Lord Mantis – Universal Death Church (Profound Lore)

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020
Rating: 8/10

We are now several years beyond the peak of the blackened-sludge scene of Chicago which Lord Mantis sat atop like a putrescent jewel. Death Mask was a decade defining release (though admittedly, missed out on making my top 30), though given its visceral…unpleasantness, it was unsurprising to find that the band essentially dissolved not long after. It is truly difficult to imagine a jovial working atmosphere going into a work like Death Mask.

Here we are though, now that 2019 has slipped into 2020 and some cleanup is necessary for albums that managed to miss being covered at the time of release. Chief among those is the surprise output of the reformed Lord Mantis, Universal Death Church. Though the assorted members have filled the intervening years with other pursuits (Slow Forever, among others) and this album is released almost parallel with Ken Sorceron’s main dish Abigail Williams, the DNA is protean and rank as ever.

“Damocles Falls”, a lead up track to the release, is a showcase that things have been refined but very little of the core sound has changed: the blackened, the sludgy, and a distraught vocal performance by Charlie Fell is in play (featuring, strangely enough, an almost rhythmic coughing). The song features a bleak melodic rise in its second half that belies a sense of decay that otherwise permeates. The blackened sees the focus with opener “Santa Muerta” but given its brief running time, it almost functions as an inverse introduction: flaying the skin away of the listener so that “God’s Animal” and follow-ons can effectively boil the remains.

There is a strident balance through most of Universal Death Church though the band leans heavily on the slower and more off-putting with the closing tracks “Fleshworld” and “Hole”. “Hole” in particular is notable for the interwoven use of saxophone throughout (that’s right, the decade of vengeance for the instrument finds a place of use even here). Unsurprisingly, there are no easy listens to be found here. It is suffocating and thick, an industrial edge at times present, a looming threat that never truly materializes but maintains a baleful look.

2019 had its sour moments much like the decade at large and Universal Death Church serves as a reminder to all of them. All of the personal darkness has to go somewhere. Fortunately, here it’s into a solid piece of work.

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