MONO have spent the past almost-two decades crafting vibrant soundscapes and instrumental rock albums. The upcoming Requiem for Hell, MONO’s ninth studio album, treads similar territory.
In a video for the title track, the Japanese instrumentalists tell, visually and audibly, an exhilarating yet terrifying story. The entirely black and white video features a man running through the forest in search of a woman, only to find the sinister activities of a robed and hooded man.
Musically, “Requiem for Hell” is among MONO’s heaviest work. The suspense is palpable in the music as MONO builds slowly from an eerie calmness into a frantic crescendo before we’re left with a few seconds of feedback and color video. The two are a fitting pair, the perfect soundtrack to tearing through a dark forest in search of an evil being.
Requiem for Hell will be released worldwide on October 14; more information about preordering the record outside of North America can be found here. North American readers can find it here, through Temporary Residence.
Takaakira 'Taka' Goto, MONO's guitarist, gave an interview in Decibel's January issue. An excerpted version will appear in the magazine, but you can read it in full now to learn about recording with Steve Albini (Neurosis), writing "Requiem for Hell" and new solo music.
Interview by Rod Smith
What motivated you to work with Steve Albini again? How would you characterize your working relationship? Is he really as efficient as they say? (By they, I'm thinking particularly of Neurosis, who have nothing but praise for him.)
For this album, I really wanted to leave the sound as a band, as a group who had been together for 17 years. I was picturing something simple and organic, with no unnecessary elements, and leave the burning chemistry between 4 of us as our 9th album. From those feelings, I started to want to record with Steve Albini once again. The last time we recorded with him was in 2007, for Hymn To The Immortal Wind.
Recording sessions started in March this year, at Electrical Audio in Chicago, which is Steve's studio. Like all the other times, we did a live recording of us 4. Traditional ways of recording may be the most difficult way, but if everything goes as planned, we will be able to leave a miracle-like take hence we always chose to do it this way. We always use analogue tapes for recordings as well, so we will be able to leave every single screaming of our souls that you can't simply fit in digital formats. Steve Albini is a magician when it comes to analogue tapes. With no doubt, he captures everything perfectly from our air shaking sounds as a band, to our emotions, feelings and even our wordless communications between us 4 during the performance. We think he's truly the best engineer there is for this.
Even though it has been a long time, I was reminded that he's the best understanding person for MONO's music once again.
For mastering, we got Bob Weston to do it, who is Steve's band Shellac's bassist. This time, we also had the privilege of sharing Shellac's Japan tour, which was their first time in 22 years, and also North America Tour straight after. We felt extremely honoured to be able to spend time with our longtime indie heroes and also be able to create a new album with them.
Who are the album's guest musicians, and which instruments do they play on which songs?
On "Death In Rebirth," "Requiem For Hell," "Ely's Heartbeat" and "The Last Scene, " string players are as follows.
Susan Voelz - Violin 1
Inger Petersen Carle - Violin 1
Andra Kulans - Violin 2
Vannia Phillips - Violin 2
Nora Barton - Cello
Veronica Nettles - Cello
On "Stellar," Cello is performed by Alion / Helen Money.
Lastly, on "Requiem For Hell," trombone is performed by Nick Broste.
"Death in Rebirth" evolves in a fascinating way: well after the listener settles into the march/grand-processional rhythmic scheme and begins rising with the song as a whole, Yasunori moves into a freer style of playing and then you slam into the half-tempo mode. The overall effect is one of liberation beyond liberation (as opposed to, say, liberation from liberation). Was the song's structure pretty clear to you from the beginning, or did you have to experiment to get what you wanted?
We often hear that when one faces death, your whole life courses through like a revolving lantern. I was picturing that and wrote that song.
I wanted the song to have roll drums like coursing through your life, with majestically beautiful and proud melodies bravely co-playing with noise continuously. It's a paean for never giving up no matter how many obstacles you face and continue moving forward.
Along similar lines, the ultimate success of "Requiem for Hell" hinges on what you do during that breakdown in the middle, how you get out of it, and what you do after. You do a wonderful job of maintaining suspense throughout the quiet part, to the extent that your full-strength return comes as surprise--even if that's one of the possibilities a first-time listener has entertained--in part because it's so much heavier, more intense, and all-around physical, than the first part of the song. More impressive still, you maintain (and even escalate) a ridiculous level of intensity for what seems like a very long time while introducing tons of variation in color and texture. Can you talk a bit about how you went about composing and arranging the song, as well as what (if any) challenges you encountered during the recording process?
This album title song is an 18-minute long lyrical poetry.
It's a 3-part song. A man starts his adventure seeking light and walks through the field strongly while holding onto something faintly, but when he thought everything was going according to the plan, all of a sudden, he loses hope, like the moon getting covered by the night's fog. The middle part is an absolute darkness and solitude. His small glimpse of hope fades, and even the hands that were holding him together disappear like fingers going through your body. Then in the last half, through despair, fear and confusion, he continues to just scream and runs through this Hell like nightmare.
For the first half of the song, we used simple 8 beats, which was the first time to ever use since we formed MONO. I was picturing a man lifting his arms to the heaven, dreaming of hope. We tried using trombone for the first time as well. It's a fanfare of joy, like dancing your heart out believing everything is going to work out, everything is definitely going to work out.
But when the hopeful fanfare once disappears, it turns into a fanfare that sounds like opening the gate to Hell. At the same time, uncertain dissonance and echoing noise starts like Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" in the last half. It's a Saga of extremely cruel humanity's greed, like two egos crashing each other, like they will never go together. An endless darkness which even screams get drowned out. I was picturing a man who's trying to escape this Hell, with feelings of never wanting to rust away and give up, and just go forth. I was picturing something like this while writing this song.
Have you considered making a follow-up to Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty?
I haven't officially announced this yet, but I've started a new solo project and just finished the first album. The plan is to release it next spring.
All the songs' themes are night, and I feel like it turned out to be a very original and beautiful album. I can't wait to share the album with everyone.