Mono

support Sólstafir + The Ocean
author LF date 12/10/15 venue Voxhall, Århus, DEN

Tonight's heavy show at Voxhall is a special one for several reasons. For one, I'd say none of the three bands on the bill tonight can really be said to be underdogs compared to the other two. They're all headliners in their own right and as such this line-up did more than just pique my interest when I first cast my eyes on the announcement. Still, one of the bands is really the main reason I decided to come to Aarhus for a show on a rainy Monday evening and that band is the Japanese experimental and instrumental quartet, Mono. I have been somewhat curious about them since I found out that a song by a current favorite band of mine is named after them (that would be "Mono" from Fightstar's "Grand Unification") so I thought it highly relevant to swing by as I have not previously had the pleasure of being bombarded by their intense music live. Before we get to them, however, let's talk about the two other bands of the evening that have both delivered great live performances in Denmark before.

All photos supplied by Voxhall's house photographer Anders Teibel

The Ocean

So far my experience with this German-based post-metal collective has been strictly centered around their most recent release "Pelagial" from 2013 which explores the depths of the ocean by descending further and further down with each song. The two times I've seen them live, the performance has consisted of this album played in full and while both these shows have been great and immersive ones, it's very refreshing to see them play a different kind of set this time. The songs they play tonight are delicate, filled with neat details that add a lot of nuance to my picture of them as more of a provider of heavy, thundering and hypnotic music. Of course, they are a heavy band and the songs also have absolutely crushing parts and thus the set swings nicely back and forth in intensity. For this tour they also have a cellist with them on stage and she adds some nice deep vibrations to the backbone of the music while also being allowed to come more to the fore towards the middle of the set in a jazz-like exchange with the keyboard during one song. The audience are quick to get warmed up and a couple of metalheads up front are ready with horns in the air and headbanging from the very beginning, to the obvious delight of the band's vocalist who smiles and is all energy as he sings out with his somewhat scratchy voice. As the first band to play tonight, they also play way shorter than I've been used to, getting off the stage after about forty-five minutes. With their long songs, this amount of time passes very quickly. Fortunately, their sound mix is on point from the beginning and the band themselves play through their beautiful set with a casual ease despite the complexity of their songs. All in all The Ocean play a set that's renewed my interest in them and will probably be the main cause for me showing up again next time they play in Denmark.

8

Sólstafir

Next band up was going to be Mono according to the announced playing order, but it's evident pretty soon after the changeover begins that this order has been swapped. Friends start calling friends to make sure they get to the venue in time because, as is also evident when they begin playing, the Icelandic rockers in Sólstafir have a lot of fans in Aarhus. They have also never played here so that might have something to do with the fact that the room is packed when they start playing. Whereas The Ocean were more lively and dynamic tonight than I had expected, Sólstafir go in the other direction and come off as much more hypnotic and even droning than last time I saw them play in Copenhagen. There's a good energy in the room from an obviously satisfied audience who nods their heads in time to the songs and hails the band with solid applauses. The band's vocalist is quick to pick up on this goodwill and shows off his great Danish language skills in between songs, resulting in some laughs all around. While singing his emotional and high melodies, he also balances on the barrier in front of the stage, high-fiving and supporting himself on the outstretched arms of the people all the way up front, and generally he's good at connecting with the audience. Still, the band's music feels a bit too stretched out from time to time, with some passages just galloping along in a steady tempo and with the same repeated riffs resulting in a slow hypnotizing effect that, however, is not quite captivating enough for it to not be boring after a while. This is, of course, a shame as the conditions are otherwise good for the band and I'm sure the people up front of the stage will not agree with this assessment. So while Sólstafir play a solid set tonight, I'm just not captured by the music in the same way as I have previously been.

7

Mono

The music of the Japanese instrumental band Mono could be classified as post-rock, but somehow that feels a very limited description of their compositions. In the big sweeping movements of their songs are elements of classical music and minimalism as well as shoegazing and more experimental rock. To begin with, their songs seem to follow a "classic" recipe of a build-up of ever-increasing sound levels and intensity until they each end, but it doesn't take the band long to change the formula up. This means that even in their simplicity, the compositions seem to take unexpected turns, some of them into heavier territory and some into delicate pieces with glockenspiel or keyboard added in the soundscapes. The two guitarists make good use of reverb effects and often they strum their instruments in fast-paced tremolo fashion which really builds up the intensity of the compositions, always supported by dynamic drumming and bass play. The band is visually striking tonight as the two guitarists sit on chairs to each side of the stage with the amplifiers and the podium for the drumkit sort of framing them in a semi-circle while the bassist has her spot in the middle of it all with the glockenspiel close at hand. They all seem to move to the music in a mystic, swaying way, using each movement of their hands on their instruments to make not just a musical statement but a visual one as well. The lighting is intense as well, underpinning the movements of the music most of the way, but with songs as long as thirteen minutes I find it pretty exhausting with white flashes in my eyes constantly and this element ends up disturbing the musical experience for me. For an otherwise successful show experience, this is quite annoying as I am ripped out of my immersion in the beautiful sounds during the latter part of the set. Still, the band plays very well tonight and a good amount of people stay to watch their set to the very end. I for one am sure to keep a watchful eye out for their next show nearby.

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