Lord Mantis – Death Mask (Profound Lore Records, 29 April 2014)
Lord Mantis – NTW (New Density Records, 29 April 2016)
In early 2015, the whole world was shocked and saddened to learn that Chicagoan misanthropic miscreants Indian were calling it quits. Maybe “the whole world” is a sight exaggeration, but for myself and everyone I know, it was difficult news — especially since it came just a year after the band had released what was unquestionably their best album to date.
But then that blow was softened a bit almost immediately after, when another huge announcement shook the metal world: that closely-related Chicago band Lord Mantis had parted ways with some of its members, leaving only founding drummer Bill Bumgardner and Andrew Markuszewski who had been the lead guitarist for nearly all of that band’s releases. Augmenting this newly depleted line-up would be most of the folks who had just left Indian — in addition to Bumgardner who had also been playing drums in that band for years, ex-Indian guitarist Will Lindsay (also a member of Anatomy of Habit) would be joining on bass, and former Indian guitarist/vocalist Dylan O’Toole (who has also appeared as part of the Wrekmeister Harmonies ensemble) would now be handling Lord Mantis vocal duties. And finally, rounding out the line-up by joining Markuszewski on guitar, Scott Shellhamer of yet another great Chicago band, American Heritage.
This shakeup didn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone who’d been paying attention to the goings-on surrounding Mantis; even in the press release for their last album, 2014’s Death Mask, it mentioned rumblings of turbulence among the band’s members at that time. And the new additions seemed like a perfectly logical choice, as not only had these guys all known each other and been friends for years, but Lindsay and O’Toole had each made contributions to the band previously, including guest appearances on Death Mask.
But now, finally, the result of all of these moving pieces has come to fruition, as the first recording by the new Lord Mantis is being released tomorrow — exactly two years (to the day) after Death Mask, the band’s own New Density will unleash the EP NTW. In this article we’ll take a look at the new EP as well as the album that preceded it. And for those who would like to learn more about how all these changes have affected the band from the perspective of its members, don’t miss this interview where they’ve answered some questions provided by members of Slaves BC!
* * * * * * *
Lord Mantis has always been synonymous with a scathing, abhorrent sound, with zero fucks given about their audience’s potentially delicate sensibilities. That’s such an ingrained part of what the band is about, no amount of member turnover or influx of people from other bands could alter that. But considering the strikingly similar aesthetic in those incoming members’ background, it should be even more obvious that no major philosophical changes were in store. To put it another way, I’d almost bet that the average casual listener, even doing a side-by-side comparison of the old and new material, may not detect any differences whatsoever.
2014’s Death Mask includes a total of seven tracks, averaging about seven minutes each, which are all filled with crunchy, downtuned guitars, drums that range from slow to very slow, but with the occasional abrupt flurry of blastbeats, and vocals that are typically like faraway howls of pain, although at times descending into more of a sickening gurgle. Grating harsh noises and feedback are constant fixtures in the background, contributing to an overall industrial-sludge-doom atmosphere.
The biggest impression I have taken away from this album is an overwhelmingly almost-inhuman quality — the whole band, vocals and all, sounds just a tad — uncannily — inorganic. I don’t know whether it’s possible for something to appear filthy and putrescent, and yet also simultaneously seem cold and sterile? But those conflicting sensations all emanate from this music — as though you’re witnessing something that used to be alive (or at least, partly alive?) but no longer remembers what it’s like to be alive, because some time ago the lifeless, mechanical part took control.
I have no idea if any of this even makes sense, but this is the general feeling of unease I get from listening to Death Mask. There are a few spots of brightness (comparatively speaking); the clean guitar and reverby piano that dominate the instrumental piece “You Will Gag for the Fix” almost show some signs of life (although they are set against some rather unnerving noises chattering in the background), and amidst all the hopelessness and despair of closing track “Three Crosses” the slightest hint of positivity occasionally seems to glimmer ever so briefly in the lead guitar part. But those moments are very few and far between; particularly in tracks like “Possession Prayer” which is full of mechanical-sounding percussion, and “Coil” where the vocals take on a disturbingly distressed robotic quality, the primary sense evoked here is one of oppressive and brutal inhumanity.
Fast-forwarding two years, the new EP NTW (a quick perusal of the title track shows that it stands for “Nice Teeth Whore”) contains four tracks, with an average length down just slightly, to near six minutes apiece. These range from the fast, frenzied, vicious, and intense opener “SIG Safer” to the slower and doomier closer “Final Division” whose tortured vocals spew more and more putrescence, getting more agonizing as it goes on until it finally and mercifully dies away. In between, “NTW” and “Semblances” maintain a fairly moderate pace (although the former of these does slow down just a bit, about midway in, after which point everything seems to be hanging on rather tenuously, threatening to fall into pieces at any moment).
Throughout all of this, the vocals — though they sound a bit distant at times — maintain the vitriolic and nihilistic feeling that both Indian and Lord Mantis had always been known for; the song “Negative Birth” on the previous album had featured O’Toole in the lead vocal role, and it seemed such a natural fit at that time, that it’s no surprise that this new material comes together as seamlessly as it does. I’ve heard that these guys are already in the planning stages of a new full-length, but this EP seems intent on making a bold statement: if you were upset after the dissolution of Indian, or if you were nervous about so many member substitutions within the ranks of Lord Mantis, NTW proves that all of those concerns are completely groundless, because all the best parts that had previously attracted listeners to both of those bands have been masterfully blended together right here.
* * * * * * *