Monday 6 February 2023

Mono Inc. - Ravenblack (2023)

Country: Germany
Style: Gothic Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 27 Jan 2023
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I hadn't heard of Mono Inc. until I caught sight of the cover art for their eleventh album, The Book of Fire, and checked it out. I'm glad I did, because that's a peach of an album that got a 9/10 from me and only just missed out on Album of the Month. I'm especially glad I did, because I don't think that I'd have done the same with the minimalistic cover art for this follow-up to their first German number one album. I'm listening now because I know what music they make and I want to keep on hearing more. Apparently, the German people do too, because this only came out last week and it currently sits at the top of the album chart there already, above fellow new entry Uriah Heep just three places below them.

I liked The Book of Fire from its opening track but fell for their sound on the next one, the urgency of Louder Than Hell pointing the way towards my reading this as the Sisters of Mercy gone power metal. This album is certainly consistent with that, but it's a little more subtle than last time out, the opening tracks full of commercial gothic hooks on steady driving beats. However, the first that grabbed me the way the previous album did is Princess of the Night three songs in.

No, it's not the Saxon song, but it may be just as memorable. It's one of those Mono Inc. songs that sounds immediately great but still grows as the hooks take grip on our brain and we find ourselves humming them on our way to the bathroom ten minutes later. It doesn't hurt that it sets out with excellent guitarwork from Carl Fornia. Mono Inc. tracks tend to rely far more on their hooks than their riffs or solos, but this would be a different band without what Fornia brings to it.

To prove me wrong, the next song is Angels Never Die, which starts out with piano, remains much slower and more focused on keyboards and adds a perfectly timed vocal contribution from Katha Mia, otherwise the band's drummer. As the song features Sanz, I initially thought it was the name of the guest vocalist, but Sanz are an all-male band on the same label as Mono Inc. They don't add the female vocal but they do add extra punch to the song throughout. It's a different highlight to Princess of the Night but it's another highlight nonetheless.

And so's Heartbeat of the Dead, which features a neat shift from electronic beat to Mia's drums. It's as driving as The Last Crusade last time out and this sort of relentless but never fancy beat is the absolute heartbeat of this band, above Martin Engler's vocals and every other contribution. I would be tapping my feet and banging my head even if I could only hear the drum track. The rest is just a bonus, every layer adding more depth and meaning and fleshing out the material from that solid grounding to the Mono Inc. sound we know and love.

It took me a while to warm to the title track, but I got there. The beat is a little slower and there's a crazy repetition going on in the lyrics but it does actually work. Now, it may get annoying with a lot of repeats, but it hasn't yet. Lieb Mich restores that driving beat and Engler (and Mia) shift to German for one of only two tracks here, the other being the tasty ballad that wraps up the album, Weidersehen Woanders, which is built on cello and piano. Lieb Mich goes with guitar to emphasise the beat and that isn't the only Rammstein touch they play with, because the explosive ramps up are another, such as in Angels Never Die. Never Alone is a more singalong ballad, until it does the ramp up, but with a little less explosive impact.

I don't think Ravenblack is quite as good as The Book of Fire, but it's a strong album nonetheless. I liked it immediately and like it more after a second listen. It's remains strong on the third and the title track's repetition hasn't got annoying yet—I'm watching for that moment! It's easily an 8/10 though, with a strong consistency over fifty minutes. However, nothing leaps out me the way that Louder Than Hell did last time, the closest perhaps being Princess of the Night and After Dark, with guest appearance from folk metal band Storm Seeker. So, no second 9/10 from me but a still highly recommended 8/10 for Mono Inc., who are at the top of their game right now.

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