Take your pick of pretty much any modern metal act and you’ll find it relatively easy to whittle their ‘trademark sound’ right back to its most basic composite parts - a dash of Mayhem here, a smattering of Slayer there, an entire solo lifted from Metallica’s ‘Black Album' and thrown into the mix with all the tasteful subtlety of a turbo-charged pneumatic drill set to ‘Obliterate’. And before you know it, the game is up and any flimsy pretence of artistic credibility is eliminated faster than you can say the words ‘copyright infringement’. Then there’s the intriguingly slippery, genre-straddling beast that goes by the name of Mantar…
Imagine, for a moment, trying to grasp the blackest, most viscously toxic of tar-like chemical compounds with your bare hands. That’s, roughly speaking, how simple and straightforward a task it is to set about tracing the precise reference points and origins of this brutal, genre-obliterating crossover act. Within seconds of listening to any feature of the band’s deliciously abrasive back catalogue, there immediately becomes apparent a bewildering multitude of influences and sonic energies at work here. Here, where great, gargantuan slabs of blackly reverberating bass and coldly immersive layerings of tremolo assume a crippling subterranean rumble beneath vocalist Hanno’s raggedly acerbic signature screams. Where pounding percussive blasts loud enough to level entire stadiums meet violently anthemic hooks audibly teeming with filth and ink-black depravity. Such is the volatile and fluidly instinctive essence of Mantar.
But finally, having spent the better part of the past decade relentlessly decimating eardrums with their blackly brutalising trademark carnage, the year 2020 gives us a rare glimpse into some of the key musical reference points that have proved instrumental in the making of the German duo’s current sound with this richly nostalgic round-up of ’90s cover tracks. And, true to the band’s curious and ever-elusive sonic identity, you’ll never guess who’s made the cut.
Intelligently eschewing the usual, prerequisite homages to the likes of Slayer, Maiden, Bathory et al, our beloved Hamburg-based wrecking crew instead elect to devote their retrospective attentions to the some of the most influential cornerstones of the early ’90s now-iconic alternative era. And though this particular stylistic avenue of music history may have utterly bypassed many a stereotypical, garden-variety metal fan (including the riff-worshipping scribe presently penning this review) there’s no mistaking the colourful vibrancy and bitingly acerbic edge that clearly characterises the era in question. Furnished with all the searing, white-hot aggression and blackly intoxicating depth you’d expect of this deliriously energised duo, every breathlessly frenzied millisecond of the playfully-titled ‘Grungetown Hooligans II’ abounds with the unmistakable sound of a band revelling in the music they intimately know and adore.
With its manically energised fits of abrasive riffage and riotous, rallying cries, L7’s ‘The Bomb’ makes for an aptly explosive lead-in to an unrelenting sonic assault that barely pauses to draw breath throughout its fast and frenetic 24-minute runtime. And yet, alongside the raw, scalding heat and immediacy that’s long characterised Mantar’s very particular variant of extreme music is an equally abundant sense of compositional intelligence and craft. Specifically here, it’s keenly apparent in the snaking, densely entangled fretwork and rhythmic, groove-laden contortions with which this 'riot grrl' classic has been generously embellished. Immediately thereafter, The Jesus Lizzard’s ‘Puss’ sees the two-piece delve still deeper into their inimitably dark and brutalising brand of sonic alchemy, revelling in fathomless layer upon layer of blackly turbulent bass groove. Elsewhere ‘100%’ displays impeccably sculpted elegance in the arrangement of its dense swathes of distortion-drenched guitars, while Babes In Toyland classic ‘Bruise Violet’ offers up synapse-scorching levels of deranged acceleration and caterwauling energy. But with its restlessly reverberating lashings of sultry, luxuriantly elongated psychedelia, it’s undoubtedly Mazzy Star’s broodingly hypnotic ‘Ghost Highway’ that comprises the record’s most compositionally absorbing highlight.
With each of these eight, hugely influential titles having been treated with the utmost meticulous care and reverence, ‘Grungetown Hooligans II’ devotes ample attention to preserving the various defining trademarks and idiosyncrasies unique to each respective artist’s original work. Richly imbued with all the scalding, wickedly abrasive energy and inky depth of character for which Mantar have fast become globally renowned, ‘Grungetown…’ is as lovingly nostalgic as it is audibly brimming with sonic freshness and originality.
'Grungetown Hooligans II' is out now via Brutal Panda
L7 - The Bomb
The Jesus Lizzard – Puss
Sonic Youth – 100%
Mazzy Star – Ghost Highway
L7 – Can I Run
Babes In Toyland – Bruise Violet
Mudhoney – Who You Drivin' Now
7 Year Bitch - Knot