Mannheim, Germany (while an important industrial center) is not somewhere you’d expect to be given the “chic lettering” treatment but here we are. MNHM (who are not, in fact, from Mannheim) play a weird blend of math rock and post metal, perhaps somewhat hinting at the industrial prowess of their namesake. Their sound manages to be both bright and oppressive at the same time and, while their previous release featured plenty of progressive wheeling and dealing, Of Empires Past wastes no time on subtlety or too much nuance. Instead, the album leans heavily on its musical haunches, continuously battering the listener with its chromatic (in the aesthetic sense) styling. As a last effort to convey the sensation before we jump into the thick of it, imagine being pummeled over the head by And So I Watch You From Afar‘s All Hail Bright Futures. Repeatedly. For about forty minutes. OK, now we’re ready to get started.
So, how is this, admittedly unique, array of sounds conveyed to the listener? The trick is in utilizing techniques common in post metal but changing the tones and notes which they convey. At the basis of Of Empires Past lies a very common post metal structure; first, the drums and bass are relegated to a “puncturing” role, constantly hammering away at the basic beat of the track. They create the abrasive momentum forward, the constant descent/forward motion into more and more sonic avalanches. The guitars are split into several parts; they all play a variation of tremolo picking and riffing just fast enough to perhaps be confused for such picking. The guitars are also heavily effect laden, often obscuring the separate tones into one gigantic wall of sound. To the album’s credit however, the production here is really good and helps maintain the cohesion of each guitar line.
The overall result, when you blend these elements together, is a pretty standard post metal creation. This is where MNHM have a trick up their sleeve, however; instead of settling for the usually somber and dark note choices common to post metal, they play in bright, major keys which lend the whole blend a sheen, a sort of St. Elmo’s Fire which dances merrily on top of the otherwise surging structure. Nor do MNHM relent; in true post metal fashion, this melange of sounds and approaches just keeps coming, singular in its pursuit like a ship cutting its way through a dark and stormy night (lit majors – don’t brag about getting this reference). The intent, we can only guess, was to leave the listener captivated within MNHM’s sound, wholly submerged in the never ending crash of chords.
Which is, naturally, also the album’s major weakness. While MNHM succeed on the most part to create this sort of entrapment, it’s not clear whether that’s necessarily a good thing. The music obviously has power and the idea at its core is fascinating but the overall experience of the album can be harrowing. While the novelty of describing a math rock album as harrowing is not lost on us, one is left to wander whether that novelty justifies the listening reality. Of Empires Past is certainly not a bad album; there are a lot of seriously impressive moments on it and complete tracks which do what they do very well. However, as a whole, MNHM’s approach to this release seems to have lost them more than they have gained; novelty flies high above their ship (no idea how the nautical metaphors got so prominent) and it certainly draws one in initially but the overwhelming insistence to stay the course can often leave the listener feeling alone at sea.
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MNHM’s Of Empires Past released on May 5th and it’s probably worth a listen for that gorgeous album art alone (and also for their approach to the genre). Go check it out!