With Nowhere Now Here, their tenth album, Japan's Mono celebrates their 20th anniversary. They've expanded their sonic palette and continued to keep a close ear on their roots even as they've woven ambient sounds, cinematic power metal, and dissonance into a unique melodic sensibility at once fragile and beautful. Often using chamber and symphony orchestras, they've built on their dynamic contrasts -- dark and light, violence and stillness, chaos and tranquility -- with a remarkable, emotionally potent consistency.
Nowhere Now Here recombines most of the elemental musical traits apparent throughout the band's history, while adding electronics to their arsenal. The quartet has undergone its first personnel change with drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla replacing Yasunori Takada. The brief opener "God Bless" is almost an interlude, with brass, strings, and synths hovering about each other before Mono's signature fingerpicked electric guitars introduce the whirl, hum, and crash of "After You Comes the Flood." Slamming kick drums, tom toms, and tympani add thunder and menace to cascading repetitive vamps; a backdrop of noise and strings flit through the musical body, ratcheting up tension that increases in crescendoes until it all reaches a punishing squall. "Breathe" whispers itself into being with a sparse, haunted, low-end synth until bassist Tamaki delivers her vocal debut in English. Its bridge borrows from the second movement of Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs before mellotron, drums, strings, and ambience color the harmony with mournful shadows. It is among the most beautiful tracks they've cut. The title number is the set's longest at over ten minutes. It begins as a lament, simply and gently, with guitars and drum plodding and shuffling before brass instruments assert themselves, sparely at first, amid shimmering strings while synths and ambient sounds color the margins. Before long, feedback and noise slice through the mix and Mono's complex, syncopated, processional rhythms and hypnotic guitar vamps engage the orchestra, guided in by a propulsive, ecstatic bassline. It's so breathtaking that by its end listeners will be tempted to play it over again. There are segments in "Sorrow" that recall the mellotron bliss of King Crimson's earliest recordings, but are underscored by dizzying heavy metal soundscapes. Electronics offer a balance for Mono: they add not so much to the clashing dynamics in their signature ebb and flow, but exponential depth and dimension to their inherent musicality. While "Vanishing, Vanishing Maybe" is a stunningly hopeless ballad, the closer "Meet Us Where the Night Ends" follows an alternately melodic and modal pathway in introduction. Spacious, understated balladic moments gradually morph into a soaring, multiphonic anthem of noise, outlined in both dread and ecstasy. Nowhere Now Here is among the most musical of Mono's albums. That said, it remains inseparably bound to their trademark sonic exploration of multivalent textures, extreme dynamics, and sheer rock power in revealing transformational emotional and psychological states.