Mono + Orchestra


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.