Recording information: Gröndal Studios, Stockholm (08/2015); Heartbeat, Tokyo (08/2015); Neutral Music, Los Angeles (08/2015); Oceanland (08/2015); Gröndal Studios, Stockholm (2015); Heartbeat, Tokyo (2015); Neutral Music, Los Angeles (2015); Oceanland (2015).
Transcendental is a 25-minute split offering by Germany's the Ocean and Japan's Mono to celebrate their joint European tour and officially announce the latter's signing to Pelagic, the label owned by the Ocean's lead guitarist Robin Staps. It features one extended cut from each with a playing time of over 25 minutes. These bands take different approaches to a central theme: The cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and the states of consciousness between them. Combined, they come off as seamless, regardless of playing order. The Ocean's "The Quiet Observer" was inspired by Gaspard Noe's 2009 film, Enter the Void, about a young American drug dealer tripping on DMT who is shot in the toilet of a Tokyo nightclub. The character, who exists between life and death -- known in Buddhism as the "bardo" state -- feels outside his body while recalling his past life experiences. This track starts gently with acoustic piano, quiet drums, and a lilting cello. This phase creates a gentle, haunting tension. The rest of the band enters slowly. Layer by layer they erect a ferocious musical architecture resulting in a crescendo where vocalist Loïc Rossetti begins to sing in a near whisper. As his intensity increases -- with clean and dirty vocals -- he relates the chaos, panic, drama, and acceptance of each state of consciousness before it experiences rebirth -- to reflect those represented in the Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book of the Dead). Doomy, droning, propulsive metal claims the fore as the track journeys for nearly 13 minutes. There are breakdowns, gorgeous instrumental interludes, textured sound effects, sampled voices, swirling strings, distorted bass lines and punishing guitars. Its darkly ambient conclusion is elegiac. Mono's "Death in Reverse" begins so quietly that initially, it seems like another part of "The Quiet Observer." They do their "usual" thing, but it's no less spectacular for its familiarity. Everything happens faster here than on their other records. It's not rushed, but the effect feels more dynamic. A shimmering cymbal serves as an introduction, answered by guitar and bass that flow directly and concretely to exponentially increase the tension. When Yasunori Takada's martial snare clatters, Mono shifts into overdrive and keeps climbing. Playing a simple melody inside a basic orchestral mode with precision and enormous physicality, they extend the sonic reach of the track with awesome power. Basses and guitars underscore the rhythmic thunder; a cathedral choir is enlisted to assist in reaching a havoc-wreaking breaking point of feedback and noise. But it's not over. The final four minutes articulate the theme using only chamber strings, piano, glockenspiel, and the sound of the wind, which finally claims the entire soundscape. When it ends, a spiritual, deeply moving silence takes hold. As a whole, Transcendental leaves fans wanting (a lot) more from the Ocean and Mono. Their contrasting yet complementary musical visions provide a recording enormous in its scope, almost profound in its depth, and abundant in creativity. ~ Thom Jurek