Japanese instrumental post-rock MONO are an outfit that have put out strong releases consistently throughout their history. ‘Requiem from Hell’ is their ninth such full-length studio album.
Forming in 1999, the name “post-rock” was still a relatively new term, only having been coined as it is known today by Simon Reynolds in Mojo magazine five years prior in describing Bark Psychosis’ seminal ‘Hex’. MONO soon put out their first EP ‘Hey You’ in 2000, followed by two full-lengths in the next two years.
Since then they have developed as musicians, broadened their creative pools and honed in on the distinctive sound that listeners have been familiar with for the past decade-and-then-some. Despite this, much of their overall sound on this newest offering isn’t all that different to how it was in the early 2000s.
The band relies heavily on classical arrangements and distortion-delay-reverb-chorus-phaser–flanger-and-more effects on sweeping, high register, musically minimalistic, often singularly voiced guitars, reminiscent in timbre of those elicited by bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins and Slowdive who, as Reynolds described of ‘Hex’, used rock guitars for timbre and texture, as opposed to riffing – more for the former than explicitly for the notes played. Numerous other influences are audible here (in addition to those of post-rock contemporaries and peers such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Explosions in the Sky respectively); MONO have a broad stylistic palette to paint from, which they utilise without sounding like an odd mélange of genres in an attempt to be original. String instrumentation compliments the aforementioned guitars smoothly, with their similar timbres working together synergistically.
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This album features more dissonance to build tension than in their previous, more euphonious, works. Halfway through the album, the concluding section of the epic 18-minute title track, cacophonous intervals keep building over each other in a swarm of purposeful, highly organised sound. In addition to this “noisiness”, conventionally unwanted sound is utilised (as in noise music), to bring otherwise potentially empty space in the soundscape to life.
Interestingly, the album cover of ‘Requiem For Hell’ features an 1868 engraving by French artist Gustave Doré of a scene from The Divine Comedy, in which Dante is led by Roman poet and penner of The Aeneid through the nine circles of Hell, through purgatory, then through heaven by his ideal woman, Beatrice. This scene depicts Dante with Beatrice at the end of their journey, gazing through a celestial concentric rose pattern of angels in flight in The Empyrean, the highest heaven…
All in all, this is MONO as usual, just heavier, darker, more dynamic and cacophonous. Despite deciding not to work with Steve Albini for their last three albums, MONO have returned to him here, following a co-headlining 2015 tour with Shellac, which seems very much to have contributed to the overall sound and mood.