Update: Corrected Mantric’s album title.
Harbour of Souls – Mountain of Fire
Location: The Netherlands
“Chorus-driven,” these are the first words that come to my mind as I listened to this EP. HoS clearly have being catchy as one of their goals, and they’re doing their damn best to achieve it. They produce a blend of heavy rock and heavy metal, quite reminiscent of classic bands like Samson and Judas Priest (sans the falsetto), as well as of more recent performers like Airbourne.
Although melodically the songs are good enough to get your feet tapping, they fail to achieve much more than that. Sure, they sound like rock hits (all the ingredients seem to be there, like the face-melting-lite solo in “In For the Night”), but they are just incredibly boring. Martin’s voice, while competent, quickly becomes annoying as he continues to repeat the same choruses over and over again (I mean, I had to stop “In For the Night” because of how irrationally angry it was making me to hear him yell the same fucking phrase again and again). There are some singers who can manage to do that without making you reach for the nearest Glock (I’m looking at you, Brian Johnson), but Martin just isn’t one of them. He’s competent enough for his local club, and can definitely kick ass at karaoke, but I just can’t see him going much farther than that in that capacity.
Mountain of Fire is a rather competent album in terms of music and melody, but which cannot overcome the fact that the singer doesn’t live up to the band. Although it’s true that are very cookie-cutter in their structure, they achieve their purpose. Sadly, it’s just too damn boring for me to come back to them.
Mantric – Sin
Label: Loyal Blood Records
While Mantric (made up entirely of former Extol members) pride themselves on not being comparable to other acts, Sin is reminiscent of Devin Townsend’s Accelerated Evolution. The album is filled with dramatic shifts in tone that link together in a way that keeps them from being jarring and confusing. The construction of the album shows strong evidence of a well thought out plan and destination as walls of sound are built and scaled. The sonic barriers are formed from rapid guitar work that slides in between melodic and crunchy, coupled with percussion that explodes out of nowhere and settles back down in an instant. The vocals shift back and forth between melancholic drones and frantic shouts and screams, appropriately reflecting the mellow and manic sections of the music.
Although the huge swings in tone across the board ensure that there is no lack of variety in the album, what’s really impressive is how the sections are fluidly linked together. The one downside is that the fluidity is nuanced into the sound to the point where you have to listen very closely to avoid getting lost (as it happened to me the first few listens).
While it can take a couple of listens to get the most out of it, Sin is worth the effort. The album presents a diverse array of concepts and ideas that are acted upon in every aspect of the music, and which are put together in a smooth, logical order. For those willing to sit down and give an album complete focus for a few plays, Sin is worth delving into.
Bevar Sea – Invoke the Bizarre
Back with their second album after three years of touring and writing, India’s Bevar Sea deliver a blend of doom with clear influence from traditional heavy metal, doing their title justice by channeling some spirit from Reverend Bizarre from time to time. They’ve got their own thing going on, though, injecting some harder and faster playing into the genre to stand out from the bands who count on fuzz and amps as their bread and butter, and following along to find out where they take the traditions is almost as much fun as the songs themselves.
While the aggression and emphasis on crushing never quite break through to full sludge territory, the band does give some nods to its influence (most explicitly with a song called “Bury Me In NOLA”, which gets pretty damn chunky), making up for the absence of tonal grime by snarling and wallowing with good spirit in the dirty waves. Moving on from Billy Anderson, who handled the mixing/mastering for their debut, Bevar Sea‘s pick for this album was Matt Lynch at Mysterious Mammal Recording (who happen to be based in Louisiana, making the NOLA link less tenuous), and the result is a nice piece of work.
Strong low-end without overpowering the mids and highs, crisp drum presence, and vocal work with just enough detachment to keep them from sinking into the thrumming bass or guitar howls are kept at high levels throughout the album, with a low-count number of breathing spots tucked away to bring out some contrast. There’s also the nice touch of the ~1:45 “Heathen” track with its acoustic guitar before the ~12-minute closer of “The Grand Alignment” sweeps in, bringing out the band’s strong handling of momentum and flow from the album’s start to its finish.
Some listeners may find the roughness of the vocals and riffs a turn-off, but if you’ve enjoyed the recent output from groups such as Shepherd (the ones who did Stereolithic Riffalocalypse)and Behold! The Monolith, or want something to fill your older Iron Man void, you’ll probably want to check in on this for some similar action. If you want it totally slick and glossy, look elsewhere.