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Reviews

Mono
Hymn To The Immortal Wind Toby Cook , April 14th, 2009 07:36

Being even mildly high anywhere in Tokyo is not something I would recommend. In the past I have found that I am not particularly prone to the occasionally debilitating fits of paranoia that indulgence in this kind of behaviour often induces; but equally, I'd never had to negotiate Japan's third busiest station before.

It's May 2007, and Mono are scheduled to play a low-key gig, supporting Placebo-esque grunge outfit Eksperimentoj somewhere in central Shibuya. Emerging from the main exit of the tube station amongst what feels like the majority of the 2.4 million Japanese commuters that will pass through its gates that day, I'm immediately confronted with a street crossing the size of Heathrow's runway two, and surrounded on all sides by various tower blocks that seem to be made of, and held together by, giant video screens and neon lights.

At this point I hurriedly start to make my way to the venue, hyperventilating and sweating profusely, doing as best I can to ignore the cacophony of noise emanating from a screen projecting a 20 foot high Gerard Butler, in full 300 regalia and screaming God only knows what in Japanese, and the various department stores that seem to think the best way to attract customers is to pipe high frequency techno out into the street.

About two minutes shy of becoming a drooling, quivering wreck I finally arrive at Shibuya's O-Nest, the venue for the evenings show. The O-Nest is an almost comically small venue – so small in fact that to get from the bar on the fifth floor to the stage on the fourth, you use the fire escape.

In such a small venue Mono are simply phenomenal and in my inebriated state the nearly two hour set transports me out of the cramped, shoebox-sized room and simultaneously places me atop a vast Himalayan mountain plateau, and deep inside a cavernous, mid-Atlantic ocean trench.

And herein lies the fundamental problem with Mono. Live, and sans orchestra, Mono are capable of producing an emotionally draining performance - songs like 'Com(?)' and 'Lost Snow' build and build before swathes of feedback-drenched noise crescendo like a damn exploding. Often though, their recorded work just doesn't match up, lacking the power and grandeur of their live shows, and on occasion feeling contrived.

However, Hymn To The Immortal Wind, their Steve Albini-'recorded' fifth album, picks up stylistically pretty much where You Are There left off - only this time the group have upped the ante in terms of orchestration, employing a 30-something piece orchestra. And the pay-off is immense.

'Ashes In The Snow' opens the album with warm, creeping guitars augmented by minimal cello accompaniment and the following track, the aptly named Burial At Sea is suitably atmospheric. The dark brooding guitars, and the slow painful nuances of the sting section draw you in until the song erupts in classic Mono style, a lavish wall of noise consuming you for what feels like an age.

From then on in it's more of the same, standard post rock arrangement, but it's done so well that this assertion doesn't hold water as a criticism. Closer 'Everlasting Light' is simply epic, the sort of music you'd want playing as you and you lover leap hand in hand over the edge of Victoria falls, watching as the world gradually destroys itself. A truly beautiful piece of work.

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