Live Review : Mono + Årabrot + Jo Quail @ Gorilla, Manchester on May 6th 2019

A reverent ‘you can hear a pin drop’ reception is a rare thing for a main support act, never mind one that is third on the bill, but Jo Quail is no ordinary artist. She is a solo cellist and whilst that may sound as far from metal as you can possibly get, the sound she creates is simply astonishing. What Jo does is taps out a sound on her futuristic looking cello and then she loops that sound back so that it becomes part of the backing track, then she does it again and again and again and so on until she has a rich tapestry of textured noise that surrounds her still audible mournfully beautiful cello. It may sounds simplistic and slightly one dimensional, but believe me the music she creates is deep, alluring and fully formed and manages to be both beautiful and heavy. Second track (of three) 'Mandrel Cantus' is at the heart of that balance between primal and exquisite and the jarring blasts of sampled percussion provide an amazing juxtaposition to the luscious noise coming from her cello.

She is joined for the final (lengthy) track Adder Stone by Årabrot drummer Joakim Johansen, this is a four part epic that starts delicately and has Joakim stroking his cymbals in a gentle almost child-like manner. But then it explodes into this avalanche of noise; big, bold and full of passion and power and in the centre of that aural tsunami is Jo. I love watching musicians create and you can see the muscles on her arms flex as she pulls her bow aggressively across the strings, wrenching out sounds that a cello is surely not meant to make. As I said a single cello may seem as ‘Metal’ as a pink unicorn made of marshmallow called Nigel, but please please go seek her out (she is playing Damnation) as what she is doing is nothing short of astounding.

This is a trimmed down, more aggressive and rawer version of Årabrot that we know and love as Keyboardist Karin Park (who is also frontman’s Kjetil Nernes life-partner) is on extended sick leave. Rather than replace the frankly irreplaceable, the tour has been completed (tonight’s the final night) as a power trio. This interestingly results in a punkier more primal set as there is no lush synth or haunting female vocals to provide balance to Kjetil’s angular guitars and raw urgent vocals. I must admit I like this more direct in your face Årabrot as the theatrics and on-stage role-play seem to take a backseat to a more crunching and guttural approach. We also get a setlist that dips further into their impressive back catalogue than they did on their previous UK shows and tracks aired from the rather wonderful ‘The Gospel’ work particularly well with this more claustrophobic and insular version of the band. The moments of the show are when Jo Quail returns the earlier favour and wanders on in a Årabrot T-shirt to splash deep haunting hypnotic cello over both 'Sinnerman' and the dark debauched finale of 'Story of Lot’. The latter is simply stunning and Jo and Kjetil jam off each other, their guitar and cello becoming respectively more and more frantic and fevered as the track spirals into a chaotic demonic climax of snarly feedback. Much as I love the usual colourful avant-garde post punk Årabrot, by the end of the set I have fallen in lust with this murkier nastier triangular alter-ego. 

I spoke above of my love of watching musicians create in front of my very eyes, tonight MONO weave an entire musical alternative universe around them as I watch on open-mouthed. This is not a gig, this is an act of creation as they construct cathedrals of delicate beautiful melody and then send them crashing to the ground in a cacophony of euphoric white noise. On paper the template of slow, slow, slow, blistering intensity could get very tired very quickly (in fact only the hauntingly ethereal 'Breathe‘ from the new album doesn’t follow in that vein). However live (and to be honest on record) what they do is utterly compelling and swallows you up into this wormhole of pulsating immersive noise where you lose all comprehension of time and your surroundings (in fact it is well gone ten that I realise that I was meant to be keeping half an eye on the events at the Etihad). Taka and Yoda (not real names) perch on stools either side of the stage manage to make their respective instruments sing like caged birds, then with a flick of one of the vast forest of pedals and sequencers that cover the floor around each of them, it turns into pure searing noise hurling itself like a hurricane over the audience.

 

As said time seems to stand still and it is with disbelief I realise we are reaching the end of the main set. Once again Jo Quail wanders onstage (by this point I am completely expecting her to be driving my tram home) and adds subtle understated cello to ‘Halcyon (Beautiful Days), it starts delicate and fragile and then it builds and builds and builds until once again Jo’s Cello is in a swirling battle with a vengeful soaring guitar. Jo bids us farewell (probably off to staff the bar) and we get one final pounding from wave after wave of transcendental noise in the shape of 'Ashes in The Snowand they are gone. With cries of “thank you for twenty years of beauty” the ecstatic and elated crowd summon MONO back for the mighty (and lengthy) 'Com(?)and somehow they manage to ratchet everything up yet another level.

I know I am throwing around superlatives like sweeties, but this is utterly incredible and by the end Taka and Yoda are both standing wringing every last bit of screeching feedback from their respective instruments. This is no longer music, this is an all-consuming sound bath that washes over you, equally purifying and terrifying. Then layer by layer it is scaled back until we have just a low drone of scuzzy distortion and they are gone. The crowd look at each other in disbelief and punch drunk with euphoric noise they wander bewildered but blissfully into the Mancunian night.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki