Despite being just a guitar and drum duo, Mantar still sound just as massive as their modern sludge metal brethren. On their third album The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, Erinç Sakarya (drums, vocals) and Hanno Klänhardt (vocals, guitars) continue their consistent trend of dropping an abrasive slab of blackened, crusty sludge every two years, all while subtly incorporating new shades of aggression and depth into the mix. The duo’s affinity with fire is a fitting backdrop to their sound; following Death by Burning and Ode to the Flame, listeners are treated to another soundtrack to an arsonist’s rampage ending with self-immolation on The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze. It’s a rage-fueled affair with plenty of smoldering timbers to grab onto before they crack and send you hurtling into the flames below.
Right out of the gate, “Age of the Absurd” makes it abundantly clear that Mantar have no interest with initial pleasantries. Klänhardt snaps the brief intro of “The Knowing” with a nearly anthemic guitar hook that rings out over Sakarya’s smashing toms and cymbals. As I wrote in my review of Ode to the Flame, the duo sound Kvelertak subjected to a rough de-feathering to weed out all the frills, leaving a rugged canvas to spread out the viscous sludge. There are overarching influences of black metal and some gritty punctuations of crust punk throughout, but at their core, Mantar are sludge metal band aimed at causing as much ruckus as possible. Even with the main melodic riff commanding attention on “Age of the Absurd,” the track still feels downright confrontational, and there’s never a moment on the track or the album that doesn’t feel like the band are itching to drop their instruments and dive into the mosh pit.
Even so, the melody Mantar employs is used in perfect relation to their heaviness so as to avoid sounding stale or one-note. Some punk-fueled chord progressions on “Seek + Forget” are bolstered by an almost prog-sludge guitar break that warrants comparison to Mastodon‘s pre-dad rock era. Further down the tracklist on “Midgard Serpent (Seasons of Failure),” the band fuses these two approaches to a sinister effect, as melancholic ambiance and riffing bolsters a dominant riff that collectively slams into the listener with no warning.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the album arrives with “Obey the Obscene,” which could easily pass as a Tribulation track if the band decided to experiment with sludge metal. The initial organ notes are jarring but ultimately intriguing, and they provide the perfect launching point for some of the most blackened material on the entire record. It’s a dynamic yet balanced track that adds to the continuously expanding portrait of Mantar’s abilities as songwriters. Of course, the band returns to their roots not long after, and they explore slightly new ground even within their typical style. “Teeth of the Sea” is an infectious cut that might just be the bounciest, hard rockiest song the band’s written yet. And on “The Funeral,” the band drops into the darkest pockets of the sounds they operate in to create a gloom-and-doom romp through moody, blackened sludge, which ultimately fades into dark ambiance as the album disintegrates into embers.
Mantar do exactly what they should have on The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze. Everything that made the band’s take on sludge noteworthy is on full display here, with all of its blackened shades and crusty edges adding the perfect touches to the band’s putrid sludgy stew. Yet, instead of resting on their laurels and repackaging what worked on Ode to the Flame, the band stretch themselves out into new but adjacent territory, capitalizing on opportunities inherently present within the genres and styles they call home. As such, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze is full of fresh ideas that ultimately feel familiar and welcome on repeat listens, the sign of a talented band introducing listeners to what they didn’t know they wanted to hear. Fans and newcomers alike will find a sludge metal album with plenty of depth and aggression to quench both traditional and broad tastes alike.