Huntsmen – Mandala of Fear Review

Huntsmen was one of the best left-field surprises of 2018 with their American Scrap album. By mixing progressive sludge and Americana, they created a sound not quite like any other. The songs neatly encapsulated heartfelt stories about working in the coal mines, a tragedy in Atlantic City, and others, closing on “The Last President” which included a dramatic performance by Aimee Bueno as the POTUS who unleashes nuclear Armageddon and hangs herself right after. It was a potent storytelling format that was bolstered by strong riffs, earnest vocals and succinct songwriting. So it makes sense that Mandala of Fear continues in… Wait… Does that promo sheet say “85 minute double LP dystopian concept album?!”

Well, it did, but the promo I received only totals a mere 78 minutes, so something must have been cut. Of course, precious few albums avoid bloat when past the hour mark, and Mandala of Fear fails at this difficult task in monumental fashion. Huntsmen try to justify the album length by making the material far more expansive, both musically and thematically, with a grand apocalyptic war story, bringing Bueno into the fold full-time, and 5 sprawling instrumental tracks through the running time. All of which seems to serve only to underline, rather than prevent, the desperate need for a shave and a haircut this album should have received instead of the ‘more is more’ treatment it got.

Not that there is nothing good on this album. The performances are solid across the board, and when the bloat is contained the band still shows they can really pen a track both affecting and addicting. Opener “Ride Out” is easily the strongest example, with Bueno trading lines with Chris Kang’s smooth cleans atop an almost Queens of the Stone Age-like groove before the chorus hits with the devastation of a nuclear bomb. “God Will Stop Trying” is pretty effective in a low-key way, with a gloomy, doomy atmosphere. Furthermore, the production is pretty good, a minor improvement over its predecessor, with good balance between dynamic and impactful.

But more than anything, the more I listen to Mandala of Fear, the question I ask is: why? Why an impossibly grand concept that feels alienating and incompatible with the Americana angle? Why bring Bueno on board full-time and give her so little to do? Why diminish her share further with so many instrumental pieces? Why do the vast majority of those instrumental pieces still sound like they would have been better with vocals? Why push the album toward 80 minutes when you seem to have so little to tell? Why use so much of that awful megaphone-style electronic scream? Why did you go from writing such memorable and varied tracks to something so forgettable? Why did the band that made something as great as American Scrap make something as dull and bloated as Mandala of Fear?

The answer to all these questions is the same. Huntsmen have become victim of their own ambitions, losing sight of what made them great in the first place. Mandala of Fear was clearly supposed to take Huntsmen’s qualities and put them in a great, epic, all-encompassing storyline. But Americana is more suited for the small and personal stories that were front and center on American Scrap. Even Bueno’s nuclear apocalypse closer was from a personal perspective. Now the story ballooned beyond all reason, the songwriting followed suit, to make it even more epicer a bunch of instrumentals were added, and the end result is a giant, gangly structure that screams with talent but is far, far too bloated for any of it to hit the mark. An endless shame, and I sincerely hope Huntsmen will take a long hard look at themselves before trying something like this again.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: March 13th, 2020

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