Heaven and Hell. Good and evil. Life and death. A painter could get lost in these subjects and construct an item vastly different from what was imagined. They would start with one stroke, then another, and then 20 more before forgetting what purpose the first dash of paint had. This is not the case for Mono’s latest record Requiem for Hell. Instead of finding their string-work go in all directions, the Japanese band has Gustave Doré illustrations and Dante Alighieri in their sightlines. These “influences” restrict the group from creating a piece of post-rock that can stand out in a genre where it can be difficult to.
Mono’s main strength is their ability to make one realize how infinitesimal they are in the universe. If grocery stores are able to play Hymn to the Immortal Wind, shoppers would feel as if the aisle they are on is one of the tiniest things in the universe — and that they are even smaller. The effortless passages the group play are what stops the heart and makes the world bewildering. Some of this strength is featured in the beauteous For My Parents; however, none of it finds room in Requiem for Hell.
The band are not one to dwindle in the dark, mesmerising spaces of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, nor do they entertain the thought of an epic, action movie-inspired sound like God Is an Astronaut. Mono are a band using their own gentler devices to construct introspective moments. Requiem for Hell uses those devices to create particular scenes, most of which are superficial and non-penetrating. “Death in Rebirth’s” scene is one that uses minimalism to widen horizons, only to commit to a slow build-up that is predictable.
Yasunori Takada’s percussion deserves applause for it never ruining the dread emanated from the strings, especially on “Ely’s Heartbeat”, a track with a more child-like tone. This friendly sound is a satisfying break to the not-so-chaotic beats of the title track. When “Requiem for Hell” revolves around the same passage, it challenges patience rather than have listeners expect the unexpected. Though the song has three different “acts”, its only point of grace is when low strings play a melody fitting for a dance with Lucifer. However brief it may be, it is a moment in the album that creates a particular scene in the mind; the rest of the song is a non-descript scene of war, one that feels too gentle for its own good.
It would have done good for the band to don the dark and take a step back from the gentle. When “The Last Scene” concludes the album with its small amount of dreariness and shimmering gray strings, audiences step back with the feeling of conflict. They begin wondering whether the group are set out for undertaking a requiem for hell. Perhaps Mono might not be the right band to handle such darkness in their ambition to revolve around a few non-tangible concepts. They can take on life and death, weaving lovely passages in a way that loses us to our surroundings. They can even handle the blinding lights of Heaven. Good, evil, and Hell are too ambitious for a band with their softness.