Mar 242014

(In this post NCS writer BadWolf reviews the new album by Chicago’s Lord MantisDeath Mask).

There is something deeply wrong with the minds and hearts of Charlie FellAndrew Markuszewski, Bill Bumgardner, and Ken Sorceron, who together form Lord Mantis. I’m not sure how we didn’t know before—each of these musicians has made waves in the underground for quite some time as members of Nachtmystium, Avichi, Indian, and Abigail Williams, among other bands. But there’s just something deeply upsetting about the music they make together as Lord Mantis on their new album, Death Mask.

At this point, people probably know the Chicago-based black-sludge outfit best for their filthy taste in cover art. 2012’s critically-acclaimed album Pervertor featured a limbless, vaginal Jesus being gang-penetrated by some Lovecraftian tongue beasties. Death Mask might be even worse, sporting a sickly-green big-bushed hermaphrodite sewing a death mask (get it?) onto his/her own face. The image has already stirred some controversy (see this and this). For my money, I feel the artwork has about as much artistic depth of content as Lady Gaga getting covered in vomit. As a PR move, however, it’s adept, since Death Mask is such an inaccessible album that it requires some sort of outside hook to get listeners interested.

I have no idea what they’re putting in the waters of Lake Michigan, but it seems like this year has marked release after release of well and truly unsettling music, including Catharsis Absolute by Avichi (a solo project by Markuszewski), and From All Purity by Indian. Death Mask might be the best record of the bunch—it’s the one I’ve revisited most, at least, and it probably has the most hooks. But make no mistake, this is a difficult album to listen to. Almost the whole of the record comes coated in distortion and noise—industrial effects pepper the background, while several digital filters mask the blackened shriek vocals that populate Death Mask.



One gets the sense, after a few listens, that Lord Mantis are less about perversion, or provoking reactions, than they are about self-loathing. The music sounds virulent and nasty, building up a sense of real anger that never gets a release. Their songs run a little long, and twist themselves into new configurations before circling back to earlier themes. There are no real cathartic moments.

Which isn’t to say there’s no fun to be had here. Unlike Indian’s From All Purity, this album has some real fist-in-the air moments, and a lot of slamming down-beat riffs to get the blood pumping. Lead track and single “Body Choke,” for example, sounds like punching a wall out of sheer frustration over and over until you can see your own knuckle bone, and in that sense Death Mask hits the very narrow middle ground between brooding and aggression. It lashes out, but in futility.

The members of Lord Mantis have expanded their palate of influences beyond the preemptive blackened sludge of their last album. The song “Coil” feels like a Midwest metallic hardcore song played at half-speed, sometimes reminiscent of Integrity, what with its slamming open guitar riffs and eerie vocal samples. Death Mask is definitely a more varied, and therefore interesting listen than its predecessor.

For proof, listen to the album’s closer, “Three Crosses,” which is now my personal favorite Lord Mantis song. The track builds to a fever pitch quite early, and then relaxes during its bridge, ratcheting the tension up and then calming down a few times in its duration. Bill Bumgardner’s drumming is workmanlike on most of Death Mask, but he tosses in a few interesting tribal tom-lines in “Three Crosses.” And Markuszewski’s solos prove once again that he’s one of the most distinctive soloists in metal right now—his work on this song more than equals his stellar work in Nachtmystium. The album is worth a listen for this track alone.

I worry that controversy—and artwork in poor taste—will turn prospective readers off from listening to this remarkable record. Where I stand, I’m willing to tolerate a great deal in the place of artistic impression—Death Mask doesn’t overtly endorse any kind of violence or hate speech. What it does do is make me uncomfortable, and that’s precisely what I like about it.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Death Mask was recorded with Sanford Parker. The cover art is by Jef Whitehead (Leviathan, Twilight). Indian’s guitarist/vocalist Dylan O’Toole contributed additional vocals on two of the tracks. The album will be released by Profound Lore on April 29. Listen to “Body Choke” below.


  25 Responses to “LORD MANTIS: “DEATH MASK””

  1. I honestly wish I could enjoy this album, I really really do but the controversy mentioned is something that I personally cannot look over. This is something I do not like ever bringing up when possible but as a trans woman myself and a long time metal fan, the album art and words of the band on it all, it truly sickens me. In a society where hatred of trans people is an absolute norm, where the murder rate of trans people is 50% higher than that of both lesbian and gay people*, and how we are considered less than people by most right wing politicians this artwork is simply no acceptable. There is no problem with violent, sexual, or depraved artwork in its own merit, after all it is suppose to shock people and entice those who might be interested in the band. That is not the true issue here, the true issue lies in the fact the use of a transwoman on the cover is simply a way to be more shocking than just having any normal woman on the cover. That instead of as normal everyday people that we are, we are something shocking and disgusting that is only more vile when we are butchered on cover art.

    Let’s take an example, would you ever justify an album art that consisted of black men and women being hanged and or burned by figures dressed to look like the KKK as simply shocking art? Or would you come right out to criticize the artwork as racist (because it would no doubt be)? Would you defend it if the artist behind it had called those of different skin colors an ape and claimed that blacks should be happy they are getting culture points on his album art? After all, in the second link you posted with the interview that is the basic equivalent of what was said about trans people after misgendering one of them in the process.

    I know this is out of line but truly this is an issue that would not sit right with me if I did not say something. Violence towards minorities is unacceptable in any circumstance. Transphobia is exactly as disgusting as racism. My view on the subject is the same as Mario Balotelli’s on racism, on which he had said “Racism is unacceptable, if someone on the street throws a banana at me I will go to jail because I will kill them.” I feel the same way towards transphobia.


    • This is the statement vocalist Charlie Fell made about the artwork – “I was going to have Bartlett do it again but there were some communication problems mostly on my part. Jef’s one of my favorite dudes in the world and knows my brain enough to pull off something fitting. Trans awareness? I had no idea that this was going be such an issue. I thought maybe the trans community would be pumped that they’re getting some culture points! I tend to watch people a lot and in that I feel pretty detached from being human. It’s like being in a monkey cage, you start seeing people for the animals they are; laughing, eating, smoking, dick sucking, cum loving, piss-in-the-mouth monkeys. It’s strange thinking of sex when you see it from and outside perspective; meat slipping into meat; female, male. It’s blurred. I think everybody’s half gay when you remove the shame.

      When I was 20 I used to hang out at Neo a ton, it’s a Goth club in Chicago. I was there one night on a shit ton of acid as usual and I’m outside smoking and this pimped out SUV pulls up and this hot chick tells me to come take a ride with her so I get in. We start making out like immediately and stop at this light. She asks me if I like drugs and then pulls out this big crack pipe and takes a huge rip then she starts going down on me in the car, so I stick my hand up this chicks skirt and just get a handful of dick. My whole world just fucking crashed right there. That’s when I first started thinking like that, the whole detachment and seeing people as meat thing. So I just said fuck it and then blew my load in that dudes mouth. He got some young dick and I got a new perspective on the animal kingdom. Hope that explains something.”

      • If you happened to miss it in the last paragraph, he misgenders the woman after finding out she has male genitalia still. And I already brought up in my original comment, would you call album artwork depicting violence against any person of color as “culture points” for those people?

        • I know these dudes, you are waaay off base by calling them transmysognystic, trust me. You have grossly misinterpreted the cover art and should probably stop throwing stones. Granted Charlie is not the best with words sometimes in interviews, but if you actually had a conversation with him or Ken for that matter you would probably get where they are coming from. Have you even tried to contact someone in the band to have a conversation about it?

          • You know, ultimately it doesn’t really matter whether the guys in the band are transmisogynistic or not. (And, frankly, if you refer to a trans woman as a “dude,” you have some learning to do in how to handle trans issues, regardless of how good your intentions are.) It’s not like most people are going to sit down and have a conversation with the band before deciding what they think of the cover art. The cover art can (and I think will) be interpreted by many people in a way that feeds transmisogyny, and I don’t think the way the band have responded indicates that they have thought through all the issues. Saying that should not be interpreted as “throwing stones”.

          • It’s first of all wonderful to have your name as “Shut up” as a passive aggressive way of letting me know nothing I say matters to you. As a second matter, it is not up to you to decide whether something is transmisogynistic not, in the same way it is not up to a white person to determine what is racist. On the cover I see my existence used as simply something to shock people as this cover art would not spark any controversy if it were simply a woman. Not to mention his deliberate misgendering of someone does your claim no good.

            • It is unfortunate how the band member responded to the criticism. However, i think the artwork means either way less or way more than what we’re reading into it. I think it’s either meaningless shock art with no intentional reference to transgender people as a group (in which case, they probably should have apologized and explained), or it’s a gender-neutral statement about humanity and violence in general (in which case, an apology and explanation would have also been the best course of action). Either way, i think any offense comes from a position of ignorance rather than intolerance. I totally respect anyone’s decision to boycott the band/album, but i will defend the art itself for what it is.
              P.S. i think the violence is more implied in the painting, but perhaps a “trigger warning” should have been posted on the main page instead of the picture itself.

            • “On the cover I see my existence used as simply something to shock people as this cover art would not spark any controversy if it were simply a woman.”

              I’d be just as disgusted by the cover art if it depicted a female or a male.

              • Let’s face it, there are a lot of metal album covers depicting women in various states of nudity, dismemberment, death, and this seems to be a a variation on that, with the added twist of throwing in a penis to make it more controversial.

                • This is why I stick to albums that feature a combination of mountains, forests, bodies of water, and/or fog. Makes it easy to guess what’ll like, and what I won’t.

            • Wait, white people can’t determine racism? Is this because of some melanin deficiency?

        • Thanks for fighting the good fight and bringing Tumblr facism into the real world, where it doesn’t matter. I have many trans friends and none of them are as irritating as you are. Good luck with that, I’m sure you’ll change the world.

        • Like, you’re so annoying I don’t know how you could possibly think anyone would want to listen to you, regardless of any correct points you might be making. It’s astonishing the lack of self-awareness you have.

    • There’s a lot to think about here. I’ll be honest that I’m also unsettled by the cover art. I really liked their last album, but I came to it as a non-Christian, so I was free to more or less ignore what some people would find deeply sacriligeous. I think the comparisons to racism are apt, and I find myself struggling with how to draw the line between standard issue metal shock value and something more troubling. After all, the lunkhead in All That Remains got a lot of flack for using an anti-gay slur, and a lot of people (myself included) aren’t interested in NSBM because of the stupid Nazi bullshit. When you look at I that way, it makes it harder to defend this cover.

      • Good point about the previous album’s cover art, violent and “perverse” cover art/lyrics seem to get a pass due to the anti-religious statement. So Jesus with a vagina is totally cool, no worries there…

    • When I first saw the album cover I didn’t think of it as any kind of reference to trans women, but that in itself is probably a sign of how ignorant I am, and maybe insensitive too. I’ve learned something from the subsequent controversy spawned by the cover, and maybe other people have too (maybe including the band members themselves, though I have no idea). Since I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, I hope that’s something positive that has come from it. As for the music, it’s hell on wheels. I don’t read into it any kind of bigoted slurs, and from what I know of the people in the band I wouldn’t accuse them of being bigots either. They may just have been ignorant and insensitive like me.

      • Right there with ya. When I first saw the cover art, my first reaction was, “Woah, that’s pretty crazy.” After reading about it, that’s still mostly how I feel about it, except I’ve noticed some of the more subtle things I missed at first glance. Like the fact that the noose is coming out of the forearm and that the mask is being self-applied (sewn on). It honestly just makes it more interesting.
        Personally, I don’t find it very offensive (but I understand how it could be to some) or, as someone who has seen quite a few metal album covers (and has internet access), all that shocking. Although, it would definitely throw me off if I was walking through Target and found the album prominently displayed at the end of an aisle or something similar.


        • I don’t know how much we would have to pay Target to put this album in their display racks for even one day, but I would be sorely tempted to start a crowd-funding campaign to finance that bribery, and to pay the camera crew that would film the reactions nationwide. Ah, fuck, I can dream, can’t I?

          • I’m thinking promo posters. Preferably large ones behind glass, like the ones you would find at a theater. That way everyone knows that the album is available.

    • The art work wasn’t meant to offend it was made to be a portrait of myself destructiveness as well as my minds eye view of my humanity and sexuality. The last album also featured a transgendered Christ on it and its been a theme in our cover art through out the bands existence. Im not always the best with words and come off a bit crass and insensitive to some people but I have no problems or prejudices with any race, gender (cis, trans or otherwise) or sexual orientation. I myself am a jew and work at a gay bar in Boystown Chicago and also was in a relationship with a transgendered woman so I can tell you that the band does not advocate violence towards anyone besides ourselves, hence the noose and the scars and the agony of the figure on the cover. I haven’t had the most privileged life and the bands art is a direct reflection of my own misery and was not intended to be some sort of tasteless shocker. We wont change the album artwork but hopefully your comments and blog posts that have been circulating will further bring awareness to the statistics that you have pointed out there.

      • Thank you for clarifying. It certainly opened the door for a good discussion about transgender awareness and provocative art in general!

  2. I certainly would have to hide this cover from my mom, but the music still seems good. Makes me excited to think that I could see bands like this on a routine basis if/when I move out to Chicago for college in the fall.

  3. So the band Prostitute Disfigurement actually went a step lower and released a song called “Dismember the Transgender.” I think that’s pretty screwed up.

  4. BUUUUUUUUUUUUU JEF WHITEHEAD WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH STRING HIM UP HOW DARE HE MAKE ART HE’S A MONSTER. Face it, if some other artist had painted this, there would not be HALF the outrage over this. In fact, if a transgender-friendly artist painted it, there’d be oh so much discussion of bravery. But no, let’s automatically presume to know what goes on in Whitehead’s mind as the artist, or Fell’s mind as the commissioner of the art.

    Also, Tipper Gore thought many albums and their covers were “harmful” to children. Was it her place to determine regulation of so-called “harmful matter”? How is this any different? Whether you like, hate or don’t give two fucks about this album cover, I don’t foresee it actually causing harm to transgendered people.

    It saddens me that Charlie had to “explain” the artwork to a bunch of rubes who automatically assumed it was a murdered transgendered woman, when the interpretations are legion. I’m certainly no art scholar, but this piece is open to myriad interpretation.

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