When you think of H.P. Lovecraft’s intricate web of interconnected horror fiction canons and stories of cosmic horrors, what sounds come to mind? The nightmarish noise of Portal? The incomprehensible angular riffs of Dodecahedron? Perhaps even the nigh-unlistenable fuzz and feedback of Tetragrammicide? Well, if you’re Postcards From Arkham, it’s moody post rock. Postcards From Arkham are a young, four piece band from the Czech Republic, who offer a fresh take on the the old Lovecraftian mythos.
But before I go into any detail describing their sound, I feel the need to point something out. On Postcards’ Bandcamp page, they describe themselves as post black metal. Having listened to MANTA I can tell you that this is not the case. They may share black metal’s reverence for atmosphere, but there’s very little metal at all in MANTA’s DNA. Instead, ambient, dreamy post-rock with jazzy aspirations makes up the framework of Postcards’ sound, hough you wouldn’t know it from reading the song titles. “The Kvlt Ov Dream” is the band’s opening gambit, and it starts off with some ambient, tribal drumming before some ethereal whispered vocals make their entrance. Shortly after, we’re treated to one of the most metal moments on the whole album: intense blast beats coupled with harsh vocals break through the atmosphere to send a few shots of adrenaline into your system before the song promptly calms back down again.
“Owls Not What They Seem” offers some harsh vocals, but the vibe here is decidedly relaxed. Even when the song really picks up, it still feels like a dreamy post rock trip, complete with clean guitar and sampled sound effects. The “ambient acid trip” vibe is further expanded with the otherworldly “Leviathan.” Having a better-than-average knowledge of the Lovecraft mythos, I fully expected a song called “Leviathan” to be a monolithically heavy, dissonant slab of nightmare music, but once again, Postcards managed to surprise me. A synth-driven track, it features no downtuned guitars, drums or harsh vocals. It’s a sub-three minute track where a lady chats you up about alternate realities or some guff. It’s a pleasant enough track, if you’re into the whole airy, synth thing, but I’m left wanting at least a little more abrasiveness, especially considering what other artists have done under the same name.
“Wanderlvst” and “Dunwich Shaman” (If you’re gonna pull the V = U trick, at least be consistent, boys!) both share the same laid-back attitude, but go about it in completely different ways. “Wanderlvst” is a bright, curious, and colourful guitar instrumental that plays like a post rock best-of. It’s fun, vibrant and just a chilled out piece of music overall. “Dunwich Shaman,” on the other hand, is a tribalistic drum-led piece that’s darkly captivating. It’s mesmerizingly beautiful, ambient and full of mystery. While it’s not the Portal-esque noise I would have expected from a Lovecraft inspired band, after hearing it, I can’t picture a song called “Dunwich Shaman” sounding like anything else but this. They perfectly paired music with the title, and the result is enrapturing.
The penultimate track, Valley of Past Lives,” is yet another instrumental. Two instrumentals back to back was a bit of a stretch, but Postcards pulled it off in a way that worked. Three, however, is just pushing your luck. “Valley” is a vaguely middle-Eastern sounding affair that manages to conjure up some dark atmospheres, though it rarely held my interest for too long. Whether you chalk this up to the song being boring or the fact that it’s the third in a series of instrumental tracks, it makes no difference; it’s a track that doesn’t add anything to the overall listening experience.
Fortunately, the album ends on a high note. The most metallic track Postcards From Arkham have to offer on MANTA, “Her Cosmic Song” showcases all of the band’s various tricks in one slick little package. Starting off as a particularly harrowing metal track, the mood shifts over time as spoken word, whispered vocals, and some light ambience emerge from the din. Towards the track’s midsection, there’s an absolutely gorgeous swell as all the instruments move in harmony, and it’s my favourite moment on the whole album. Before the track fades away, we’re treated to some more rather nasty black metal, and it makes for a fine end to what I find to be a rather curious little album.
Poscards From Arkham are an odd act. It seems as though they can’t decide between being a post-rock band, a metal band, or a dark ambient act, and so they try their hand at all three at once. While this has certainly made MANTA a mixed bag, I found myself rooting for them the whole time, and I found a lot more to like here than I did to dislike. It won’t top any year-end lists, but it makes a fine companion to the late night sessions of existential dread that come free with your membership to the Indy Metal Lovecraft Bookclub. Will I return to it all that often? No. But when I do, will I enjoy myself? Absolutely.
You can find MANTA on Postcards From Arkham’s Bandcamp page.