Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Mono Inc. - The Book of Fire (2020)



Country: Germany
Style: Gothic Rock/Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 24 Jan 2020
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Sometimes perseverance is everything. Mono Inc. are a gothic rock/metal band from Hamburg who were formed in 2000 and seem to have been building a steady following ever since. This is their eleventh studio album and their first to top the German charts; their five albums since 2012 all made the top ten but a number one continued to elude them until now with Welcome to Hell peaking a slot lower in 2018.

They're an interesting band because they have a kind of power metal approach to gothic rock. While they list bands like the Sisters of Mercy, the Smiths and Depeche Mode as influences, I'm frankly not hearing any of them here on the opening title track. I'm hearing Clannad taking on an extra happy Power Quest song and removing half the notes; it's slower but just as melodic and many of those melodies feel Celtic. Drummer Katha Mia's vocals help that as well and it's the happiest damn goth music I've ever heard.

It stays happy but other songs do feel a lot more goth and it's when we get to The Last Crusade six tracks in that I realise why. It starts with choral harmonies and quickly finds a Sisters of Mercy groove. It's This Corrosion heavied up to fit on Vision Thing and with an actual human being providing an incessant drive like we expect from Doctor Avalanche. I suddenly dig the Sisters as power metal and a lot of the rest starts to make sense.

Louder Than Hell, for instance, felt goth the first time I heard it but I hadn't realised why until The Last Crusade. Katha Mia isn't a drum machine but she's as reliable as one on this song, just keeping a strong perpetual beat without doing anything flash at all. The melodies fit Andrew Eldritch as a power metal vocalist and the song ends up so gloriously catchy that I found myself singing along with it on my first listen.

While the Sisters are clearly a key grounding to Mono Inc.'s sound, they're not the only one in play. The single is Warriors and it's a sort of Manowar power ballad with Martin Engler's resonant vocals crooning over piano chords that eventually become guitars. The chorus, like so many here, features all four band members layering their voices for effect and it's a fantastic one, especially as Mia's female voice is instantly recognisable because of pitch. It's like a duet when this happens but more so and it almost commands us to singalong because it's welcoming us into a crowd.

And, as I start to imagine these Euro goths in animal skin loinclothes in a Ken Kelly painting, things get even more epic on Where the Raven Flies. It's full of glorious dynamics, ranging from quiet parts where whatever effect is on Engler's voice makes him sound like he's singing to us from the Victorian era to loud and galloping ones that are close to symphonic metal. There's a female voice that I presume is Mia's that soars around Engler like any Dutch soprano would soar.

There are another half dozen songs here because that's merely the first half and The Book of Fire runs a generous hour, even without the bonus song (the single version of the title track) and a second disc that features the whole album again in instrumental form. Mono Inc. don't skimp on this release and, amazingly, they keep up this level of quality throughout. That's impressive. I haven't even mentioned Nemesis yet and that's a ballad that's soaked into my bones already.

So I'll pause to point out that there's a concept in play here. We're in the dark ages where the mystical tome of the title chooses a young healer by the name of Aellin to be its new owner. This prompts a "persecution, sorrow and suffering" story, in which she fights for freedom. I have to admit that I'm apparently completely unable to focus on the words, even though Engler has a very clear voice. I'm just too caught up in the hooks.

I haven't heard Mono Inc. before but I've read that they aren't usually this heavy. I have ten albums to wander back through to find that out, because I really like this music. It's an odd combination, not just of rock and metal but of folk, goth and power and it's catchy as all get out. Congratulations, Mono Inc., on your first German number one album. May it be merely the first of many!

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