Tokyo four-piece Mono may not have always been the most original of bands, entering the 'post-rock' fray a little later to the game and with a clear lineage to their sound, much like their contemporaries Envy are to 'Screamo'. While people often miss Mono as one of the big hitters of post-rock (your Godspeeds, Mogwais, Sigur Roses and Tortoises for instance) they have remained a consistent reminder of the genre's power, even if it's formula became something of a music fan's joke after it reached saturation point in the mid-Noughties.
That is unfortunate to some extent, as Mono's creative peak was 2006's You Are There just as people were starting to get sick of their sound. The reason for this, perhaps, is that their closest sound-a-likes were America's Explosions in the Sky, who, similarly, despite being a very successful and talented band, are often associated with the overexposure the genre faced while others such as Mogwai sought to distance themselves from the term as far as possible.
So, in the decade since 2006, time has not been kind to a lot of post-rock, which has fallen largely out of favour with fans and critics alike. Despite this, Mono survived largely because of their work with Steve Albini, who produced three of their albums (which they recorded live) during their peak and also acted as a live sound engineer for them on corresponding tours. They are also today one of Japan's bestselling bands which has kept their momentum going well into the new decade.
So, ten years after their (and the genre's) golden age, Mono return with their ninth studio album and it is largely a back-to-basics affair. After parting with Albini for a couple of records, they attempted to re-connect to their original, minimal sound on 2012's For My Parents while also trying to branch out into new, sometimes heavier, territories on 2014's The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness. New record Requiem for Hell, however, has seen the band return to Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio in Chicago and writing music much closer to their previous critical success, inspired by Dante's classic Divine Comedy. If you are not familiar with the band's music, Mono are a standard two guitar, bass and drums band but they use strings, keys and crescendos to their full advantage, essentially putting the classic "post-rock" sound to its maximum setting.
And despite somewhat founded accusations that they are a very "generic" band, they still have such a consistently impressive ability to write great, stirring songs where the guitars and strings interlope to the point that the listener often feels they are floating on a sea of clouds. There is pretty much nothing original about Requiem for Hell... if you have listened to anything under the extremely vague "post-rock" umbrella, then nothing here will necessarily surprise you. Opener 'Death in Rebirth' sounds and feels like an Explosions in the Sky song right down to the title. The title track's climax sounds like Mogwai has walked on Mono's stage and lent them a riff for their performance. 'Ely's Heartbeat' has the similar auspicious beginnings as a Godspeed track.
And yet, it just works. Despite being one of the genre's most strident of stalwarts, Mono continue to be a band worthy not just their or the genre's fan's attention but of even the more casual listener who wishes to be moved by the music they experience. Perhaps Requiem For Hell's greatest asset is that it's a relatively lean 45 minutes over fivetracks, meaning nothing here overstays its welcome and there is a natural flow to this record others have been weighed down by excessiveness. Ultimately, it is not really about how familiar Mono's music is, but more what you feel while listening to it and this is their greatest success. For while the aforementioned songs all have recognisable parts borrowed from their peers, they all also contain moments of genuine beauty, fear and grandness which demands you to fall into hell just as Dante's Devil demanded him to.
8Adam Turner-Heffer's Score