Review: Lord Mantis ‘Universal Death Church’

Yesterday I attempted a career retrospective on Lord Mantis detailing events that helped both fuel and undermine a band that, in a short space of time, greatly influenced the underground metal scene in Chicago and contributed to the shape of extreme music at large.

Lord Mantis ‘Universal Death Church’

To get a glimpse into the sheer force required in the (negative) birth of this album click here for a brief history of Lord Mantis.

Reunited after the shocking suicide of founding member Bill Bumgardner, key members Charlie Fell (vocals/bass) and Andrew Markuszewski (Guitars) settled their differences to come together, do justice to the legacy of the band, and pay tribute to their friend.

Rounded out by the returning Abigail William’s frontman Ken Scorceron on guitars, part time vocalist Dylan O’Toole (also of Bill’s other band Indian) and new drummer Bryce Butler (also Abigail Williams live stickman) Universal Death Church stands tall with the ugliest and most vital of any of Bumgardner’s bands releases.

Clocking in at 8 tracks and just shy of 45 minutes, their latest release for Profound Lore is Lord Mantis, as you know them, but somehow different. This is no celebratory phoenix from the ashes though; this album crawls its way shrieking, spitting and scratching from the grave caked in filth and full of hate.

Fell’s hysterical, unhinged screams dominate this album, snarling and raging like a conductor of an orchestra made up of homicidal maniacs. On penultimate track Fleshworld, the whole band are whipped into a furious maelstrom of churning blast beats, death metal riffs and hatred, the intensity of which is unmatched. This is the track that is closest to anything off Death Mask as it recalls the bludgeoning of Negative Birth in a savage statement that hammers rusty nails into anything pure, before collapsing into the sprawling epic closer of Hole with its downtuned droning.

However, let’s back up to the moment you first press play…

Santa Muerte lurches into life with all the grace of a death rattle clearly designed to show that Bryce is more than just a capable replacement drummer. Venom drips from every pore and even the melodic guitar run reeks of darkness as the track smashes passed in a high tempo blur and then in a flash it’s gone. While Gods Animal in comparison is almost upbeat with galloping drums and choppy riffs that have a gleeful energy at the start, sucking you in before the band drag you down.

This is no celebratory phoenix from the ashes though; this album crawls its way shrieking, spitting and scratching from the grave caked in filth and full of hate…

This is the most noticeable change in the band. Universal Death Church seems more alive and more playful in its approach. The savagery is still present and they haven’t lost a step in their ability to write tortuous, dystopian nightmares but there is a side that was missing or muted before – Qiliphotic Alpha for example is two halves of horror separated by a deceptively beautiful, but sinister solo.

Producer of choice, Sanford Parker, is once again seated behind the desk directing the traffic. Given his reputation for channelling abrasive noise and blasting it raw into your ears, it’s slightly surprising to hear that Lord Mantis in 2019 have a much smoother production than the work that has gone before. The black metal riffing almost hums vibrantly, the drums smash and every piece of the band has a definition and clarity that is unexpected, like watching a splatter movie in HD on a 4k TV highlighting everything nasty in glorious fashion.

Damocles Falls is every bit the vile sludge you would expect, complete with vomit effect vocals in the middle. Low Entropy Narcosis is measured, refined and almost tender like it belongs on a (good) Down album if the New Orleans crew gave themselves completely over to the kind of deviance and degeneracy that makes their troubled past look like a kids TV special. Consciousness.exe is almost Tool like, if they were put through an industrial mangle.

In addition to the guest vocals of O’Toole on three of the tracks, where the Indian frontman sounds as terrifying as ever, the album also features appearances from Pelican’s Dallas Thomas and Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont who lend their considerable talents for crushing noise and add further credibility to the sonic weight of the album.

Hole itself is almost symphonic in nature. By the time the eerie, unsettling samples of Bozo the Clown brings the curtain down like the band are laughing at you, on this most unlikely of comebacks, the feeling is not of fatigue but pleasure that will have you reaching for another spin.

Playing this back-to-back with Death Mask reveals a very different Lord Mantis. No, you’re not going to win friends putting this on at a party, but this is a sound of a band reborn and revelling in a new lease of life. Less grimy and not drowning under the weight of their own entropy and self-loathing, Universal Death Church feels vital, necessary…

Is it as good as Death Mask?

Who knows at this point? What I do know is that Bill would be proud and it’s worthy of carrying the name forward. Worship at the feet of the Lord.

RIP Bill Bumgardner (1981 – 2016).

Label: Profound Lore Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden