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Mono: Requiem for Hell

Mono: Requiem for Hell

A period of transition? Maybe. A wasted opportunity? Not at all.

Mono: Requiem for Hell

3 / 5

After several years apart, Mono re-ignites the fruitful collaboration between itself and collaborator Steve Albini. The two forces had not worked together since 2009’s Hymn to the Immortal Wind, a record that could very well stand as the group’s finest hour, though choosing between that and rich fare such as 2004’s masterwork Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined seems an impossible if not fruitless task. Requiem for Hell is not an attempt to revisit those old times or those old sounds. This isn’t a step backward, of course, but a step in a direction that provides witness to the unit’s continued evolution.

For one, the material is heavier than it’s probably been before. The guitars of the opening “Death in Rebirth” chime and glide perfectly, effortlessly, just as one might expect from Mono but there’s a darkness lurking beneath those opening passages, a kind of six-string leviathan that rises over the course of the next several minutes. The culmination? A noisy explosion of crashing, banging fervor that sends the heart a-pounding with both fear and excitement before the whole thing evolves into waves of static that go on for the better part of a minute. It is a most disquieting end to what began as something peaceful, even momentarily joyous.

The funeral vibe of the subsequent “Stellar,” with its well-tempered strings and meditative piano figures returns, if only momentarily, to more familiar terrain. Here, too, the song doesn’t so much resolve as it becomes something else. It is like a sentence that dangles unfinished in the air, its incompletion disquieting, as listeners wait in vain for what comes next. Perhaps it cannot be finished because it will reveal a truth too terrifying to believe or comprehend or perhaps because the speaker cannot fully comprehend what comes next.

Intentionally or not, Mono is playing with notions about post-rock clichés: The way that tunes within the genre usually rise to meet certain expectations about climax and resolution, the way they must find their crescendo via a certain picking style or intervals. Here, those conventions aren’t entirely absent but they’re often subverted, cast aside in favor of the unexpected.

The title track, for instance, comes to almost complete silence at the 10 ½ minute mark, pulling the listener from the comfortable confines of beautifully constructed guitar lines and rhythms into a dark and swollen pit of uncomfortable noise that may even give a nod to another beloved Japanese act, Boris. At nearly 18 minutes it’s a steep climb but not too steep for the most dedicated of fans, the ones who hang on Mono’s every note in the hope that something even greater will come next.

For those purposefully seeking out more typical sounds from the group, the lovely “Ely’s Heartbeat” will probably do the trick: It’s awash with the kind of soaring guitar patterns and quieting keyboard figures one more closely associates with the genre. It’s a welcome respite from all the chaos that comes before, even if it may seem a little too familiar for some. It, and the closing “The Last Scene” may move a little too close to the sentimental for some and might even come close to disappointing.

But that last word is one we rarely associate with Mono, a band that even on its bad days and weakest moments still finds something refreshing and smart to convey to its listeners. The closing moments here, suggest a return to order and maybe a little bit of hope in the darkest of times. This, even as the song fades into the air, becoming silence and preparing the listener for what might come next.

It’s hard to know what that will be for this group, though one suspects that it will be as challenging and smart as what has come before in the discography. If Requiem for Hell doesn’t quite hit all the boxes for a classic post-rock record it ticks off many of them and we can surely be grateful that Mono is still here, creating works of beauty after all this time. The group isn’t going to stay in this place forever and so we’d be wise to wait around and witness what comes next as its certain to be music that carries us into places we could not expect.

A period of transition? Maybe. A wasted opportunity? Not at all.

    • Label:
      Temporary Residence
    • Release Date:
      October 14, 2016

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