German duo Mantar stormed the underground, cracking skulls and galloping to glory with their scorching debut album, Death by Burning in 2014. Fusing raucous black metal with spiteful sludge and doomy slogs, Mantar’s punked-up energy, fuck-the-world attitude and an abundance of primal riffs and gnarly hooks kept me gripped and hungry for more. On the back of the album Mantar deservedly scored a deal with Nuclear Blast for the anticipated release of the all important sophomore album. So with the big wigs behind them, can Mantar deliver on the considerable promise they displayed first time round? Hell fucking yes they can! Ode to the Flame doesn’t expand dramatically upon the solid groundwork of the debut, largely sticking to the blueprint that worked so well, but just like any successful follow-up to a successful debut, the duo of Hanno (vocals, guitar) and Erinc (drums, vocals) have upped the ante significantly in pretty much every department, strengthening their bruising formula and refining their skills as both songwriters and musicians.
Sounding even heavier and more intimidating than the already imposing presence they established on Death by Burning, Mantar go about their business with a confident swagger and full bodied conviction which they commit to each hefty, feedback drenched riff and earth rumbling rhythm. Mantar sure as shit know how to bring the heavy, and Ode to the Flame is one hell of a mean motherfucker boasting a dark oppressive streak, however it’s their supreme ability to mesh these raw, ugly elements with deeply penetrating vocal hooks and infectious riffs that sets them apart. When the band eventually locks into gear on opener “Carnal Rising” the buzzing, sludgy riffs could ground a herd of elephants. The song holds its own as a bludgeoning scene setter, before the excellent “Praise the Plague” gives a stronger taste of the high quality that is upheld throughout Ode to the Flame. Featuring a hard-hitting punch and groove, it’s anchored by a delightfully heavy blues-drenched doom riff which showcases Mantar’s superior riffs and catchy songwriting skills.
Mantar’s songwriting weapons of choice are relatively simple and effective, alternating between their rollicking brand of punky, blackened extreme rock and colossally heavy passages of sludgified doom. The pacing and flow of the album is more cohesive and consistent this time around, with each song carefully crafted, memorable and engaging, gripping from the outset yet revealing some surprising subtleties and melody within the band’s grim and thunderous assault. Dark, stormy and boasting great riffs and a typically biting vocal performance from Hanno, “Era Borealis” is a muscular and addictive gem, rocking an anthemic chorus and bludgeoning groove. “The Hint” takes it back a notch with excellent results, sporting an undercurrent of bleak melody and addictive hooks as Hanno’s seething rasp spouts despondent lyrics and the whole songs shakes with an imposing doom rumble. More upbeat, riff-driven gems like “Born Reversed,” “OZ” and the delightfully diseased hooks and dirgey breakdowns of “Cross the Cross” offer lively contrasts and powerhouse dynamics, as Mantar blast out charred punk-sludge juggernauts with riffs to burn. The two man wrecking ball bring the album to a crushing halt with the rugged sonic assault and muscular sludge-doom heft of “Sundowning.”
Bolstered by a fuller, meatier production, it’s amazing the sheer amount of sonic girth these dudes are able to muster, even if the end result is unfortunately brickwalled. This was a problem with the debut as well, yet somehow I find it less debilitating to the finished product than other similarly compressed recordings. The guitars sound huge and clear, full of bite and necessary heft, while Erinc’s tasteful and forceful drumming is complimented by thudding organic tones and crisp cymbals. Ode to the Flame was on a shortlist of my most anticipated albums of 2016 and after many repeat listens I’m more than satisfied with what the lads have conjured up here and in the mature fashion they have developed their sound. Aside from a less than ideal mastering job and the fact that the best songs set the bar almost impossibly high for the rest of the album, there are no obvious or glaring weak links holding things back.
Raw and bludgeoning and seething with pissed-off belligerence, Mantar still manage to write songs that are loads of catchy, rocking fun and. Ode to the Flame is a rousing success that finds the inventive duo playing out of their skins, taking their intimidating metallic hybrid to the next level and cashing in on their considerable potential to firmly cement themselves as serious power players in the worldwide metal scene.