Review Summary: Please remember, always laugh, never frown. It's only death.
Let me start by saying that I've never been a big sludge or stoner rock fan, but every now and then there are bands that manage to grab my attention, such as High on Fire, Inter Arma or Slugdge, and that's because they all have a hybrid sound, which feeds on genres that I'm close to. Chicago's blackened sludge perverts Lord Mantis are also part of this restricted group of bands. With three albums and an EP under their belt, the band has gained a solid reputation on the American underground circuit over the past few years, largely because of Pervertor
and Death Mask
which had a strong acceptance by the sludgy community, that enthusiastically embraced the band's filthy, chaotic style. Bringing multiple genres into its harsh sludge signature, such as black metal, doom, stoner or thrash, Lord Mantis has an aesthetic that puts them in a niche of their own. The markedly harsh vocals and the permanently raw atmosphere are the band's hallmark, and what sets them apart from the rest of the sludge pack.
Universal Death Church
marks the return of guitarist/vocalist Andrew Markuszewski and aims to keep the band's legacy alive, thus honouring late drummer, and founding member, Bill Bumgardner. This tribute manifests itself in the album's title and opener 'Santa Muerte', which is a reference to Mexico's cult of the dead. This song mirrors the band's more straightforward black metal side, already present in past songs like 'SIG Safer' or 'My Three Crosses'. This approach will only be repeated again in 'Fleshworld's' first half, which is the album's most relentless moment. This means that, as expected, Universal Death Church
isn't just an exercise in obscure speed, but a revealing of various raw and virulent intensities, which are shown throughout the album. Songs such as the acoustic 'Low Entropy Narcosis', which presents a spoken narrative, or 'Consciousness.exe', that revolves around a minimalist riff, both present an unusual side of the band. The cello in 'Fleshworld' or the saxophone in 'Hole', although unoriginal, also accentuate the band's interest in exploring new textures. In this sense, Universal Death Church
is the band's most comprehensive album to date, the DNA is still there, but the approach is slightly different, more contrasting, more 2019. Other moments that surprised me positively were the Mercyful Fate-esque vibe in 'God's Animal', which swings between slightly more atonal chords, and the melancholy present in the final sequence of 'Qliphotic Alpha', that strangely reminds me of The Stranglers' Golden Brown. Despite these new colours, the band's hard fans can rest assured, Lord Mantis remains and will continue to be the creature we all know, the vocals retain the usual uncomfortable roughness and the riffs remain dirty and sludgy as always. Think of Universal Death Church
as a safe step forward, with some new freshness, but with the usual bad breath.
Lord Mantis returns with a renewed union to keep the legacy alive and to honour the memory of one of their own. To this end, they have built a church with solid foundations, where we can read somewhere above the entrance:
Please remember, always laugh, never frown. It's only death.
RIP Bill Bumgardner (1981-2016)