The Contrite Metal Guy inside me has Mantar‘s powerhouse 2016 sophomore album Ode to the Flame on a shortlist for downgrading. And although I believe I was a little too generous with the scoring, the album still impressed greatly and I’ve been able to rely on the German duo for high-quality punk and doom infested blackened sludge since their stunning debut, Death by Burning, dropped in 2014. It seems the rest of the world is catching on rapidly, judging by Mantar‘s ever-growing stature and swelling popularity within the modern metal scene. Now, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze is in the can, along with a heaving load of anticipation for the all-important third full-length opus. Can Mantar continue their stellar roll and upward trajectory, or is their songwriting creativity on the wane?
Mantar is not ready to fuck with their system, instead choosing to stick fairly closely to their signature formula and lead-heavy, riff-based approach. And I’m absolutely fine with that, especially considering the band still sounds fresh this far into their relatively short career. By keeping things fairly uncomplicated and appropriately hard hitting, drummer Erinc and lead vocalist/guitarist Hanno are able to continue refining and subtly expanding their sound, without deviating far from their stomping, primal roots. After the delicate and ominous scene-setting opener “The Knowing,” Mantar get down and dirty in typically nasty fashion with the punishing rhythms and raw, blackened vitality of “Age of the Absurd.” They’ve penned catchier tunes before, but it’s a power-packed song nonetheless, featuring their trademark firm grasp of songwriting dynamics, headbangable riffs, and flesh piercing hooks.
The remainder of the album features similarly impressive standards and oodles of variety within Mantar‘s well-defined style and genre stew. “Midgard Serpent (Seasons of Failure)” rides an irresistible mid-tempo groove, punching forcefully and delivering one hell of a meaty wallop in their trademark seething style. The band’s balance between blackened punk fury and doom-riddled sludge is expertly handled, with the superb “Eternal Return” flipping modes effortlessly and potently. The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze doesn’t feel quite as dark or punishing as their previous offerings, though rest assured, there are still plenty of brutal jabs of aggression, while the mix of accessibility, heaviness, and sheer sonic girth remains an impressive trait of the band. Erinc’s sense of groove and always expressive, incredibly hard-hitting drumming style impresses again, while Hanno’s hateful rasp and bevy of hooky, swaggering riffs remains Mantar‘s lifeblood. “Obey the Obscene” is a particularly vicious cut, offering a tough, confrontational battering, strong grooves, and wisps of melody, the elements forming a mighty and memorable whole.
At 12 tracks and nearly 50 minutes of material on offer, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze feels a little bloated, though thankfully the song-to-song quality generally remains quite steady, with no notable lags, just a bit of shaving from time to time could have tightened the final product. Overall, the album offers a solid mix of very good songs with smatterings of greatness and an ample supply of nasty, memorable, and muscular riffs. Meanwhile, the destructive one-two punch of closing tracks “Teeth of the Sea” and the devastatingly spiteful “The Funeral” wraps the album up with no shortage of forward momentum. On the production front, Mantar sounds heftier, sharper and cleaner than ever before, though I miss some of the rougher sonic edges and would prefer a less squashed mastering job. Nevertheless, the production is serviceable and Mantar manage to pull off sounding like a band of four or five individuals in the heaviness stakes, an ever impressive feat from the dynamic duo.
While I’ve enjoyed my time with The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze and expect to get plenty of mileage out of another quality and accomplished Mantar recording, the hooks haven’t sunk in as deeply as the bulk of material from their previous two LP’s. Perhaps more time will change this view. But despite my minor reservations, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze is another rocking album and doesn’t feel like a letdown or misstep in any way. Mantar remain a consistently impressive and towering force in the modern metal market, worthy of praise and their deservedly growing profile.