The return of my hometown heroes, Lord Mantis, is one of the things I was most looking forward to this year. This is a band that absolutely thrives on negativity, with their previous two albums (2014’s Death Mask and 2012’s Pervertor) being two of the most caustic and hateful albums released in recent memory. And now the band has returned after a short breakup, fresh off the heels of founding drummer Bill Bumgardner’s suicide and a high profile hit piece from The AV Club addressing Nazis in metal (which do exist and should be eradicated) that led with a long screed against frontman Charlie Fell, who has precisely zero Nazi ties and whose only crime was doing the art for Death Mask, which the author of said hit piece completely misinterpreted as transphobic (Charlie was very clear that the dead trans person on the cover was a reflection of his own (very obvious) self-hatred and confused identity, but fact-checking is for squares I guess). So if Lord Mantis is a band that is at their best when caught in a swirling mire of aimless disgust and misery, the stars couldn’t possibly have aligned any better than they did just in time for Universal Death Church.
Lord Mantis have a pretty distinct style already, melding mega hateful black metal with brutally despondent sludge, and they’ve upped the ante this time around by adding in even the even more abrasive elements crawling doom riffs, and Godflesh styled thudding and scratching industrial. The problem I have with this is that I think they upped the ante with a bit of an unremarkable hand, because now they’re mixing in more and more elements that they merely toyed with in the past and as a result wound up with an album that isn’t necessarily unfocused or incoherent, but nonetheless drifting away from their previous strengths.
A track like “Low Entropy Narcosis” is purely acoustic strumming with weird OOMPF noises punctuated in over spoken word, and “Qliphotic Alpha” is loaded with doom riffs, and the latter track is actually a highlight of the album I’d say, it’s just… different for the most part. I’m not gonna say “they changed it, so it sucks” because I’m not a child, but it’s kind of weird for the lion’s share of the album to be an approach that fans aren’t exactly familiar with. “Santa Muerte” is an incredible opener, almost purely black metal with Fell’s insane shrieking vocals sounding like he’s trying to stave off an impending heroin overdose by chainsmoking and sticking his hand in a meat grinder, and “Fleshworld” is much in the same vein of blisteringly venomous black metal like the band has done so well in the past, but these bursts of blast beats and hyper distorted tremolo were always just sprinkles on the band’s cake in previous years anyway. Those two and “God’s Animal,” which is similar but slower and rides on a surprisingly traditional-sounding riff, are probably my favorites simply because they remind me of their previous work. But, if I step back and look at the whole picture, I think the whole album works extremely well.
Lord Mantis has always been a band that was more about the overall feel and atmosphere over individually strong songs, and Universal Death Church continues that trend. Even if I think some songs in the middle fall kind of flat, the overarching atmosphere is exactly what I want out of the band. The feel of the album is like that of somebody writing their suicide note after shooting themself in the head. It’s a very raw, gory, nihilistic expression of dread and hatred, just like all of their previous albums, even if it’s less aggressive on its face. Industrial repetition and downtrodden doom are amped up to previously unseen levels this time. However, the acidic black/sludge mixture is still here in some form on every track, and not much of it truly falls flat besides “Low Entropy Narcosis” and “Consciousness.exe.” The album still absolutely soars on the strength of the feral blackness of “Santa Muerte” and “Fleshworld” and the sludgy gloom of “God’s Animal” and “Hole.” The atmosphere is still brutal and moldy, and really what more can you ask out of this musical equivalent to a crack den? Just be aware that old fans may need to be prepared to adjust their expectations a slight bit.
Also, the vitriolic refrain of “AGAINST! US! AGAINST! US!” on “Santa Muerte” is so distorted that it sounds like he’s yelling, “FUCK HIS! ARSE! FUCK HIS! ARSE!” and that’s pretty funny.
Universal Death Church will be released on November 22nd through Profound Lore and can be pre-ordered via them.