Review of Mono's album 'Hymn To The Immortal Wind' released through Conspiracy Records on 6th April 09.
The release of 'Hymn To The Immortal Wind' marks the tenth year of 'Mono's existence, a checkpoint in a journey that has seen the band slowly transmogrify from post-rock chancers to the foremost creators of startlingly beautiful, yet devastating modern classical music. Hymn.. is almost certainly the bands strongest full-length to date, and may well be their defining moment, but the album is not without its problems.
Actually, make that problem. To give it a name; the presence of producer Steve Albini. Albini has previously worked on Mono's preceding two albums, along with Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Yanqui U.X.O, and has been detrimental to all three, obscuring them with a cloud of dust and soaking out nearly all the emotion within. Here, on Mono's most expansive, most three-dimensional album his presence is more detrimental than ever.
Albini is now fully committed to the catchphrase of fellow producer Fatboy Slim; 'I'm number one so why try harder?'. Indeed, he has become the first port of call for any band wishing to stray away from the slick and seamless, and this has resulted in an uncompromising cock-in-hand production method that restricts any band with even the slightest subtleties.
Opening duo 'Ashes In The Snow' and 'Burial At Sea' are positively heart-wrenching; searing ten-minute plus epics that float to the heavens through hurricanes of delay and distortion, constructed of mournful guitar runs and cinematic string pulses. The quiet/loud/quiet formula is here well and truly eschewed, and the songs structure is not based on riffs and sequences but endlessly efflorescing melodies.
Yet they are nearly suffocated within Albini's bearhug, lost below over-powering cymbals and dull guitar tone. Some may comment that Albini's treatment is restrained, but conversely it can be simply idle, refusing to play to the dynamics of the band in question. Witness Mono live; the soaring, slowly-building wall of sounds they eschew, and the muted, almost flaccid, capture of Hymn To The Immortal Wind is even more inferior, like recording a Gorecki symphony or a Morricone movement through a mobile phone.
But within it all Mono have created a stunning collection of genuinely moving instrumental music, and have risen phoenix like from the murky waters of bog-standard post-rock, despite any wing-clipping from outside sources.