(As you’ll see in DGR‘s review below, Mæntra‘s debut album has been perched on his shoulders for a long time, and while it might be easier at this point just to dispense with a write-up, the album wouldn’t allow that.)
I feel that every year I must commend my fellow writers around the hovel that is the NCS office space for having a sense of when to just cut things off and accept that you won’t be able to get around to it in time. It takes a strength of character that, frankly, I just don’t have.
Every year there will be two or three albums that I feel like I have to write about, even as the review backlog grows larger and larger with new discoveries and bigger releases. These releases rest on my shoulders for what seems like forever until I either find the time or finally, shoulders slumped in defeat, admit that yes, I too will not get around to something and the time to shit or get off the pot has long since passed.
Hell, I still occasionally toy with the idea of reviewing a release that came out in January of last year now that I’ve found an easy-to-listen-to copy of it. On the opposite end though, goddamn does it feel good to finally free yourself of the need to speak of a release, when you can find that gap to do so and let the world be damned if they have anything to say about it.
This is the only explanation I have for why you’re staring at a review for the Bay Area’s Mæntra and their first full-length, Kundalini Rising, which came out over seven months ago on February 18th, 2022. A release I initially came upon in the process of working the review for Origin‘s Chaosmos – swearing up and down I wouldn’t fuck up any of the details on it – and have been weirdly fascinated with ever since.
The details of Mæntra‘s lineup are part of the initial draw to the band. It’s composed of guitarist Rudy Pina (Cyanic), drummer Adam Houmam (ION, Cartilage), and bassist Paul Ryan (Origin), uniting in a group that sounds like a hybridization of all its member’s various projects. All of them are attacking the vocal front, and with an equally screeching layer of electronics and distorted industrial works that call to mind the electronics-assisted grind of a group like GenocideGenerator, and drawing lyrical influence from Hindu spirituality and different chakras.
The group are different shades of technical death metal influence and musicality thrown into a blender, and that is not so much the result of what comes out at the end, but a recording of the blending while the machine has been left on high. Kundalini Rising is a sleek seven songs clearing the thirty-three minute mark, which gives the band plenty of room to expand across any influence or idea that might’ve struck their fancy or, more often than not, take that time to just layer on musical attack after attack. There’s plenty of chances here for the drumkit to be destroyed and Mæntra are overjoyed to take every single chance.
A part of the continued fascination with Kundalini Rising seven months after the fact is that Mæntra try so much within the confines of its thirty-three minute world. Whether it’s due to being a new project, not even feigning being signed, or unbridled adventurism, the artistic shackles are off for this band and the result is an abrasive deep-dive into death metal with a high water mark for technicality and an equal love for spacey keyboard ambience.
Even that feels a little short for a description, but when you have such an auditory barrage happening it’s almost hard to parse the subject matter; it becomes a fun game of ‘wait, this is a song about what now?’ every five to six minutes. If nothing else, it’s fun to point people to a song like “Ajna” with its steady and fast undercurrent of drums and waterfall bass-line and ever-intense vocal work and show them that the lyrics comprise stuff like “I speak my truth My voice matters/I speak with kindness I speak with love/I am strong, I am clear, I am steady/My mind is aware to the new visions/Lead us to the…” in between all of the shrieking and collapsing synth lines.
That happens time and time again throughout, even this late in the album, as “Ajna” is the second-to-last song. The monster that is Mæntra spins up, tumbles through an outright attack on the senses, and spins down in preparation for the next one.
Within the first fifty-five seconds of the album’s opening song the group have already launched so much out of the musical trebuchet at you that it’s hard to imagine they have time to reload. You’ll have gotten nearly everything comprising the foundation for much of Mæntra‘s music in its opening three minutes that the next six tracks can feel like journeys in seeing how they mix up each one this time. The punchier brutal moments are brief and often interspersed with some of the sleeker wall-of-notes style riffing you’ll recognize from the thrashier tech-death groups out there, and then the moment any sort of blastbeat comes in, it’s the finger-exercise guitar playing of an insane grind band.
These are the musical collisions that eventually form a planet. You’d be forgiven for finding much of Kundalini Rising to sound crazed, but there’s a focus to just how relentless this release is that underlies a lot of that. Kundalini Rising is one of those times where it’s appreciated that the group took the time to do a couple of instrument playthroughs, just so you can see how fast the band themselves have to move in order to hold on to the ideas being volleyed forth here.
Kundalini Rising is one of those releases where it’s hard to tell if the idea had been long-gestating – the group released one single prior to this in 2019 – or if the whole thing was written in a fit of isolated madness. Songs blend into one another, ideas dart in and out of entirely different songs, and the constant clip at which the band maintain it all make it so that Kundalini Rising remains fascinating, even as you lose yourself in which song you may actually be in.
While the group don’t entirely dodge the faceless technicality bullet or the way grindier music can get very plug-and-play, the fact they try so many different things, so that at one point or another within the seven songs here there will be sections that stand in stark contrast to something earlier, helps to keep things interesting.
As mentioned before, Mæntra have a hell of a lot of ideas and Kundalini Rising‘s snapshot of all of them only hints at what they could expand upon. For the opening salvo they chose to stay high in the intensity level and wound up just as abrasive as you might expect, but the future of something like this – especially given the works of its trio of musicians elsewhere – could become very interesting in the future. Right now the joy is found in the musical equivalent of holding a hairspray bottle and lighter to your face. Plus it’s always fun to get a thirty-plus minute demonstration of a bunch of instruments being annihilated.