The first track ‘FaithFaker’ opens with a repeated, simple riff underpinned by some chanted far away distorted vocals. Then the guitars change up to a buoyant almost pop-punk melody and the vocals skip to the other end of the spectrum, screamed one moment, and sung in harmony the next. Experimental this is, with a feeling of pop punk smashed into Type-O Negative. The band is clearly no stranger to taking a risk.
The second track ‘On the Horizon’ starts with a jazz feeling and spoken lyrics, but we are ready for the jump to the metal core vocals, drift back to simple guitars interspersed with drum fill over drum fill. This is progressive metal taken to its extreme, and dare I say it, but we are approaching Rundgren ‘Ra’ territory. But as a drum nut, and a prog fan, I am in familiar territory, and it’s a wild and exhilarating ride. Great track.
Next song, and it must have been time for a bit of doom metal, with the bass detuned to a level that’s upsetting the dog. It’s a ballad called ‘Give Me Eyes’ and is more familiar than the two tracks that have gone before, nothing fancy or experimental. I can’t help but feel that I am being lulled into a false sense of security.
And so ‘Arrogance vs. Anxiety’ is upon us, and it’s a layered monster. Harmony and screamed vocals together, running with a simple riff and solid bass lines. There is an electronic whisper running through this, and we are back to the prog feel, with timing changes and soundscapes rising and falling. This is challenging, and surprisingly accessible, thrown into one very enjoyable mix. Having finished too soon, we move into ‘Die Old’ which is pop-punk, and I’m in uncomfortable territory but we lift, driven by drum licks that imply a drummer looking to drop into a solo. The song ends. Much of a nothing but that’s the experimental territory that we are in. So far not a lot standing out for me. The band can clearly play, but musically this is understated, and I have a feeling that the five years between albums has been spent working out how to avoid being stereotypical.
‘Maranatha’ is a track that opens with what appears to be a banjo. Guitars join with the same plucked style and the vocals enter, screamed, with each word held and prolonged. Five minutes of a challenging and desperate drone. It’s a dirge. Experimental to the point of being unlistenable. It’s the lowest point on the album for me, and as ‘un-proggy’ as you can get. It’s as subtle as a 4 by 2 across the chops, and clearly there to push the listener to an uncomfortable place, but is this art over purpose?
So we stagger to ‘Anhedoniac’, and a high point of the album. This track is technical, while being subtle and passionless, but somehow remains warm. The vocals are so deep within the mix that it may as well be an instrumental, but its shows us that the band has a real capability. It’s a winner, and those of you with a keen eye will note a band member called Anders Salomon Lidal, who is in charge of soundscapes. Now, normally when a drummer mentions being a percussionist because he has a cowbell in the kit I tend to roll my eyes. But soundscapes as a band role I can accept as it seems like the band has a focus and this role broadens and deepens their sound. ‘Anhedoniac’ is the first track this becomes apparent and it’s taken the removal of the vocals to realise this.
Track eight is ‘The Shadow Of My Soul’ with a familiar rock opening and complex drumming that whisks us to a harmony, stark and simple. It’s musically engaging, but again, vocally this is all over the place… but, it’s experimental, so drops as quickly as it came, and we move into the final track ‘Black Eyes’. It has a powerful opening, and it’s musically strong and melodic, but the vocals are just a distraction. The song is well put together, but it’s chaotic and disjointed. When Mantric bring it together it’s engaging, but it doesn’t last for long.
Extol was a fascinating band who had lots of ideas, and this meant each song was varied and different from each other. Clearly, Mantric have the same amount of ideas but feel like they want to express them all within the same song. This album is a frustrating listen. The band is capable and technically strong, but the experimentation is taken to a point that makes you think that this release is just a stepping-stone to the next release, where the artistic idea is one step closer. There is very little that would draw me back to this album again. Although I can guess that they have sweated over the feeling in every second, the drive to challenge the listener through experimentation isn’t worth the investment in time if the overall product does not give you any payback.
Review Craig Grant]]>