Album Review: Mono – ‘Pilgrimage of the Soul’

Posted: by The Editor

For whatever reason, Mono isn’t held in the same esteem as the other titans of post-rock. They have neither the /mu-core memeification of Godspeed You Black Emperor nor the broader appreciation of Explosions in the Sky. To put it bluntly, that’s an injustice. It’s impossible to deny, 20 years in and 11 albums deep, that Mono is one of the most impressive bands around, regardless of genre. 

Pilgrimage of the Soul, the band’s latest, is an eight-song, hour-long behemoth. It’s a clear continuation of the sound cultivated on 2019’s Nowhere Now Here, the hints of electronic and dance music tucked away on that record making more full-throated appearances here. Fans of Mono know the band’s hallmarks have always been their mastery of dynamics and a generous dose of contemporary classical influence; Pilgrimage of the Soul doubles down on all that, ending up perhaps the most dynamic, most aggressive LP in Mono’s discography, a land of contrasts between passages of orchestral ambient music and punishing post-metal.

“Riptide,” the opener and the lead single, embodies this best of all. For its first minute and a half, it’s a plaintive, sparse piano ballad barely audible; for its following three and a half, it’s a crashing, heavy ripper, pilling riff on top of crunchy riff. The following “Imperfect Things” unfolds similarly, its first half is an ambient, droney dirge before the beat comes in and it becomes a straight-ahead rock song. Much of the album plays out in this way; songs begin as simple and spacey pieces before opening up into heavier, more traditional post-rock tracks. It’s a classic trick in the genre, and it can allow for portions of the record to blend together a bit.

It can also help songs that eschew that trend stand out a bit more, though; where other songs treat their flowier, more ambient first halves as merely buildup, “Heaven in a Wild Flower” stretches it out for over seven minutes, throwing in strings to boot and resulting in one of the record’s tamest and most beautiful cuts. The record’s closing pair, the 12-minute epic “Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand” and the six-minute coda “And Eternity in an Hour,” finish the LP on a high note; the pairing is where the band’s contemporary classical influences really shine through. The former is the most decidedly classic Mono song on the album, essentially a ten-minute crescendo before two minutes of releasing that tension. While it does follow a similar structure to most of the album preceding it, the inclusion of strings and bells and humming electronics give it its own feel on Pilgrimage of the Soul, and its cathartic climax feels less like an explosion and more a natural endpoint. “And Eternity in an Hour,” then, is the comedown after; it’s all piano and strings, no big finish. Perhaps the most understated moment on the album, it plays out like an epilogue, a song to play things out as the credits roll. Nonetheless, as with the similarly spartan “Heaven in a Wild Flower,” it’s an absolutely gorgeous song, one that shows that, while Mono are masters of the quiet-loud school of post-rock, they’re also the very best at making music that doesn’t need to blow out speakers to convey emotion.

Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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