are not shy in delivering harsh musical assaults. Death in Rebirth sits in the first half of the set and provides a little more ‘presence’ to the performance after the ethereal music that has gone before. Its militaristic drumbeat grows more savage with every passing of the riff, more urgent, more abrasive, until it transcends and disintegrates into a melee of noise and feedback.
As the set continues the music becomes more vicious. Meet Us Where the Night Ends may begin as a slow-burning near-pop song but, as the track progresses, it does so in a fierce and frantic exploration, building upwards as guitars soar until an unearthly scream bring every back to normality again.
Halcyon (Beautiful Days) is rapturously greeted and received and by the time the epics Ashes in the Snow and Com(?) have ended you realise two-hours have passed in a flash. It would be an understatement to call Beyond the Past a live album as it is much, much more. Rather than just the documenting of a special night in Mono’s history, this is an experience of what it is like to immerse yourself in sound.
It might see like a daunting prospect but Beyond the Past is best experienced as a whole, rather than in its constituent parts. So, find your best set of headphones and a dark room and let Mono guide you through their odyssey. p