On paper, it’s a match made in heaven: French pioneers of blackgaze Alcest and Japanese post-rockers Mono together on a co-headline tour, which brings them to the suitably-titled venue of Glasgow’s Classic Grand. The pair of bands share a penchant for mixing together heavy riffs and rock crescendos with other, arguably softer, genres.
In a moment of almost intertwining fates, Alcest’s latest album Kodama also ties somewhat into Mono’s culture. The record is partially inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s celebrated anime Princess Mononoke and imagines what life is like for the characters after the events of the story. It’s also an LP that borrows sonically from Japanese culture too, with small flourishes reminiscent of traditional koto music embedded within their usual blend of black metal and shoegaze. Unsurprisingly then, the album forms much of the backbone of their hour and a half long set. The intricacies of the title track and ‘Oiseaux de Proie’ translate well, with hardly any of the musical complexity from the album lost by the band overall. The aggression of drummer Winterhalter is particularly forceful, with his break-neck percussion providing some of the set’s most deadly assaults.
It’s unfortunate though that Neige’s voice is all but lost in the mix. While it is pushed back a little on Kodama, it’s never completely missable. Underneath all of the fuzz, puzzling riffs and pounding beats he’s singing and screaming, but it’s all but inaudible. As such, some of the raw emotional power and intensity found on the record is occasionally a little lost in the ether – not that the crowd seem to really mind. However, it is possible to hear him when he talks to the audience, pleasantly thanking them, introducing songs, and at one point seeming genuinely surprised that they’ve received such a warm response from the audience. Setting aside the quibbles about vocal volume, he shouldn’t be. Their set closer ‘Déliverance’ (from their divisive 2014 album Shelter) demonstrates why they’re heralded as innovators, capable of entrancing such a wide-ranging audience with their intense, genre-blurring sound.
Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ heralds Mono’s entrance, a foreboding, downbeat signal of things to come. Indeed, some of the band’s own songs feature doom-laden piano melodies, with some of their nine albums being peppered with orchestral elements, albeit eventually smothered in wave after wave of muscular, squalling riffs. They even introduce one of their tracks with possibly the longest, quietest glockenspiel-based introduction to a song you’ll ever hear. It’s probably over five minutes of nothing but the occasionally audible note and, while it’s intriguing, the crowd get pretty restless waiting for them to break into something more. Although, that might have something to do with the dull blast of trance music permeating from the room below.
Ambient noise notwithstanding, it’s really a bit of a shame that these interesting percussive and classical moments don’t punctuate the set more. Mono are something of a one-trick pony; almost all of their songs follow a set pattern, whereby a very slow start gradually builds up into a crescendo. While these peaks are profound, sometimes a dash of the light and shade their co-headliners do so well would be welcome. Eventually the crowd start to get a little weary, thinning out gradually over the course of the set. Perhaps this is the whole point of their music though; they are, after all, called Mono, and despite the structural monotony, no one can deny that they prove themselves to be astonishingly good musicians.
Drummer Yasunori Takada is particularly stunning. While the rest of the band hammer through their riffs in their usual, structured manner, Takada provides the most diversity in their sound. One minute he seems like your standard harsh post-rock drummer, the next he’s playing an absolutely thunderous marching beat before mixing it all up with a couple of little skits that sound like they’re almost inspired by jazz. His surprisingly nuanced drumming is almost a call back to some of the more labyrinthine passages of Alcest’s set. Unfortunately, that just makes you wish that the French blackgaze group rounded off the night rather than started it, with Mono’s crescendos setting up the pins just for Alcest to knock them down in a clean strike. It just isn’t quite to be.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.