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Mammatus
Heady Mental Joe Banks , December 5th, 2013 13:22

In the early days of rock, it wasn't that unusual for a band to change their sound or adopt a new direction from one album to another. However, in 2013, with most bands happy to remain within the confines of their own particular niche, it's rare enough to call it out when it happens. So, Mammatus have indeed pulled a sharp turn in both sound and direction. Previously purveyors of muscular cosmic/stoner rock, sounding not unlike Dead Meadow pumped up on amphetamines, and with song titles such as 'The Righteous Path Through the Forest of Old', the band decided to put their "wizard phase" behind them and instead begin "sonic explorations of the electronic fury of the mind" (and yes, I am now quoting their bio).

While you'll have heard any number of bands make similar claims before (only to deliver a variation on the same old gruel), Mammatus actually have come up with something a bit different here. They refer to it (amusingly) as "Post Wizard New Mage Far Out Casual", but I'm going to go for super-charged blissed up machine-tooled space rock. It's proggy as hell and it's kind of metal, but it certainly isn't what you'd normally call prog metal.

Confused? Well, me too, particularly on first hearing this (pleasingly concise) album. Opening track 'Brain Drain' drops you inside a maelstrom of disorienting trebly riffs and high frequency drone, the double-tracked guitars harmonising at a point in the audio spectrum that, yes, does make you feel as though your brain is seeping out of your eye sockets. It's an overpoweringly weird sound, the metronomic drumming and gaseous vocals reinforcing an impression of 21st century krautrock generated by some kind of supercomputer; or, more prosaically, Iron Maiden meets King Crimson meets Neu! When the track decelerates halfway through, it sounds like music for a far-future Buddhist ceremony, cavernous yet robotic, before it rushes off again in a volley of ecstatic shouts that recalls Jane's Addiction circa Ritual De Lo Habitual.

After the air-ripped-from-the-lungs feeling of the opener, 'Main Brain' follows at a more sedate pace, its heavy/soft dynamic and strange quivering vocal suggesting an incantation to some alien deity. It builds nicely to a big finish, with a solo that alternates between high-speed Frippery and J Mascis-style squalls of wah wah.

But it's on the final extended track 'Brainbow > Brain Train' (yep, there's a theme) that all the elements of the new Mammatus sound really come together as a mesmerising whole. It takes the overblown, widdly arpeggios of Eddie Van Halen et al and turns them into glorious waves of sun-dappled guitar loops, math rock grown from fractal formulae rather than blunt equations. This is a wonderful passage that leads into a lovely Tangerine Dream-esque interlude accompanied by the chugging of a steam train and the tweeting of birds. In fact, this again puts me in mind of an alternate world version of krautrock, where the manic wig-outs and propulsion of early Ash Ra Tempel is combined with the later meditative, repetitive vibes of Manuel Göttsching's Inventions For Electric Guitar. But just so we don't forget where they're coming from, the final section of the track harks back to the grittier tones of earlier material – is that the riff from Budgie's 'Breadfan' I hear? – before blasting off through a star gate towards some distant celestial appointment.

I freely admit that I didn't know what to make of this album the first few times I listened to it, but like all the most satisfying music, there was something there that made me keep coming back. With its badly punning title and strangely disturbing cover, Heady Mental might not be about to usher in a new genre, but for those who think that the various components of rock have already been arranged in every conceivable configuration, I'd recommend they give this a hearing and prepare to be surprised.

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