Earlier this week, I went to see my favorite band live for the 4th time: Mono. Up to the concert, I’d had some mixed feelings due to personal history, but I came out of the concert feeling deeply cleansed. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram:
Words cannot capture how much this concert from my favorite band, @monoofjapan , meant to me tonight. I nearly cried several times through what truly felt like a pilgrimage of the soul. The artistry is so powerful it breaks your heart wide open. At the end, an encounter with a friend led to us staying for autographs, and I got a copy of the first Mono album I fell for as a piece to sign and frame. So thrilled for every moment of this night. #postrocklive #concert #musicasspiritualexperience
To be clear, as this might just feel like fanboyish excitement: Mono’s newest album is called “Pilgrimage of the Soul“, and it’s inspired in part by William Blake’s poem, “Auguries of Innocence“. Lines from the earliest section of the poem are regularly quoted as inspirational and highlight Blake’s spiritual aspirations/virtues. In fact, not only are several song titles based on these lines, an audio clip of a reading of the poem played at one point, closing out a song in the set.
To see a World in a Grain of SandAuguries of Innocence, opening lines
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
The set was interspersed with tracks between this album and the previous, “Nowhere, Now Here“. The feelings of nature and pushing to greater heights of a spiritual pilgrimage had the counterpoints of the more minor key of the previous album, and the balance was stunning. Beyond this, there were a couple classics: Halcyon and Ashes in the Snow (arguably Mono’s best song).
In thinking of my experience, the album, and Mono’s greater discography, I realized that this idea of transformation in the strongest, most beautiful sense, although one facing the challenges of suffering and sadness, is something I’ve always taken from Mono’s work, and I’m convinced it’s a dynamic thread throughout. Their first album is titled “Under the Pipal Tree”, a direct reference to the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (the Pipal Tree). The Buddha’s spiritual journey is one of recognizing the problem of suffering in the life of all sentient beings and seeking peace in response to it.
Subsequent releases riff on problems like this, thinking on fantastic takes of the connection with others, the remembrance of family, dealing with disappointment, and a sojourn through Hell.
A much younger me discovered “Hymn to the Immortal Wind” (the album I refer to in my Instagram post), and the experimentation of rock crossed with classical orchestra with a delay-laden tremolo lead guitar, immediately got through this focus on nature, humanity, connection, and heart/soul. It was a turning point in my life, from which I’ve never been the same, and furthermore, after which, I’ve struggled to share these feelings with others. My trepidation at the concert was grief: a feeling of sharing that having been lost.
However, with the opening riff of the first song, “Riptide“, and the subsequent shift to crushing power and speed, I felt all my clinging of attachment unmoored, and this feeling of having my narrative torn apart by beauty, by majesty, and my sheer, powerful abundance of all that is, came through multiple times, leaving me nearly in tears.
There are few post-rock bands as masterful as Mono, and Taka’s songwriting and presence on stage are nothing short of genius, and this kind of spiritual experience is intentional in their music, especially live. As Taka said when touring for “Requiem for Hell”:
“Music is about experiences,” Goto says. “Witnessing extremely loud sounds live is one type of experience. It’s almost like seeing a spark of thunder in a quiet night sky, then hearing the echoes of loud thunder. It’s beautiful, yet crushing – an unusual experience.”Taka, from this story
“At the same time, subliminal music is extremely spiritual. Every sound and melody start to soak into every cell in your body, takes them subconsciously and moves them. Music can speak to everyone more eloquently than words. It’s close to philosophy. It’s a gift from God.”
This quote summarizes both my feelings about post-rock’s intensity of expression and the intensity of Mono’s live shows. I highly recommend exploring the spiritual experience of transformation that their music offers.