Review Summary: On Hymn To The Immortal Wind, Mono multiply the successes of You Are There by 3 and come away with the strongest record of their career.
My buddies and I like to argue about music. This in itself is not particularly special; a couple of my friends like to tell me why Protest the Hero are the best thing ever and I ask them how random song constructions and beyond-irritating vocals make a band amazing and the debate flows. Now, I can hold my own when they talk about their rock and alternative bands, but on special occasions when post rock comes up, I get to let loose. I get to point out the problems with The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place
when someone points to Explosions In the Sky and says that they’re the best band running right now. Then someone else argues for A Silver Mount Zion because they were once Godspeed You! Black Emperor which apparently excuses the vocalist bleating like a sheep, but it’s a nice chat; a lighthearted but lively discussion about which band is truly the best in this relatively young genre of music, the same way classic rock was discussed in the 70s.
And now Mono has to go and f
uck that all up.
It was always going to be tough for Mono to top their seminal 2006 release, You Are There
. You Are There
was instrumental post rock done right in almost every way; the ambience was subtle and the climaxes were beyond pulverizing, the interludes gorgeous and the melodies heartbreaking. It was a record that embraced its absurd hugeness without sounding pretentious or superfluous, as every suite and section of You Are There
seemed vital to its success as a whole. It would only make sense that Mono was headed for a letdown. The law of follow-up albums indicated that their next record, Hymn to the Immortal Wind
, should either find the band trying to replicate the successes of You Are There
with diminishing returns or explore a whole new direction. Hymn
Instead, Mono ups the ante on everything. On Hymn To The Immortal Wind
Mono multiply You Are There
by 3 and inexplicably come away with the strongest record of their career. Recorded with a 28 piece orchestra and produced by Steve Albini, Hymn
is an orchestral masterpiece, complete with aching string climaxes and flourishes that transcend guitar rock and approach the elite realm of modern “classical.” The record opens amidst a wave of fuzz and ostinato bells before Mono unveils a slew of gorgeous motifs punctuated by deep string instruments, and Hymn
doesn’t let up once for a solid hour. The song, “Ashes in the Snow,” is arguably Mono’s best track to date (though the same could be said of about a quarter of Hymn
). It’s an absolutely stunning work, working in a slow crescendo until a swirl of tremolo picking and crash cymbals totally engulf the listener to the point of complete exhaustion. It’s a near-suffocating (in the absolute best sense of the word) experience, and this is only the opener
Similar tracks such as the aptly titled “Burial at Sea” and “Pure as Snow” work in an analogous fashion, lulling for a few minutes until an inevitable pummeling takes place, yet the predictability here isn’t an issue. It’s gorgeous every time. It would be irrational to not expect some method to this chaos, and the formula for most of Hymn to the Immortal Wind
is well defined for the most part. The thing is the songs are so damn good it’s hard to care. Mono uses structural similarities to their advantage, giving the record an essential unity and flow. In the wrong hands, a record loaded with ten minute compositions could so easily get lost in its own massive raincloud, but Mono stay grounded almost throughout the entirety of Hymn
. The two beautifully subdued interludes (interlude meaning less than ten minutes) of Hymn
, “Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn” and “Follow the Map,” help here, as they provide breaths of air before Mono submerge with their next massive composition. “Follow The Map,” a track whose spaghetti-western guitar, glockenspiel, and piano orchestration recall “The Dead Flag Blues,” introduces a little calm until, like You Are There
’s finale “Moonlight,” pained strings interrupt to bring the emotion back down for Hymn
That conclusion, “Everlasting Light,” is the probably the track that comes closest to challenging “Ashes in the Snow” for top song on Hymn to the Immortal Wind
. On it, Mono utilizes the orchestra to deliver a beautiful final chapter to their tour de force, as guitar doesn’t appear until about halfway through the song. The melody established runs its course and blossoms into a final uplifting apex until Mono closes with the ten of the most stunning seconds you’re likely to hear for a long time. The bombast with which Mono stamps a flourish onto Hymn
is perhaps the lone time they let their pension for grandeur get the best of them, but after such a stunning record, the indulgence is more than well-deserved, it’s welcome. As the gut-wrenching effect from the powerful hour fades away, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying entry from the genre to be released this year. This is why Mono f
ucked up my idealistic little debate I mentioned earlier. If Hymn to the Immortal Wind
does anything, it establishes Mono’s place among post rock’s top dogs, and for this reviewer, easily gives them the title. Everyone else is just generic or something.