Standing motionless in the archway of a church porch; looking out on the rain lightly fluttering against the dark night’s sky. The sound of Japan’s Mono soundchecking with “Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)” from inside of Leicester Cathedral was majestic; whether from the music or the winter weather, I had chills. To replace the rain with a blizzard would be the only thing that could have made this moment any more perfect. And I hadn’t even yet made it inside.
A venue that could only be filled by such a band as Mono
Leicester’s own Dark Dark Horse opened the night. I’m not too familiar with their music, and so I can’t detail specifics about their set. The sound overall was polished and certainly enjoyable enough to tide me over until the main event. Highlights of Dark Dark Horse‘s performance were found in the longer, more sweeping tracks, and the moments in which the lead singer propelled his vocals to their limit. The final song, in particular, contained some beautifully ambient guitar-work. After Dark Dark Horse left the stage, a single piece of subdued classical music consumed the hall in wait for Mono‘s arrival.
The Japanese four-piece entered the stage with not a single word uttered, and began to play the opener of their latest release. “Legend” is one of Mono‘s most sensational, grandiose songs, yet even knowing this could not have prepared me for the overwhelmingly uplifting experience that was the song’s final crescendo. “Legend” was breathtaking, and to my surprise, its impact was in no way hindered by the complete lack of an orchestra. Just two guitars were able to perfectly emulate the melodies once carried by strings alone, leaving no gaps in the song’s composition. The dramatic appeal of the studio recording was perfectly replicated — even exceeded — thanks to the sheer volume of the guitars, in addition to the creative use of the timpani and gong by Mono‘s drummer, Yasunori Takada.
As on the album ‘For My Parents’, “Legend” was followed by “Nostalgia”, and beyond that, “Dream Odyssey”. I was expecting to be less impressed by these two songs; on the album at least, they’re not nearly as wrought or powerful as “Legend”. Despite this, “Nostalgia” still managed to overwhelm me during the song’s drum-heavy crescendo. It was much louder than I was anticipating — the dynamics more emphasized over the studio recording — making the track ever more impactful and with a greater sense of reverence from the audience. So far Mono had proven their capacity to expertly recreate their studio recordings in a live environment, however with “Dream Odyssey” they made the point that the live show is a unique experience, and should be revered as such. The third track from ‘For My Parents’, and incidentally their third song of the night, had a far more dreamy vibe than is felt on the album. The live version seemed somewhat subdued by comparison, with a greater focus on atmosphere and floaty effects than the usual melodies and crescendos. It was refreshing, and perhaps more in tune with the mood that the band had intended to convey when they wrote “Dream Odyssey”.
For the majority of the show’s remainder, Mono blessed fans with sensational performances of their favourite tracks from the band’s most accomplished album to date: ‘Hymn to the Immortal Wind’. “Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)” served as the show’s emotional epicenter. The song explored the extremes of the band’s sonic spectrum, from the delicate and heartwrenching opening melodies to the chaos and furore of the song’s wind-swept climax — Takaakira Goto on his knees passionately orchestrating each growing moment of desperation and intensity. It was sublime. The closing track, “Everlasting Light”, was equally sensational — a song that understands and embraces the necessary beauty of restraint.
Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)
The highlight though, for me, was undoubtedly “Ashes in the Snow”. I can’t even begin to describe what this song does to me, both on the album and especially in a live setting. This song was too beautiful; so overwhelming that I can’t put into words what it meant on the night. I had goosebumps, shivers, and felt a nervous fluttering in my stomach. The song was recreated in the most perfect form possible. I wish to have captured that moment but I know that no recording could have done it any justice. “Ashes in the Snow” was angelic. It was… transcendent. I’ve already run out of words. See Mono live, if you can. This should be on anyone’s bucket list.
3. Dream Odyssey
4. Pure as Snow
5. Unseen Harbor
6. Follow the Map
7. Ashes in the Snow
8. Everlasting Light
(Note: A big thank you to reddit user Maut99 for providing these photographs)