Japan’s Mono have always been a cinematic band, concerning themselves with flow, dynamics, and textures.
Since they began recording in 2001, they have undergone a virtual transformation, from power instrumental rock maximalists to a more diverse, lush, orchestral sound that focuses as much on space as it does on actual sound.
Hymn to the Immortal Wind follows 2006's You Are There and Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder (a collaboration with World’s End Girlfriend's Katsushiko Maeda) by three years.
These earlier recordings have vast sonic differences -- You Are There is a more formal rock-oriented recording, while Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder, complete with string section, offers the more subtle and melodic aspect to the quartet's approach.
On Hymn to the Immortal Wind, bandleader and composer Takaakira “Taka” Goto insisted on the band playing live in the studio along with a 25-piece string section with flutist, directed by Paul Von Mertens and Dave Max Crawford.
Produced by and engineered by Steve Albini -- who showed his usual uncanny talent for placing microphones all over the room and capturing the proceedings perfectly -- this set is the most varied, adventurous, and utterly musical offering from Mono yet.
“Burial at Sea” begins slowly with a drone from a Hammond B-3 organ, and is soon joined by two different electric guitars, one playing a single-string theme, the other a simple yet lovely melody.
Bass enters slowly and cautiously as the gossamer beauty of the lyric line unfolds.
Cymbals, strings, and even a glockenspiel kiss this melody as its tension begins to rise and become a dirge; timpanis mark time, creating the full funereal feel.
If this were really a sendoff, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.
Over ten and a half minutes, the track unfolds into a lush suite where strings sometimes battle the conventional rock instruments for dominance, and sometimes are left to their own lilting, languid devices.
Elsewhere, such as in “Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm),” shimmering guitar lines crisscross, alternating between strummed chord shapes and halting lead lines that are underscored by drums and timpani.
The piece evolves as large spaces opened by Taka and strings create alternate, not counter-, melodies, and somehow commingle into a force of beauty that is utterly cinematic in scope.
Sure, there’s plenty of "wall of rock" din on the album (check for it in all the longer tunes); it is an essential part of the intensely beautiful, expansive, yet not contradictory experience that is Mono.
Hymn to the Immortal Wind is a definitive statement from a band that has staked its claim to a sonic identity that owes no debt to influence.
If there is such a thing as “post-rock,” this is truly it.