Prog fans should feel bad if they never heard of Mantric, the Norwegian prog metal band formed in 2007 as a spin-off of Extol. While False Negative is only their third album, both their previous efforts have earned solid kudos from critics and this album follows suit most adroitly. First, however, a mild word of warning: Mantric are heavy, just not that heavy. There is more of a post-rock vibe to them with just enough of an edge to earn them a metal categorization. Think of a more aggressive version of East of the Wall. The riffs have more of a rock than a metal feel at times and, even by modern standards, they use a less aggressive guitar tone than many listeners might expect. A look past those factors with an open mind will reveal absolutely golden material on False Negative.
False Negative starts off with three aggressive tunes. “Itching Soul” in particular has moments where the vocals verge into straight screaming. Most of the time, Mantric’s two singers adopt a laid-back, smooth, gentle singing style (again, something “pure” metal fans might not like). False Negative then makes an abrupt turn into proggy weirdness on “Norwegian Dastard,” replete with lounge music that modulates into an epic crescendo. “Blame the Beggar” combines the first three song’s aggressive rocky nature with some intelligent grooves and the previous song’s melodiousness. “Dawn” has a sombre, emotional vibe to it that contrasts with its underlying rhythmic groove beat in a striking way. (Tool fans will smile from ear to ear at this one.) The contrast works, making it one of the album’s most powerful moments. Metal fans might like “The Towering Mountain” a bit more.
Finding the most powerful moment on this album would be difficult. Mantric cover even more ground as False Negatives goes through the rest of its 10-song, 54-minute running time. The album is a challenge to listen to in terms of pinpointing all of the compositional elements at work on it. In contrast, Mantric put something on this album that so many metal bands eschewed in the past two decades: dynamic range. False Negative is no competitor in the so-called “loudness war.” The band uses the sonic distance between louder and quieter moments to great effect, with sudden changes being akin to the “drops” cherished by EDM fans.
Prog metal too often dissolves into a morass of instrumental excess, with multifarious difficult passages thrown in for the sake of doing so rather than for that of any artistic agenda. When a thoughtful band like Mantric throws that aside and concentrates on writing, great albums like this one come to us almost as a gift.