Any Mono fan knows that Holy Ground: NYC Live isn't the first time the famed instrumental Japanese rock quartet has appeared on a DVD. The Sky Remains the Same as Ever included footage of them recording and touring, revealing the deep commitment they have to every detail in composition, recording, and live performances. That said, this CD/DVD package takes all those elements to an entirely different level, designed to make even the most cynical listener sit up and take notice of one of the most truly unique forces in post-rock music. After the release of 2009's truly brilliant Hymn to the Immortal Wind, which had them recording live in the studio with a large chamber orchestra, Mono and label Temporary Residence, Ltd. went a giant leap further. To celebrate the band's tenth anniversary and the album's release, they held a one-off concert as part of the Wordless Music Festival, where the group played live with the 24-piece Wordless Music Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky. While five of the tracks on the nine-cut CD were live versions of tracks from Hymn to the Immortal Wind, the other four on the disc were taken from their catalog: "Are You There?" from You Are There; "2 Candles, 1 Wish" and "Halcyon (Beautiful Days)" from Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined; and "Where Am I" from New York Soundtracks.
The audio here is crystalline, produced and mixed by Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis). Every detail in texture, dynamic, and explosive tension is captured, making for a concert of unmatched beauty, with 21st century classical tradition wedded to the rise and fall of Mono's brand of emotionally charged and cinematically evocative music. Check the lilting beginnings of "Are You There?" as fingerpicked guitars give way to flowing strummed and pounded electrics, shimmering cymbals, and well-placed basslines and kick drums, as the strings underscore the band's performance with every nuance in the sound articulated and enhanced, adding to its depth and dimension. What it reveals is that -- though they've only recently begun working with orchestras -- Mono's music has always lent itself to this kind of interpretation. The more subtle melodic aspects of the band's attack come up in this selection and in others, such as "Burial at Sea" and "Everlasting Flight." The DVD in the package is the real prize, however; it contains the entire 90-minute performance along with the extra cut "Follow the Map." It contains the same stunning sound and captures the ambience and visual detail of the communication between all participants in this experience inside the darkened concert hall. Whether heard or seen, Holy Ground: NYC Live is a singular offering, one of depth and almost unbearable emotional and visceral power that is expressed poetically and sonically as unadulterated beauty.