Hymn to the Immortal Wind
Temporary Residence CD TRR 148
To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Japanese post-rock collective Mono recorded their first collaboration with symphony orchestra: Hymn to the Immortal Wind. Given the band’s penchant for evincing classical signatures, this addition of acoustic instruments seems a natural step in their musical development.
What’s more, the band does a fine job of incorporating the orchestra without de-fanging their music’s rock-imbued heft. Thus, “Ashes in the Snow,” the album’s opener, builds from a gentle introduction, which sets up a repeated harmonic progression on which the whole dozen-minute piece will be based, to a thrilling wall of soaring guitars and strings with propulsive bass drums underneath. While limiting such a large canvass to a four measure chaconne could easily get tiresome, the constantly shifting instrumentation and frequent dynamic gradations keep “Ashes” a fascinating, slowly evolving tableau.
“Burial at Sea” spotlights an affecting neo-baroque classical nylon-string guitar-bass duo which gives away to a sweeping full-band prog-rock anthem. “Follow the Map” combines piano, acoustic guitars, and the occasional bluesy slide against chamber strings in a fetching extended passage; this is followed by a climactic orchestral tutti. Both compositions go much further than many prog/orch collaborations to effectively use the orchestra’s strengths with a keen awareness of balance and timbre.
“Silent Fight, Sleeping Dawn” features a beautifully mournful tune in the lower strings, set against delicate minor-key piano arpeggiations; the piece is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Nyman or Gavin Bryars in its minimalist aesthetic. “Pure as Snow” is similarly conceived, juxtaposing lush high strings against percussion in a portentous funeral march. Once again, the band organizes things around a phrase-long harmonic ground; and while the presentation is haunting, one occasionally wishes for more rhythmic variety. This concern is somewhat ameliorated on “The Battle to Heaven,” which incorporates drum kit more prominently.
“Everlasting Light” closes the recording with a stirring celestial vision; sustained guitar melodies are haloed by violins; then buoyed to a thrilling finale by a wall of glorious E-major. Hymn to the Immortal Wind is resoundingly successful.