There are ten cellists featured on this album.
Japanese quartet Mono have never been afraid of sounding big. But even by their standards, Hymn to the Immortal Wind is monumental. Five of the seven tracks comfortably pass the ten minute mark, and each of those has at least one soaring, noisy climax. But is it all bluster and braggadocio, ultimately signifying nothing?
“Ashes in the Snow” begins matters with static hiss and a gently chiming guitar figure. The orchestration is subtle, adding timbre and colour, as the track wends its way towards the inevitable epic finale. It’s like Godspeed You! Black Emperor at their most majestic. “Burial At Sea” has a vaguely European feel to it, from its Fado-like guitar intro to its sweeping, melodramatic dénouement.
The orchestra comes into its own on “Silent Fight, Sleeping Dawn”. The guitars are largely absent on a piece where the emphasis is on a lush romanticism. “Pure As Snow” is redolent of Mogwai at their most elegaic, culminating in a great maelstrom of noise. “Follow the Map” may be brief by the standards of the album, but the intensity is undimmed. It sounds like the closing titles of an epic, romantic movie, the hero and heroine riding into the sunset, with all obstacles cleared and all foes vanquished.
“The Battle to Heaven” is the only track where the formula gets a bit threadbare. It simply doesn’t engage the senses like the rest of the tunes. Traditionally, the last track on a record is the big finale. But how do you top everything that’s gone before? Well, “Everlasting Light” manages just that. It starts like a piano concerto, with soaring strings and a plaintive keyboard figure, before the guitars rise up slowly out of the mix. Six minutes in, it explodes into a riot of sound. Not to be outdone by the guitars, the orchestra mounts a counter-offensive with the string section giving their all. It couldn’t sound any bigger without the use of cannons. And yet there is an almost hymnal quality to it.
It’s easy to stand back and sneer at the audacity of the band. The music largely follows well-worn structures, with slow builds and big finishes. There’s nothing understated about the record. Everything is larger than life. Ultimately, though, the record is a huge success, because it lifts the spirits. Like Wagner’s operas or Mahler’s later symphonies, the scale is colossal. The listener is engulfed in its presence, and gets swept along. For an hour or so, there is something heroic going on. And everyone needs to feel like a hero sometimes, don’t they?
1 Ashes in the Snow 11:45
2 Burial at Sea 10:38
3 Silent Fight, Sleeping Dawn 6:00
4 Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm) 11:25
5 Follow the Map 3:55
6 The Battle to Heaven 12:51
7 Everlasting Light 10:23
This review also appears on the [SIC] Magazine website.