A decade since their formation, Japanese post-rock dinosaurs Mono release their fifth full length recording, their first since the widely championed You Are There in 2006. Evidently, ten years on the job and Mono have made some friends, with the line-up expanded here to accommodate a 23-piece orchestra, but with production duties remaining in the safe hands of long time collaborator Steve Albini. Regrettably, Hymn to the Immortal Wind finds Mono in something of a midlife crisis; less new sports car, more new symphony orchestra. The music reeks of an ageing band alluding towards maturity through “complex” arrangements and thick symphonic textures, but invariably ends up drowned in neoclassical pomp and faux sentimentality. The sledgehammer drums, piercing guitars and exciting dynamics of One Step More and You Die are largely gone, replaced with slow burning melodies and string-drenched crescendos, some of which would be more at home accompanying the emotional climax of The Lion King. At times, this more understated approach manifests itself in glorious consonance (the thrilling finale of Burial At Sea), but these moments are diluted by mostly obvious chord progressions and overbearing orchestration. The spark of Mono does, however, remain, and at times breaks through the turgid Rachel’s-esque texture to yield some of the ferocious intensity which Mono are famed to exhibit live. A case in point is the stunning album highlight Pure As Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm), a brooding eleven minutes of delicate guitar interplay and driving percussion which provide a stark reminder of Mono’s phenomenal grasp of melody and timbre. Thankfully, these moments of pre-eminence save Hymn to the Immortal Wind from getting lost in its own pomposity, and Mono continue on their post-rock pilgrimage unscathed. Mono play The Croft in Bristol on 25th March.
If you would prefer to read this review in the physical domain, pick up a copy of this month's Epigram.