Ugly. That’s the first word that comes to mind when listening to this record. Metal, especially the extreme end of the spectrum, has traditionally been a conventionally ugly form of music. Untrained ears might hear nothing but abrasive noise when listening to an album like Death Mask from Chicago-based blackened doom noise quartet Lord Mantis. They’re often defined popularly as a “sludge” band but their label, Profound Lore, has publicly denounced that label for their music.
It’s understandable though, as so-called “sludge metal” (think heavier, more abrasive doom with harsher vocals for the uninitiated) has been moving away from the old gods in Neurosis and Eyehategod into modern day sludge bands filled with non-threatening looking dudes who seem to be focused on tone over riffs. Lord Mantis is not one of those bands. They look like guys who have seen some shit during their lives and their music reflects that. Plus, and this can’t be said enough, they know how to write riffs!
The album has a real suffocating atmosphere. There’s nothing in the songs that you can cling to once stuff starts to get nasty, which fits nicely into their motus operandi. This album gives you the feeling of being in a seepia-toned, vomit stained heroin den in the midst of a particularly bad trip. Not that I mean that in a bad way…Adding to the dank, moldy atmosphere is the vicious, tortured vocals of Charlie Fell who also handles bass-duties for the band. I really enjoy the character that Fell’s vocals possesses. It’s a harsh shriek style of vocals yes, but it manages to be pretty distinct in its own right while retaining a jagged, rusty quality. The industrial nature of all of the elements on the songs seem only to add to the punishment and highlight the theme of the intersection between sex and violence. If not for the pounding tribalistic drum beats, sections on the album’s best song, “Possession Prayer” could easily be confused for a Power Electronics song in both musical tone and subject matter.
Lord Mantis is a rare band in this day and age playing the kind of music that they do. In a scene that can almost be described as prioritizing beards and pedals over riffs and personality, it’s nice to hear a band that gets to metal’s nasty core while creating something uniquely their own. A superb album of truly transgressive art and an example of beautifully ugly music.