MANTIC RITUAL’S EXECUTIONER – ALBUM OF THE YEAR SO FAR, SAYETH THE OLD FART
The Pittsburgh, PA thrash band, formerly known as Meltdown, have recently earned raves from the Godfather of Thrash, one Mr. James Hetfield*. That may be damning with faint praise these days, but the Metallica frontman is absolutely, 100% correct in his assessment that Executioner is the “Best Debut Thrash Album” of 2009.
I’ll go much further and stake my claim that Mantic Ritual’s Executioner is the best debut album by a band of any musical genre since the aforementioned Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All was released way back in 1983.
But how can an album that was originally released in 2007 (and re-released by Nuclear Blast with one additional track in March 2009) and harkens back to the glory(hole) days of thrash metal – circa 1986, with obvious reference points being Megadeth, Anthrax, Exodus, and, of course, Metallica — change the face of metal? How can something new that sounds like something old bring something new (not nü) to metal? Besides, it’s all been done before and these guys are just a bunch of Metallica wannabes, right?
Upon the first spin, Executioner does transport the listener to a much cooler era in metal with torn denim, white Reebok basketball shoes, jean jackets with Cro-Mags and Voi Vod back patches, and, especially, that first time you cracked open the plastic on the record sleeve of a little Megaforce Records ditty known as Kill ‘Em All. Indeed, at first it sounds as if this is Kill ‘Em All, Part 2; however, Metallica could only dream of making such a bad ass album as Executioner.
The early Metallica comparisons are first drawn due to vocalist/guitarist Dan Wetmore’s tendency to ape certain Hetfield vocal stylings such as the higher pitched screams and key transitional words such as “Alright!” and “Go!” There is also some riffage within that reminds one of Hammett/Hetfield and there are even lyrics that seem directly pilfered from the Thrash legends. Upon multiple spins, however, it becomes apparent that Mantic Ritual have a lot more going on than simply being a heavily Metallica-influenced band.
Solid songwriting is displayed on every track, with the added bonus of memorable musical passages and chant-able choruses, as evidenced in “Black Tar Sin” and “Panic.” Group chorus vocals appear sporadically, ala Anthrax and Cro-Mags, and guitar solos make proud appearances throughout the album. Reminiscent of Judas Priest and Testament, guitarists Wetmore and Jeff Potts string together ball-crushing riffs along with tastefully wicked solos. Drummer Adam Haritan (and lyricist on two songs) displays power and finesse, despite the seeming contradiction, and never overdoes it. He’s not about insane blast beats but rather knowing when to keep a steady, simple tempo and when to flail away with insane fills. Bassist Ben Mottsman holds down the potential chaos and shines on the cut, “Double the Blood.”
Lyrically, Wetmore spins graphic yarns about war, serial killers, and more murder. Not the most original of material, but it’s the perfect fit for the MR sound. He does toss off a few solid one-liners here and there such as “Face drenched death whips,” “Ammunition costs, but the murder is always free,” and “You could die by nature, you could die alone – But I think it’s better if you don’t die alone.”
There is not a single weak track on Executioner or a single dull moment. Seven-minute-plus songs such as “Black Tar Sin” and “Souls” never drag and seem to last only three minutes. Indeed, the only fault I have with this album is that I wanted more when it was over.
In today’s short-attention span iPod age, listening to entire albums is almost passé. And as an Old Fart with a job and a three-year-old daughter to raise, music has to reach up and kick me in the nutsack to truly grab my attention. If you don’t have it within the first minute, I’m gone. I don’t have time for crap (which is why I have only listened to Death Magnetic once and vowed to never listen to it again). I have probably listened to Mantic Ritual’s Executioner 30 times front to back, in the last week alone. As a matter of fact, I have not even listened to the other six albums that Vince sent me because I have been completely locked into this one.
Mantic Ritual has the potential to move metal away from the overdone, played out deathcore breakdowns, blast beat overdose, and Cookie Monster vomit spews that have dominated the genre for far too long. Their ability to display solid songcraft while maintaining a high-level of heaviness should win over any lover of metal. Plus, the added bonus of being able to understand the vocals, headbang to riffs galore, and throw the goat in your bedroom or a nightclub during the numerous solos should provide hours of pure enjoyment for headbangers everywhere.
Executioner is, unequivocally, the best album of 2009 for me and the best debut album in the past 26 years.
As a result, whether or not Vince and Axl agree with me, I give it an ultra-enthusiastic five horns.
(five out of five horns)
*James Hetfield has no idea who Mantic Ritual is nor did he single it out for praise. That comes courtesy of a mock press release from Nuclear Blast, yet provided me with an excellent jumping off point for this review.
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[Corey Mitchell writes books about serial killers, mass murderers, and the evil that men do. He is also the founder of the #1 true crime blog, In Cold Blog, and recently completed a road cycling century last month without keeling over.]