Lord Mantis
Death Mask

A fair amount of controversy has followed Chicago’s Lord Mantis upon the release of their third album, entitled Death Mask. The subject of art verses shock value has been debated at length, with frontman Charlie Fell in the firing line over the symbolic meaning of the disturbed image donning the cover art, created by Jef Whitehead. I’m not going to weigh into the topic too much here, as I’d rather hone my focus on the music at hand. However, whether it was the band’s intention or not, it is easy to see how the sickly depiction can be misinterpreted or taken out of context. Whatever the band’s motives it would be a shame if this risky artistic decision turns off potential listeners, because as tough a pill as this is to swallow, Death Mask is another stellar album and worthy follow-up to the outstanding Pervertor.  And amidst the controversy, the artwork certainly garners strong feelings of unease and repulsion, which in a way serves as a fitting visual accompaniment to Lord Mantis’ deeply disturbed brand of extreme metal.

Death Mask retains the basic stylistic elements of its acclaimed predecessor. Violent waves of corrosive sludge remains at the rotten core, interspersed with rabid bursts of unvarnished black metal. And it’s operating to their strengths that prove most effective for Lord Mantis during Death Mask, as when they dabble into more experimental territory, the album falters and loses focus. Death Mask kicks off strongly enough, courtesy of a pair of belting tunes in the shape of “Body Choke” and the colossal title track. Both these songs personify what Lord Mantis are all about and what they do best with their blackened sludge formula. The deranged, effects-laden vocals cut a hateful swathe through the dense assault, and the excellent drumming of Bill Bumgardner often livens up even the most plodding moments, particularly his prominent double bass work.

Yet amidst the ample quality present throughout Death Mask, consistency in the songwriting department is not necessarily one of its stronger traits. Lord Mantis’ penchant for longer compositions doesn’t always work to the band’s advantage and a couple of songs are guilty of being overstretched past their welcome. This criticism could also be levelled at Pervertor, and while it isn’t a major deterrent, tighter editing would have benefitted the exhaustive listening experience.  Sonically, the production is a little cleaner this time around, and while packing a sonic wallop, some of the grit and thunder from Pervertor has been slightly diluted.

The somewhat intriguing yet jarring industrial stomp of ‘Possession Prayer” has potential that is not quite fulfilled during its overlong seven minutes. Still there’s elements to this song that may be worth revisiting in more fleshed-out terms in the future.  While it may serve as a slice of respite, instrumental “You Will Gag for the Fix” is otherwise a dragging, momentum halting interlude; and  the shortish, doomy “Coil” is hindered by odd, robotic vocals and a drawn out atmospheric outro.

Fortunately the latter track is wedged between two powerhouse songs in the form of the two-faced sludge beatdown/black metal battery of “Negative Birth”, and the ominous crawl and savage climax of epic closer, “Three Crosses”.  Despite some underwhelming moments, Lord Mantis excels far more often than they stumble throughout Death Mask. A palpable sense of dread follows Lord Mantis’ every move, as they exorcise their demons through a filthy funnel of hateful sludge, blackened fury, and caustic groove.

Overall, Death Mask lacks the cohesion and single-minded focus of Pervertor, faltering through a combination of confusing experimentation and a disjointed mid-section. Flaws aside, Death Mask is nevertheless another harrowing journey into the bleak emotional cesspool and sonically punishing world of Lord Mantis, maintaining the band’s uncompromising and disturbed vision, despite failing to match the lofty heights of Pervertor.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
May 14th, 2014

Comments

  1. Commented by: Dave

    Good review. My only real issue with this album are those robotic vocals in “Coil”. Other than that, this album is great.


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