(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Germany’s Mantar, coming next month from Nuclear Blast.)
When I say that Ode to the Flame, the second album by German blackened sludgemeisters Mantar, is one badass motherfucker, you’d best believe that I mean it.
Fuelled by rage and empowered by the divine spirit of “the riff”, practically every aspect of it – from its punishing, stone-cold grooves, snarling, punked-up hooks, and monstrously heavy guitar sound – is a huge step up from the band’s debut, with Messrs. Hanno (vocals/guitars) and Erinc (drums/vocals) upping their game on pretty much every level.
Bristling with barely restrained aggression, and gifted with a brash, belligerent swagger and a malicious streak a mile wide, it’s also the first album in a long, long time, to fill that twisted, Nachtmystium-shaped hole in my heart, though its tar-soaked and sludge-encrusted underbelly and downright surly demeanour mean that the final product offers up a much different experience than Judd and co’s self-loathing anthems.
The opening one-two of “Carnal Rising” and “Praise the Plague” pulls no punches and takes no prisoners, racing out of the gate with all the energy and drive of an underdog fighter who knows this is his shot at the big prize, ducking and weaving, jabbing and jiving, and delivering more outright power and weighty riffage — pound-for pound – than any duo should really be capable of.
The aforementioned “Praise the Plague” is a catchy-as-hell shitkicker of a track that capitalises on the stunning momentum of its predecessor with a pounding procession of grim, infectious grooves and gnarled, muscular riffs (whose rough-shod and hard-edged demeanour actually disguises some surprisingly nimble fretwork), driven by some impressively propulsive drumming and howling, pulse-quickening vocal hooks that work their way under your skin and refuse to leave.
Vividly, venomously, viciously virulent… “Era Borealis” is a morbid masterpiece of strutting, rock-star villainy and stadium-level malice, with a ballsy, shamelessly shout-along chorus refrain that’s guaranteed to get lodged in your head. It leads into the (similarly anthemic) apocalyptic groovegasm of “The Hint”, which employs some bold flashes of diabolical organ melody to augment its huge, crashing chords and spinebreaking drum work, in a devilishly delightful display of not-giving-a-fuck.
On “Born Reversed” the Germanic duo manages to out-Entombed Entombed themselves, with more sinister swagger and menacing melody than the embattled Swedish idols seem able to muster themselves these days, while the three-and-a-half-minute audio-nasty of “OZ” is simultaneously punky, thrashy, doomy… and darker than a well-digger’s asshole, switching unpredictably between an ominous, bare-bones funeral march, a dense, choking chugathon, and a madcap metalloid thrash-attack.
The eerily compelling organ tones that introduce “I, Omen” definitely won’t prepare you for the song’s harrowing, almost Death Metal level of intensity – part ugly, Autopsy-style rumble and part bad-trip Black Metal freak out — whereas the rifftastic “Cross the Cross” sounds like the inevitable product of a drunken barfight between members of Clutch and Nachtmystium over who gets to down the last bottle of whiskey… and is just as fist-pumpingly, neck-wreckingly awesome as that sounds.
The doomtastic “Schwanenstein” opens with a riff so beautifully, morbidly evil that Tom G. Warrior himself would probably crack a crooked smile upon hearing it, and then proceeds to stomp all over your face with almost six-and-a-half minutes of Godzilla-sized guitars and demonically devastating drums, setting you up for the pitch-black pounding of “Sundowning”, which chugs and churns and chokes you into submission with its gruesome, doom-laden deathgrooves until the whole thing just splinters apart under its own humongous weight.
Heavier than a very heavy thing, hookier than an abattoir, and blacker than the blackest black (times infinity), Ode to the Flame is the sound of a band truly coming into their own and stepping up into the big leagues.
If you only let one album rip off your head and spit down your neck this year… make it this one.
Ode To the Flame comes out on April 15. Nuclear Blast is offering a variety of physical formats here, and it can be pre-ordered digitally at this location — and it’s on Bandcamp (see the link below). The first two singles are below, along with a just-released video that includes snippets of all the songs.