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Madhouse Of Lords: Lord Mantis’ Harrowing Death Mask

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For some reason, in our school bus one day there appeared a car stereo mounted up above the front window. The driver was like, “Word, you can pop a tape in it,” so in went Fook, the third album by industrial supergroup Pigface. (I remember digging around for something less weird, still I waved off this bro’s offer of a Sex Pistols tape.) It opens with 45 seconds of, like, mariachi-dub that’s super quiet, so the driver kept reaching up to nudge the volume. But that track is a trick: When the real song finally kicked in at a deafening level, it startled the turds out of all of us — even me, and I was bracing for the damn shit.

And to know The Tale Of Pigface & The Car Stereo In The School Bus is to understand Lord Mantis’ Death Mask, this dark Spring’s great masterpiece in heavy music. I mean, one minute, me and my classmates were bouncing along our morning commute to a cheery but eerie loop, and the next our ears were bleeding as the sex pervert from KMFDM ranted in German about god knows what. It’s a dark trip and we weren’t prepared. There’s no preparation for Death Mask.

In other words, if the tape playing that morning had been Death Mask, and the bus filled with grown, jaded metal guys, the result would’ve been the same: This album, too, begins innocently, lulls a listener, then blam! total psychosis. In the span of only minutes, it goes from a pleasantly heavy riff (album opener “Body Choke”) to what sounds like chants, low in the mix, of “Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass!” (title track). In a matter of seconds, we’d go from “jamming” to “disturbed,” from headbanging to punching out bus windows and using the shards to slash our forearms, from hot-boxing by the fire exit to finding ourselves dropped at the curb outside fucking Jame Gumb’s house.

Even more than the best of the past two years’ métal noir terrible — including Lord Mantis’ 2012 classic Pervertor — Death Mask causes a chilling loneliness, the sense that the album ends after 47 minutes not because its statement has been exhausted, but because its creators had to bail and check themselves in to a clinic. Act one is intoxicated cacophony, a lurching splatter reel of psycho-sexual mania that you’d headbang to about as soon as you’d jerk off to Faces Of Death. But Death Mask quiets down in the middle via “You Will Gag For The Fix,” a Reznorian intermission that pairs with the dystopian dirge “Coil” to suggest what Gaspar Noé would’ve achieved in the director’s chair for the movie Wall·E.

Death Mask might not stick to the grim script; its finalé “Three Crosses” begins with a genre-busting note of resolution, of triumph (?), but that again is Lord Mantis’ way of fishing us out of the filth only to pin us down and burn us with coat hangers and shit. That is, it’s no spoiler to state here that “Three Crosses” doesn’t sound hopeful for long. In this way, Death Mask is in the Chicago tradition of Al Jourgensen, of destruction through immersion. It’s enough blood and cum to discomfit the Thrill Kill Kult, enough cruelty and suffering to make Blake Judd blush. And mostly, it’s enough real human sadness to make a listener wonder about his or her own connection to this opus of screaming pain, and to resolve to get some help, and to hope at the cost of another gem like Death Mask that the guys in Lord Mantis do too.

Lord Mantis’ Death Mask is out tomorrow on Profound Lore. Pre-order here

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