No agenda, no pretense, no gimmick yet never exactly presenting face value. — Bremen-borne and Hamburg actualized German sludge rock duo Mantar see their style as genuine folk artistic primitivism applied to a necessarily populist reality, a form of passionate sub-genre void yet song-oriented modus built upon the emotional and rhythmic spectrum of punk and the liberated soul of late 80’s/early 90’s ‘alternative’ heavy rock music. You’ll have to concede preliminary agreement with their self-assessment, any sort of lens tightly pressed to their frequent emphasis on songcraft reveals some seriously swinging-loose rock movement and stadium kickin’ beats are never more than an arms length away. The ravine between dichotomy and contradiction will tighten as we press on in gathering meaning from the band’s snarling-yet-catchy work but largely for naught, the end result of any too-close analysis or wrought consideration of their craft is likely stupor, dizziness caused by reading too much into that which is presented matter-of-factly: They’re a bit of a heavy rock band, raw and amped-up to a grizzled extreme sonic standard yet very much cognizant of popular rock music of a certain era and they’ve somehow managed to continue getting away with it on their own terms as this fourth full-length ‘Pain is Forever and This is the End‘ lands memorable enough.
Having never quite struck the hard rock bell in full this fourth full-length album in the space of ~ten years, not counting the just ok covers record (‘Grungetown Hooligans II‘) from a couple years ago, finally finds Mantar going there on Side A. Though it might read a bit like (early) Kvelertak covering Joan Jett on a few pieces, and not in a bad way, most of ‘Pain is Forever and This is the End‘ won’t alienate existing or introductory fandom in appreciation of a very heard-of evolution beyond what’d been leaned into on ‘The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze‘ (2018). This record will undoubtedly resonate far beyond their usual “general extreme metal”-soused audience, as they’ve long intended. But have Mantar made enough of a case with their songcraft to match the “songs first” spin on their gig this time around? Well, no, but they have iterated with enough personal/experiential insight to serve a notable enough, if not plainly logical step forth.
“Hang ‘Em Low (So the Rats Can Get ‘Em)” is the too obvious single and provides a strong platform for the greater vibe of the full listen yet it almost detrimentally sets up the expectation that Mantar intend to operate on such a rousing level of stadium-sized hustle for the duration of ‘Pain is Forever and This is the End‘ yet this is not at all the case. There is the sense that they’re -going there- and going for it on this song and the result is infectious, wryly mayhemic and such but with the exception of “Grim Reaping” this sort of quasi late-2000’s black n’ roll era Darkthrone toned yet Hellacopters-hot buzz of heavy rock camp sticks out as a bit of a fluke amidst fizzling attempts to keep the idea going and craft a full album experience. “Of Frost and Decay” can’t quite get the motor purring, “Walking Corpse” gets the carburetor bumpin’ yet stalls out without a working GPS to point ’em in any reasonable direction and the second half of the album ends up kicking at similar modestly developed hard rock beats and punkish riffing at sludge metal levels of sonic excess. Good for a “we’re not extreme metal” blackened/sludge rock band but nothing exceptional for a big label backwoods thinkin’ 90’s style heavy rock group.
Of course the more soured and somber the piece the more Mantar seem themselves, with second single “Odysseus” serving their not-at-all rock star selves in oversized rock star pants on a finale which doesn’t quite feel like finished business as it cuts out quick. The catchier black n’ roll pieces are all the more enjoyable for the sake of where the full listen eventually goes, such as opening buzzer “Egoisto” which single handedly makes up for their lackluster song selections for not one but two songs from ‘Hungry for Stink‘ on their covers album previous, slinging a nastier Big Muff-worthy riff at every turn. Things are golden in terms of building up the oeuvre of ‘Pain is Forever and This is the End‘ for the next few songs on Side A but as we hit “Orbital Pus” that momentum is interrupted by what I’d consider a filler track, a pause on the action which keeps my favorite piece on the album “Piss Ritual” from firing up as soon as it should. I can get on board but I’m getting off the bus early, more or less.
Angling at Mantar from the perspective of a hardcore punk and heavy rock fan who fell into heavy/extreme metal while simultaneously keeping up with early 90’s ‘grunge’-adjacent weird rock as a point of origin I absolutely understand the language this record is speaking, ultimately figuring its way through a best case scenario where a notion of dark, affected intensity matches the freed soul felt within songs written to matter and stick with the listener. In this sense ‘Pain is Forever and This is the End‘ bears some appreciable integrity in exposing more of their acts somewhat stiff heavy rock soul, a swinging-yet-aggro expression which is surreal in a satisfying way even when it is to the detriment of their greater accessibility. In a way the experience nullifies past efforts as a bit less focused and intentional in hindsight, prompting me to not dwell on the long walk it took to get to this point and this is more a compliment than a detraction from my point of view. All in all, the full listen eventually began to feel like a compromise rather than a breakthrough, wherein their choruses could be bigger, the riffs could be heavier, and only about one third of their efforts made a dent in mind. A good case made to continue catching the band live though not their crossover magnum opus realized just yet. A moderately high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Pain is Forever and This is the End|
|LABEL(S):||Metal Blade Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||July 15th, 2022|
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