REVIEW: MANTAR – “Ode To The Flame”
Mantar is a Sludge Metal duo hailing from Hamburg, Germany consisting of Erinc Sakarya (drummer) and Hanno Klänhardt (guitarist/vocalist) with no bass guitarist to be found. Started in 2012, Mantar has already made a name for themselves with their impressive debut album ‘Death By Burning’ , released on Svart Records back in 2014. On that album, the band demonstrated a powerful sound that was intensely viscous but also fresher than your average cup of Sludge Metal. In ‘Death by Burning’ , Mantar broke out of the typical Sludge Metal sound and added more dynamic nuances of atmospheric ambiance and interwoven melodies, while giving nods to other metal subgenres like Black and Doom Metal. Though the album was not revolutionary in its approach, Mantar was still able to demonstrate mastery of the Sludge Metal craft and the potential to go beyond the generic tropes. I enjoyed the band’s debut and I believe they are one of the better newer bands of the genre. Knowing this, I was excited to listen to their second offering and see where they have gone. Two years later, Mantar returns on Nuclear Blast records with ‘Ode to the Flame’ , a proper followup and step up in the right direction.
The album kicks off with a short track that I would say accurately introduces and prepares the listener for what you would expect to hear on the rest of the album. “Carnal RIsing” delivers a sample dose of the meatier Sludge Metal sound that Mantar have developed on their new record. The distorted guitars, the thumping bass drum, and the well done vocals build and maintain the energetic drive. With stronger Black Metal and Punk influences (most notably 2005 and later Darkthrone), the band truly kicks off with “Praise the Plague”. Crunchy and thick guitars sparingly and wisely interchanges from the Heavy Metal/Punk riffs and Black Metal build ups and punchy punk influenced drumming really brings out the melodic ferocity of this well balanced track. The next track “Era Borealis” is the punk anthem of ‘Ode to the Flame’ . Mantar on this track brings out the Hardcore Punk side of their sound with the weighted riffs and punk edge, especially during the build up to the chorus and the chorus itself (when the vocals are more exposed as the rest of the band strips down).
The dynamic nuances from the Mantar ’s previous album returns in this album. Some Stoner Metal influences can be found on tracks like “The Hint” and “Born Reversed” where the riffs have a little more fuzz and groovy spin. Punk and Heavy Metal influences in the riffs can be found in the album on tracks like “Oz” and “Cross the Cross” where they take more on more melodic, almost playful, tendencies. The Doom Metal influences, although not as prominent in this album compared to tracks like “March Of The Crows” on ‘Death By Burning’ , can still be found in tracks like “Oz” and the album closer “Sundowning”, which was the most doomy track of ‘Ode to the Flame’ and closed the album in a fantastic diminuendo fashion that leaves the listener alone with the solitary drums. On the other hand, the Black Metal influences on this album were increased as they become more integrated into Mantar ’s sound signature. On tracks like “Praise the Plague, “Born Reversed”, and especially “I Omen” the band uses the Black Metal leniencies to their advantage. Although the influences are not as strong as for other bands like Coffinworm and Wolvhammer, Mantar approaches the likes of Lord Mantis and Cowards with their blend. The tracks “Praise the Plague”, “Born Reversed”, “I Omen”, “Schwanenstein”, and “Sundowning” are the tracks that really allowed parts of the album shine. These tracks display Mantar ’s ability to play around with the mix and balance of the various styles that can be found on ‘Ode to the Flame’ . The variation in the sound is strongest aspect of this album. Below the crushing guitars, Hanno’s fantastic vocals, and Erinc’s excellent drumming, the album truly comes to life as the individual tracks thrive on their own. The uncluttered mix and production definitely helps bringing out these additional details while maintain the proper level of energy, aggression, and grit that does not overpower and blur the music. ‘Ode to the Flame’ in this regard, has succeeded in being a more dynamic Sludge Metal album.
However, the variation of sound on the album, is also its biggest flaw. On an individual track basis, the songs off ‘Ode to the Flame’ stand alone quite well. Each song displays the well rounded sound Mantar has crafted, but the album itself, as a whole, is not quite as varied to holistically capture what the band has done in the individual tracks. Even though the spectrum on the individual tracks were wide, the album itself, although consistent, became relatively stagnant. As a result, ‘Ode to the Flame’ felt a little long winded and repetitive, as the album slightly suffers in between tracks. Some of the implemented dynamic shifts in the album felt abrupt or out of place which took away from the track instead of adding on to it (ending of “Born Reversed” and the sudden slow interludes in “Oz” for example). Even with these issues, Mantar was still able to create an enjoyable album as ‘Ode to the Flame’ shined on its many good moments.
Mantar delivers a followup that shows why the “Gruesome Duo” got their name. ‘Ode to the Flame’ is a crushing, appropriately melodic, and dynamic Sludge Metal album that is intelligent and mature but lacks in personality. The album has many great moments but they lose some of their power once they are loosely put together. All in all, Mantar stepped up and improved from their debut album and refined their sound on ‘Ode to the Flame’ . With their new album, the band continued to show their potential and solidified their position as one of the most exciting modern Sludge Metal bands today.