It’s getting difficult to find time for a long album in our increasingly transient modern lifestyles. We have become accustomed to digesting our music in bite sized morsels, a phenomenon catered to (and largely created) by artists and labels terrified we will suddenly lose interest and spend our clicks elsewhere. When was the last time you spent an hour listening to an album and doing just that? French quartet Mantra have laughed in the face of both the ‘industry standard’ and our short attention spans and released 67 minutes of progressive metal. It’s their second album and they’ve called it Laniakea.
RELEASE DATE: 21 October 2016 LABEL: Finisterian Dead End
Laniakea begins with ‘Dust’, not a song but sound design more akin to a film score that introduces us to the first of many strong prehistoric themes. An ominous echo dissolves into what sounds like a fire-torch, rain, birds and animals; thunder echoes and a hand drum introduces the first rhythmic element. This rhythmic element builds throughout Laniakea, pushing the listener forwards through the story. As we progress we feel the rhythm of a hunter’s breathing as he runs transform into the tempo for third track ‘Inner Cycle’. It’s this attentive creativity that makes Laniakea convincing.
Mantra focus heavily on atmosphere, their music is a visual experience emphasised not only by the soundscapes they use but the movements and contrasts between ideas. They’ve found a perfect balance between artistic expression and just laying down some killer riffs. Laniakea succeeds because of how well it flows, which makes the album a satisfying, immersive listen and definitely best experienced as a whole. Laniakea is a journey from ‘Dust’ to ‘Dead Sun’.
The musicianship is solid and retains interest with individual flair as well as collective groove. There are occasional short blast or double pedal sections but the complexity isn’t in the instrumentation, it’s in the composition. Mantra have shown restraint in their performance in order to highlight the essential aspects of Laniakea; the construction and manipulation of mood and atmosphere. Stand out track ‘Pareidolia’ is testament to this, with strong a groove and well considered arrangement. Vocalist Pierre is in his element opening up in his higher range. The truly progressive element to their sound is often achieved through his vocals and is most prominent in this song and ‘In The Wake Of Millions’.
It’s hard to listen to Laniakea and not hear the influence of bands like Tool, Meshuggah and Gojira, but to their credit Mantra manage to meld these influences into their own sound. The exploration of tribal themes, soundscapes, percussion and varied instrumentation transform what would essentially be a progressive doom album into something lighter and more interesting. In particular, the gorgeous piano part at the end of ‘Abred’ shows a band completely comfortable with the softer side of their sound and aware of the effect it can have on the listener. Elegance matched with heaviness; there is much beauty to be found on Laniakea.
Production quality is high, the mix is controlled and well balanced; instruments have sufficient space with the drums often being the centre of attention, but the guitars occasionally suffer from being too far away which takes the edge off some of the heavier moments. While the ideas are represented well, there could be further courage shown with a dynamic mix that more closely reflects the nature of the material in order to take Laniakea to the next level.
Overall Laniakea is a triumph. Mantra have produced an excellent interpretation of compelling ideas and as a result Laniakea is a complex and inspiring experience. As with any great album, repeat listens reveal layers of rewards and foster further appreciation of an exceptional, underrated band. I’ve never experienced such a short 67 minutes. It’s time for mantra to be noticed.