Mantar – Death by Burning, Ode to the Flame, The St. Pauli Sessions

Despite Mantar being praised in the german metal scene since their debut “Death by Burning” I’ve managed to overlook them for quite some time. They manage to create an amazing genre mix which really stands out at their live performances. Mantar is able to create a very unique atmosphere with only vocals, a guitar and drums. They are raw, they are unpolished and very straightforward. Don’t expect complex melodies or deep and meaningful lyrics – Mantar is pure hate and destruction embedded in a mix of black metal, post-punk, groove metal and a bit of doom and sludge. Besides their music, there’s more to Mantar. They communicate with their fans, they live for playing live and they are “living the low live” – whether it’s touring Canada and the US in ready to scrap cars or drinking beer in small outdoor community pools in the Austrian alps.

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Album: Death by Burning
Label:
Svart Records
Version:
Single LP, black
Album: Ode to the Flame
Label: 
Nuclear Blast
Version:
Single LP, black, 180g
Album: St. Pauli Sessions
Label:
Svart Records
Version:
1 LP, black, limited

Pressing quality and gatefold/sleeves:

This is going to be a bit tricky as Death by Burning and St. Pauli Sessions were released via Svart Records and Ode to the Flame via NuclearBlast. So there are other companies involved in the pressing process (GZ Media vs. Optimal Media).

All three records come as a single, black LP in a gatefold with a single sleeve. So far, so unspectacular. The quality of all the gatefolds is pretty much the same. The only difference is that Death by Burning and St. Pauli Sessions have a glossy finish while Ode to the Flame has a rough one.  Ode to the Flame comes as 180g black vinyl in an antistatic paper sleeve while the other two come in a plain black paper sleeve. The difference in weight is negligible. Death by Burning is slightly off center on Side B. I tested extensively if this had any effect on the sound quality and at least to me, it made no difference at all. The other two albums are perfectly centered.

Sound quality:

From this review on, I am going to provide more data regarding sound quality. I made some additions to my setup and am now able to record each track seperately to Audacity and export it to 16bit WAV format. With those recording I can measure the Dynamic Range of the release (and upload the data to dr.loudness-war.info) and analyze the compression via Spek. I’m still learning – so if my conclusions are faulty please let me know.

The good part right away: All albums are superior in terms of sound quality compared to streaming and their MP3 versions. I tested this with extreme quality streaming on Spotify with volume normalization turned off. Let’s take the opener “Spit” from Death by Burning for example. The original version has a mediocre FDR Rating of 8 but still sounds good. When you listen to the Spotify version afterwards (FDR Rating of 5) the drop in audio quality is quite noticeable. Even more with the MP3 Version which has a FDR Rating of just 4. When compared to the version on St. Pauli Sessions (FDR Rating of 10) you hear why FDR is quite important in Heavy Metal music and moreso with Mantar. Louder is not always better. With a lower FDR Rating the vocals disappear in a wall of sound. I looked at the songs in Spek to determine if the pressing was done with a compressed master. Fortunately this was not the case on any of the three albums. The differences to the Spotify version are surprisingly small though when you look at the frequencies. I included Spek analysis of the MP3 version below to better understand the differences. There you can nicely see the cut at 20khz.

Surface Noise is only audible on Death by Burning – fortunately this does not interfere with the music. Once the music starts you won’t hear a bit – even on the spoken parts. “Ode to the Flame” and “St. Pauli Sessions” are on par with good sounding heavy metal vinyl releases. “Death by Burning” is a little bit behind which is unfortunately audible. But you still have the option to go for St. Pauli Sessions instead.

The music:

As I alread wrote initially – I am a huge fan of Mantar and especially of their live shows. Death by Burning is as good as a debut album can get. Songs like “Spit”, “Astral Cannibal” and “The Berserker’s Path” make you want to destroy your next hotel room. Ode to the Flame comes close with gems like “Praise the Plague”, “Era Borealis” and “I, Omen”. I still feel that Death by Burning is a tad better. St. Pauli Sessions on the other hand is essentially the recording of a studio live session of Death by Burning with some altered transitions and slighty different song order. I’ll recommend this album mostly because of the higher FDR Rating. I still hope for a true live recording from a club to really capture the atmosphere Mantar creates.

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Live at “Metal on the Hill” in Graz, August 2016

Conclusion:

Mantar is a surprisingly simple (in a positive way) and straightforward band. No gimmicks, no complex compositions, no deep lyrics. And that’s what makes them so refreshing and stand out from the metal mass. I can wholeheartedly recommend all three albums. If you want the best sound quality available you habe the option to buy St. Pauli Sessions instead of Death by Burning. If you manage to catch a gig of Mantar – and due to them touring non-stop there’s a pretty high chance they are coming into a town near you – go. You won’t regret it. Although I’d recommend a club show instead of a festival due to decibel restrictions, awful time slots and whatsoever. And if you can – support those guys. Like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, visit them on Bandcamp and help spread the plague!

Up next:

A review of Moonspell’s recent reissue of Irreligious