Composed largely of musicians from Extol‘s old line-up, Mantric took up the progressive mantle with technical fervor on 2010’s The Descent. They’re now back with Sin – one of those difficult-to-categorize modern metal releases. It has progressive touches and is quite technical, and has a strongly modern aesthetic. The cover art is the perfect representative of the music contained within: warmth and emotion in the middle, but enclosed by colder, detached technicality.
This structure works quite nicely, with a mid-section more revolved around atmosphere and a few hooks, bookended by songs which rely on their raw instrumentation to impress. It is thus a diverse and dynamic album. Opener “FaithFaker” and penultimate track “In the Shadow of My Soul” offer the most impressively technical riffs, with tasty licks to begin both. “Anhedoniac” falls into the middle and is highly compelling in its evocative subtlety, eventually layering to a grand conclusion. “Die Old” is also in the middle and is the most straight-forward track, with a verse-chorus structure which permits greater accessibility. This diversity at least ensures the album as a whole doesn’t stagnate.
Sin is best when interesting guitar-work is driving the record forward. The four bookending tracks all open with cool riffs. They’re technical without being overly wanky and transition frequently without straying too far from the core of the songs. Indeed, “Maranatha” offers a strange but excellent diversion, building with a folky banjo before continuing into electric guitar and populating the sparsity with other instruments.
Nonetheless, the vocals let the material down. They’re split fairly evenly between clean and harsh vocals, but neither stand out. The cleans are completely bland, lacking the energy present in the guitars. Even on “Anhedoniac,” where subtlety is favored, the passionless delivery undermines the good work done to generate atmosphere. The heavier vocals fair somewhat better but still just offer another layer rather than actually elevating the music.
Despite the aforementioned diversity, Sin lacks the development to reach critical mass; it lacks the X factor to make it memorable. Technicality can only go so far if the wider song-writing doesn’t do enough to differentiate Mantric and truly define their sound. The remaining unmentioned riffs could easily be interchanged between songs with little impact – there’s a lack of melodic intent to individualize tracks. Sure, they make sense when observed as a whole but they lack identity in and of themselves. The weak vocals are certainly a contributory factor in this.
Aside from “Maranatha,” the disparity between the technical and the atmospheric isn’t overcome. Mantric are comparable to such technical bands as Animals As Leaders, but where those guys are able to be unremittingly technical and progressive but also atmospheric and evocative, Mantric is one or the other. This feels like a half-baked album, where each aspect wasn’t given enough time to develop and improve. Sin isn’t outright bad, just utterly forgettable.