Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Reviewed By Andrew McKaysmith
With their latest EP, The Spell, Hamburg's very own noise makers, Mantar, offer barely palatable blackened doom riffage to accompany the tortured vocal stylings of guitarist/vocalist Hanno.
I've already mentioned that Mantar are from Germany. No surprises there, really, as so much great heavy metal originates from the land of the Neuschwanstein. What is a genuine surprise? I had to work hard to find a redeemable feature on this EP. It's not without merit, to be sure, but it's a damn hard listen nonetheless.
Hanno and drummer Erinc can certainly play. These two ruffians sound like they are trying to rewrite the rule book that Tom Gabriel Fisher wrote all those years ago with Hellhammer and underground metal's GOAT, Celtic Frost.
Deploying the simplest of strategies, Fisher used a combination of Ibanez Iceman guitars, Ibanez Tube Screamers, and the Boss PW-1 Rocker Wah for solos, amplified by a Marshall JCM 800 100 watt amp with two standard cabinets to deliver some of the greatest riffs of all time. In an interview, Fisher commented that the accomplished guitarists he employed in 'Frost (notably Curt Victor Bryant and Ron Marks) were using a rack with all manner of effects, and through time switched to the same set-up as Fisher. Nothing too surprising there, so it was this comment that caught my attention: "I also always had/have a bass around, either one of my own, or one loaned by the bass player. I like to write on the bass, and recently I have written more on the bass than on the guitar."
Great heavy metal riffs aren't enough. Fisher knew that balance was essential. The bass may not always be prominent in heavy metal. However it is an essential component.
You know the saying 'two's company, threes a crowd'? Not so in heavy metal. Satyricon and Alcest might only contain two members but they aren't duos, they both tour and record with a variety of instruments and musicians beyond vox/guitar and drums. Pop and rock have a far better track record producing respectable output from duos with Local H, The Black Keys, and The White Stripes offering meaningful content.
To prove the point, another member of a noisy heavy metal duo, Okoi Jones from Bölzer, joins the party for the title track. You'd have to be a fan of both bands to decipher where Hanno's contribution begins and Jones's contribution ends. Or is it vice versa? Like Jones's efforts in Bölzer, Hanno's vocals are a mess. If you want to be yelled at, constantly and with barely a trace of melody, I suggest you visit Australia Fair shopping centre on the Gold Coast on a Saturday rather than listen to The Spell.
To top things off, the morose looking greyscale bat-boy the band chose for the album artwork looks like he stumbled out of illustrator John Craig's scenescapes accompanying the Smashing Pumpkins era-defining Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (95). No wonder he's so sullen...
EPs like The Spell serve as a reminder that Martin Eric Ain was far more than a wing man in Celtic frost. Ain wrote lyrics. Ain's bass guitar put the plutonium heaviness into Hellhammer and 'Frost's sound, and he was more than likely the bloke that said "I wouldn't do that if I were you" to Fisher when the concept for Cold Lake (88) was first pitched. Ain certainly didn't stick around for the recording of the much maligned album or appear in the truly bizarre 'pubis prominent' photos accompanying the albums sleeve. (Disclaimer- I love that record but I'm trying to prove a point here...)
Nuclear Blast have signed some stunning talent. The Charm the Fury, Emmure, The Doomsday Kingdom, Memoriam, Pallbearer... I could go on.