Seeing the line “Featuring members of Extol” is a surefire way to get one interested in a band’s music. The Norwegian prog metal geniuses have always put out interesting material, so it only makes sense that the offshoot of the band would also be interesting. Enter Mantric, unsurprisingly a Norwegian prog metal band. Originally formed as an Extol 2.0 when the band split, they kept working on material similar to Extol, and the original band’s reformation without the members in Mantric did not affect them, as Mantric are now putting out their second full length album Sin. While Nordic progressive metal is almost always carries a cool sound and is generally intriguing, perhaps what made Extol so special was carried by the members that got back under that banner, as Sin is intriguing yet never fully reaches its potential.
What’s wrong with Sin? There aren’t really any egregious musical mistakes here. The ideas within are actually quite cool. There’s Extol-ish parts all over the album obviously, but that term is perhaps more apt than it is a throwaway descriptor. What that means is that while the sound is Extol-ish, it’s not really Extol-grade. That being said, this is not really a fair comparison, as music should stand on its own without being contrasted to similar artists, but when the marketing line for the album itself compares it strongly to Mantric’s brother band, it’s not easy to eschew this notion. Regardless, the music is within a similar realm but not identical. Mid-tempo progressive metal with some atmospheric black metal influences, ethereal clean vocals and the occasional muted shriek. Yes, that description seems pretty similar to band-that-shall-no-longer-be-named-in-this-review. But let’s move on from that.
As mentioned earlier, there are a bunch of cool riffs and sections on Sin. They’re not even sparse, so that’s not really the issue here. The problem is that these elements never come together to create a compelling final product, and within progressive metal, that’s generally a cardinal, well, Sin. Riffs that could be a part from Mantric’s fellow countrymen like you-know-who, Enslaved, any number of atmospheric black metal bands or their neighbors Opeth are stitched together, and they work, but the end product is less than a sum of its parts. Transitions carry no weight, songs have no climax or buildup. Another strike is that the riffs are generally repeated too much, and since they’re generally mid-tempo and they don’t really feed into anything else that comes after, they end up feeling lethargic and aimless. It doesn’t help that the best track is the first one, which makes listening to the album in sequence an increasingly tedious experience. It’s a disappointment, really, considering that the musicians themselves are clearly talented and have good ideas, but they just can’t seem to gather them as a whole and create a consistent musical narrative.
On the technical side of the music, there aren’t really any issues. The production is fine, not remarkable but not lacking in any way either. Some might consider it too low-key, but within the genre it’s appropriate, the sound that Mantric are trying to create isn’t supposed to be aggressive. If they were, the rather muted feeling of the guitar tones and the pulled-back vocals would harm them, but except for a few moments on the album that’s not their goal. While the choice of sound coupled with their songwriting makes the listening experience a bit monotonous, but the fault there doesn’t lie in the aural qualities of the songs, it lies in their writing.
Overall, Sin is a bag of unrealized potential. Mantric clearly have things to say musically, but they’re the progressive metal equivalent of a person who tries to tell a story but instead keeps going on long digressions that go nowhere and don’t contribute to the story, and ends with a non-climax that leaves the listener disappointed. In the hands of a better storyteller the same phrases could be turned into gold, but here they simply leave the listener let down.
Mantric’s Sin gets…