Negative Mantra is a new band, but its members are well known from other projects over a period of many years. When I saw those names — as well as the name they chose for their band — I had a high level of confidence that their just-released debut EP A Hymn To Disappointment would be heavy, grim, and hard to forget. I wasn’t wrong.
Here’s the line-up:
John Porada (Terminate, ex-Nachtmystium) – Vocals, guitar, bass
Jeff Wilson (Abigail Williams, Wolvhammer, Chrome Waves) – Guitar
Charlie Fell (Abigail Williams, Cobalt, ex-Lord Mantis) – Drums
The EP emerged last week on Bandcamp without any fanfare. No press release, no advance dribbling out of teasers or song excerpts. One day it wasn’t there, the next day it was. I discovered it only because I noticed brief Facebook posts about it by a couple of people in the band, mentioned almost in passing. But word of this release needs to be spread around, because it’s very good.
A Hymn To Disappointment consists of three songs, in the vein of black metal alloyed with doom. By turns, it’s crushing and ferocious, a melding of ingredients from the darkest, coldest corners of metal’s catacombs that proves to be as exhilarating as it is forbidding.
The title track, which comes first, is the longest at more than 10 1/2 minutes. In keeping with its title, the song is bleak and blasted, but there’s fury in the music, too. It builds from slow, reverberating piano notes and the measured thump of a bass drum into a cascade of titanic doom riffs, vibrating with distortion. The riffs turn rhythmic and jabbing, and together with a flurry of double-bass, they start to work your head up and down — and then the song accelerates into a hell-for-leather gallop, frenzied and churning, with high, searing, abrasive vocals that amp the music’s sense of savagery.
Eventually, the band segue into a rocking rhythm and then slow down for an extended guitar solo over a gut-rumbling bass line. Ultimately, the song slows even more, becoming a heavy, lurching stagger laced with alien guitar tones and heartless bass notes.
A similar contrast comes to pass in the follow-on track, “Unbearable”. At the outset, there’s a heavy overhang of gloom generated by the groaning bass line, distorted riffs, and horrific shrieking. And then the song kicks into high gear, driven by a bolt of blast-beat drumming, pile-driving bass, and swarming riffs. It’s a grinding, rumbling, high-energy charge that you can feel in your spine and your spleen, accented by a rippling, repeating guitar solo that’s one of the EP’s most memorable moments.
“Vain” comes last, and it begins in fast and furious fashion, with blasting percussion and grim, black-metal riffing, with a desolate melody rising and falling through the storm of raking chords and truly terrifying shrieks. The band again reveal their tendency to shift gears into rocking rhythms, and there are some especially infectious drum patterns in “Vain”, without detracting from the overall oppressive heaviness of the music.
“Vain” also includes another memorable, squalling guitar solo that turns dismal in its emotional aura before the music drops into a slow, massive, sludgy stomp, with eerie, feedback-fueled guitar notes shimmering overhead like some kind of radioactive aurora borealis. The song puts your neck in a vise and bends it to its will as the merciless bass and drum tandem continue grinding away to the end.
With so little information out in the world about this release, I don’t know if Negative Mantra is a one-off collaboration or a project that has a future. The answer may depend on how A Hymn To Disappointment is received. It’s currently a “name your price” download at Bandcamp, and that makes it a no-brainer acquisition. A limited CD release is also planned in the near future. Selfishly, I hope you’ll give this your support, because I want more of these negative mantras from this talented trio.