There have been many disappointments over the past few years with regard to the releases from favoured post-rock artists such as 2007's All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone from Explosions in the Sky and the more recent Destruction of Small Ideas from 65daysofstatic, which, although extremely competent, no longer had that ground-breaking approach which many fans had come to expect from previous attempts; it's as if they were happy to settle down and have a family while younger bands took the limelight.
Now, another highly acclaimed instrumental act, Mono, release their much anticipated latest work in the form of Hymn to the Immortal Wind.
The anticipation for this album may also give rise to the prospect that perhaps Mono are likewise happy to rest on their laurels, clinging to formula and allowing others to steal the torch from them. Are Mono now just one step in genre history, revitalising before being made redundant?
Well the answer's one of those "bit of both" scenarios, erring majorly in the hemisphere of 'no'! Although Mono do, at times, fall back into a You Are There-style vein in Hymn..., becoming stuck in their ways isn't as bad a thing for them as it would be for most bands.
For instance: consider the quiet/loud-crescendo trait that's befalling many bands in the post-rock field (not that Mono are deserving of such pigeon holing). Still though, it has been proven that in the right hands (i.e Mono's) that this formula still has much to offer. Such a building block is not the main attraction here, but when Mono do tamper with the concept it truly does become their own, as they add many little sub-structures like fishing hooks constantly diverting attention away from the reality that the songs are principally set to grow from their tiny roots to towering mountains of rock grandiosity.
That being said, it's not just the fact that Mono keep managing to intensify and magnify their sound that the band score so well, but in that on tracks such as "Ashes in the Snow" and "Everlasting Light" they never appear to run out of room and into an cacophonous, tainted racket. Rather, each track builds graciously and majestically. "Pure as Snow" ably demonstrates this fact as the tones of the various instruments continue to combine and multiply, filling areas of the mix so incredibly far-reaching that it seems destined to leave the listener in awe as it draws its conclusion; all the time it maintains the fundamentally integral sound which Mono have garnered such acclaim for from past albums such as Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined; Under the Pipal Tree collaborative effort Palmless Prayer to name but a few. The mix they attain manages to transcend and thus trounce any of their contemporaries. To all intents and purpose, Mono can be accurately proclaimed as being in a class of their own.
This simple and true fact provides a much-needed answer to the concern raised earlier. This is their unique path, any and all influences are carefully moulded to fit the band's own style. When sounds trigger memories of Mono past, it is a welcome refrain as opposed to regurgitation.
Proving further that they are a band unbound by contemporary standardisation or common conceptions, Mono follow-up the aforementioned "Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)" with a sombre yet emotionally captivating appeal to the senses. With every second that passes by on "Follow the Map" - the shortest track on the album - grandeur and majesty pour. The simplistic piano melody and quivering strings flow like fine wine from atop a brimming goblet, whereas, "The Battle to Heaven" rides passionately and intensely onwards, its guitar arpeggios and swaying atmospheres conjuring up images of an ancient Princely leader marching his armies out into battle. At around the halfway point, once the instruments have wound down to near silence, the experience is reinforced and somewhat renewed as Mono rebuild the track piece by piece to extended proportions: throwing all manner of orchestration in alongside the tremolos and their staple, unrelenting array of crashing cymbals. The experience is intense to say the least. All of this before Mono depart with the visage of seamless continuity, on the aptly titled closer "Everlasting Light" - fading out to the undrawn horizon on sound-scapes filled with unhurried keys: struck in unified harmony with dazzling reverberating guitars. Together they intertwine to make a satisfying, fulfilled and yet still grievous and melancholic end to the album.
From the very beginning you can feel everything about this latest album aspiring to a level more epic than anything which has come before. An album more vibrant than anything which has preceded it, and of course more crashing cymbals than anyone has ever crammed into the mix. The most important ability, however, is the one which takes you on a journey to territory uncharted.
It is clearer then than ever that Mono have become, and indeed, are still becoming a powerful tree, ripe with acquired knowledge and acumen for beauty, a growth which has widened gradually over their knitted-together history of ideas. It is Mono's trunk, held firmly in place by roots that keep searching through the soil to strengthen their own anchorage. With each new record, the band renew their young, evergreen leaves providing them with fresh concepts as they freely sway in the stiff, cool breeze of their own imagination.
The combination of the carefully merging ingredients from each member has allowed their playing skills to grow amazingly focused. It is for this careful working of new ideas into old which deserves the highest of praise, as it sets the bench mark for post-rock as a whole. While tracks may rise and fall in tempo and intensify (with great frequency), they never fall away from the lavishing quality put forth from the get go.