Death by Burning
Svart Records, 2014
If you’re to believe the promotional statements, this one-year-old twosome should be heavier and more menacing on their debut album than many other bands with five musicians and a full arsenal of instruments. Despite the lack of a bass guitar, this is given as a fact based on the superior talent and musicianship of these Germans (well, the drummer guy is originally from Turkey, but anyways). I must admit that when reading these pompous promises, I couldn’t help thinking whether these guys are actually serious. Or are they just trying to hide inferior music under layers of snootiness and arrogance? Well, without knowing really why, there was something that made me eagerly want to find out answers to my questions.
To quote Mantar’s biography further, they’re said to play music mixing black/doom metal and punk, with such influences as Motörhead and Darkthrone. Putting the suggestions of their record label aside, my own categorization would still be the rather puzzling genre of sludge metal, where acts like Kylesa and early Mastodon dwell. Especially when eight out of ten songs on Death by Burning are more easily associated to Crowbar than any Motörhead record ever made. Yeah, and what comes to the black metal on this album, there’s almost none of it to be found except for the vocalist, whose frenzied howling occasionally comes close to the sound of some of those Norwegian churchburners.
Death by Burning kicks off with a strong straight of four compositions. Tempos on these songs are kept rather brisk and energetic, with some heavier breakdown-spirited parts that will unquestionably make the crowd bang their heads at Mantar’s live shows. In the opener “Spit”, there’s some trifling with the time signatures in the form of chugging 7/8 riffs, which bring a welcome bit of variation to the songs otherwise completely storming with the basic 4/4. It’s actually quite a shame that this is the only composition including any alterations considering the matter of time signatures. As there’s barely any toying with the rhythmic patterns in the rest of the songs, the listener starts getting bored halfway through the album. At least I did.
Apart from being rhythmically anemic, the next four tracks are also too similar compared to the earlier ones in terms of arrangements, as the songs have been cast to the mold of all too safe and sound pop structures. Between intros and outros, there isn’t much else than a couple of verses and choruses, and maybe some middle 8’s or collisions. Or in the case of a few exceptions, there are no choruses at all. Not saying that there’s something wrong with keeping it simple, but when all the riffs and chord progressions are imitating each other more or less, you’ll find yourself feeling kind of numb at the journey’s end. Mantar’s problem as a two-instrument group also starts to unmask itself; harmonies and melodies that would enrich the soundscape are absent. This might’ve been the goal these guys had in their sights, but it would still be recommendable to use any other harmonic solutions besides the obvious fifths and power chords.
The spirit of doom metal most clearly rises to the surface on the last two tracks, paying homage to groups like Electric Wizard, Celtic Frost or even Eyehategod. Especially the final song bringing the record to its inevitable end, “March of the Crows” (there’s a very disturbing and oppressive video online which one should totally check out), is a total masterpiece, crushing down on the listener in all its heaviness, and corrupting you from the inside. At the same time, these two closing compositions, threatening like black storm clouds, bring on the long-awaited diversity to the whole.
Whether it’s the rather short lifespan of this group thus far, or its members’ impatience to spend more time perfecting their expression, it’s not hard to believe that they might’ve been in too much of a hurry to push their debut full-length out. If a portion of the songs had been dropped and thus the record squeezed into a mini-album, the aftermath would’ve without a doubt been more devastating and effective. Let’s just hope and count on that somewhere along the road, Mantar is able to deliver an album of solid gold from the beginning ‘til the end.
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