Style: Progressive Rock/Metal
Release Date: 24 Apr 2020
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Mantric have an interesting sound. They're clearly prog, but they're on the boundary between prog rock and prog metal, both of which have an alternative edge too, as if prog could be trendy. They're Norwegian, but outside of some Scandinavian accents evident in quieter sections like early on Itching Soul, they sound more like an American band, one that constantly tours, playing a long line of small venues, sitting too low on bills because they're far too adventurous for the mainstream but continually picking up new die hard fans because they do their own thing and they're very good at it.
The other label that comes out a lot for Mantric is post-metal, which makes a lot of sense to me. When I think prog metal, I think of bands who followed in the wake of others like Queensrÿche, Mekong Delta or Opeth. I don't think of what I'm hearing here. Just check out Queen Fatigue, which is much closer to Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground or Swans than any of those bands. The sound on this one comes out of early punk with a layer of grunge but applies touches of electronica and even black metal in the way the band uses wall of sound.
The question is how the band can reconcile Queen Fatigue with the songs that sit around it. Its bookends have pop sensibilities. Itching Soul explores a lot of the same new wave and synth pop influences that Paradise Lost played with on albums like One Second but dirties them up considerably. Norwegian Dastard is a psychedelic pop song with a stoner bass, rather like you might find if early Nirvana covered the Beatles or, later in the song, Pearl Jam covered Pink Floyd.
It might seem like songs like these are going in different directions. What links them is how dirty the sound is on all of them, as if Mantric serve as a filter, taking all sorts of influences you wouldn't expect to hear from a Seattle band and applying a filter to them to create something new. Whether you fall in love with them will depend on whether you appreciate the idea of that filter or not.
Just thinking about Mantric as filter makes this stranger. Blame the Beggar, for instance, is a perky synth pop song at heart, just dirtied up a bit with that fuzzy bass and a guitar that heavies things up when needed. It reminded me of a song like Safety Dance, just with the Mantric filter applied, and if Men without Hats aren't the last band I ever expected to bring up in a metal review, I have no idea who would be more unlikely.
What this led to me to wonder is how Mantric's sound has changed over time. They aren't new, having formed back in 2007, but they're hardly prolific, as this is only their third album since then. I haven't heard The Descent and Sin, but I'm guessing from what I read that they were heavier albums than this, as they were reviewed by metal magazines who pointed out that the prog core ventured into black and death metal territories on them.
There's little extreme here to be found at all and I'd call this album rock over metal, even if the band do get faster and heavier on songs such as The Towering Mountain and Darling Demon. Even there, the heaviness is less from a death or black metal perspective and more from metalcore, with the shouty vocals you'd expect from that genre. I'm not a big -core fan and the latter song is probably my least favourite here, even with a cool guitar buzz that sounds like a swarm of bees flew through the studio, but it's still a really interesting and sonically diverse track.
Mantric certainly aren't going to be for everyone, but they seem to me to be one of those bands who are appreciated either not at all or absolutely. They might make no impact on you at all or they're going to become your favourite band of all time and you'll follow them on tour. As a regular listener, I'm much more the former. As a critic, though, I find this sound fascinating. I want to hear more and I want to see how they've grown already and where they will grow to over time. Interesting band.