On November 22nd Profound Lore will release the first full-length album from Chicago based extreme metal titans Lord Mantis since 2014’s seminal and infamous Death Mask. Although the band would release an EP in 2016, Universal Death Church is most notable for two things: it once again features the vocal stylings of original singer Charlie Fell, acrimoniously fired in 2014 and secondly it is the first Lord Mantis release following the tragic suicide of founding member Bill Bumgardner, who also masterminded fellow Chicago misanthropes Indian.
Ahead of its release, in this article we will look back at intertwined drama of the bands, members and albums involved in creating some of the most seismic, important and misunderstood releases in heavy music, pay tribute to the late Bill Bumgardner and why the existence of this new Lord Mantis album is nothing short of miraculous.
Back in 2003 drummer Bumgardner would form the savage Doom/Sludge Metal behemoths Indian with vocalist/guitarist Dylan O’Toole and Ron DeFries. They would quickly make their mark, firstly with the EP God Slave (2004) and then their genre shattering debut The Unquiet Sky (2005). Practically the sound of a collapsing star, Indian wrought huge slabs of pounding riffs, welded them to unsettling noise, ambient drone, abrasive distortion, lurching motion sickness tempo changes and some of the most throat scrapingly, raw, evil vocals imaginable. Listening to Indian for the unprepared is something like having your head slowly crushed in a vice whilst rusty gears screech and scratch at your brain. To say that there is nothing quite like the impact they made is an understatement and they would go on to release four more full length albums culminating with For All Purity in 2014.
However by 2005 wanting to explore new avenues alongside this terrifying monster he had unleashed, Bill started the fledgling side project Lord Mantis. Joined by fellow Chicago deviant Charlie Fell (vocals and bass), a live vocalist for Blake Judd’s Nachmystium and guitarist Greg Gomer, they would release the EP Period Face in 2008 before being joined by Avichi guitarist Andrew Markuszewski for their full length debut, the critically acclaimed Spawning The Nephilim in 2009. Produced by noise master Sanford Parker, Lord Mantis was a much more blackened affair than their hideous cousins. More up-tempo, more gruesome, unhinged and depraved than the calculated wall of noise Indian would tread for a decade. This band was every bit as much a living nightmare, but grimier, full of unpredictable danger rather than the sheer menace of Bill’s other muse.
A second full-length album Pervertor would be unleashed in 2012, on it Lord Mantis simply doubled on the Black Metal aesthetics to create a gloomy, hostile masterpiece of an album. Parker, back at the desk gave Lord Mantis an immense sounding platform to wring their demented, sludge metal with a power and a vision that was staggering and hypnotic.
Internal problems between band members were starting to take their toll and saw Gomer part ways with the band. Tensions were mounting between Markuszeski and Fell following the singers spell in Avichi, as well as a building sense of mistrust between the band and Fell for his association with Blake Judd and the fallout of his 2013 arrest.
The incoming Ken Socercon (Abigail Williams), an associate of Fell’s (and occasional live drummer for Abigail Williams) was essentially walking into a war zone as the band dragged themselves into the studio in 2014 to write and record the follow up.
The band, in their own admission, were in the grip of bad circumstances and even worse drug addictions, yet still managed to craft their high water mark in extreme music, the criminally under exposed Death Mask.
Sabotaged by explicit cover art from no stranger to controversy Jeff Whitehead (Leviathan), featuring a transsexual crucified and stitching themselves into the titular Death Mask; a questionable interview in the press surrounding the subject of a blow job from Fell; lyrics with room for racial misinterpretation and the bands own internal conflict. What should have been their crowning (in)glory saw them implode and the departure of Fell and Scorceron following physical confrontations on the short-lived tour that followed the album’s release. Death Mask for all its greatness was essentially left out in the cold in the wake of its parents’ divorce.
Ugly words were exchanged in the press between Fell, Bumgardner and Markuszewski and bitterness crackled with shots fired back and forth, each side claiming credit for the album and shock at the behaviour of the others.
At the same time over in the Indian camp, the band stuttered to a halt after their career best album For All Purity. Collectively they seemingly ran out of vitality for the project, fatigued from the mind-set required to write and play in the framework of the bands ethos and ten long years at the coalface of such unrelenting extremity.
In a bid to wrestle back control over the band its founder rebooted Lord Mantis with the now available Indian pairing of vocalist Declan O’Toole (who had added guest vocals to Death Mask high spot Negative Birth) behind the mic and Will Lindsay on bass. They tossed sensitivity aside and in typically provocative style released the wincingly titled EP, Nice Teeth Whore. Although a solid effort, O’Toole’s calculated menace, whilst great in Indian and visceral here, just didn’t feel the same as the bug eyed, chaotic danger of Fell’s delivery and musically the band leaned harder on their black metal roots than the grimy doom they had perfected on their last outing.
Fell himself hooked up with multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder in Cobalt, who had in turn fired original vocalist Phil McSorely following a social media meltdown where the singer laid into several bands and scene members in a series of homophobic and misogynistic rants. The newly born collaboration saw the duet produce the Black Metal/Doom/Sludge/Folk masterpiece 2016’s Slow Forever, regaining Fell some of the credibility seemingly damaged in the post Death Mask fallout as this album scaled hitherto untold heights of darkness and unhinged brutality laced in Americana that is probably their greatest release.
Here it seemed that all would come to rest for the original incarnation of Lord Mantis, and then the unthinkable happened…
Bill Bumgardner unexpectedly committed suicide in October 2016 at 35 years of age, shocking all who knew him closely. The ripples in the underground ran deep and in a touching tribute interview on the subject of addiction, Charlie Fell would detail how hard this had hit the members of the bands he was in and the scene he helped shape.
Out of tragedy however, hope was born…
Fell, Scoceron and Markuszewski reconnected and buried the hatchet to collaborate in the name of their fallen comrade and the tentative seeds for Universal Death Church were sown.
This sordid, chaotic and potted history brings us to now.
Lord Mantis is seemingly poised to draw fetid breath once more and live again. Tomorrow we will look at Universal Death Church and see how this most unlikely of comebacks stacks up against the weight of the history that has gone before.
RIP Bill Bumgardner (1981 – 2016).
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden