"Mantiis" is a masterpiece. I could just stop there and make that my review, but I doubt it would be enough to convince you to buy this album. I could tell you that musically the album goes everywhere you could imagine and does so effortlessly, and that it has moody melodies and lyrics. But an album like "Mantiis" deserves more praise than that. What I say about this album will not do it the justice that it deserves, but I'll give it my best shot because you NEED to hear this album.
It's not often that an album released in 2012 gets reviewed two years later. But when the album is "Mantiis" by Obsidian Kingdom, standard rules don't apply. The band released this album independently on their Bandcamp site in 2012, with a limited number of physical copies. They made the digital version of the album available for free. Unfortunately for me, and many others, the physical copies sold out rather fast. But I have been lucky enough to have a digital copy that completely blew my mind.
Obsidian Kingdom started its life as just another death metal band from Spain trying to find its way. Two EPs later, the band recorded "Mantiis" and threw away their old blueprints, thus completely reinventing themselves and becoming a truly progressive band. "Mantiis" is subtitled "An Agony in Fourteen Bites" because it is intended to be listened to as one piece. The tracks all connect seamlessly to each other, though some of them, like "Last of the Light" or "Haunts of the Underworld," could be listened to as standalone tracks. Still, if you begin with "Not Yet Five," you will find yourself 47 minutes later at the end of your journey.
"Not Yet Five" acts as a friendly invitation with its Steve Rothery-like guitar line against a Pink Floyd backdrop. "Oncoming Dark" is catchy with acoustic guitars and clean vocals, but then "Through The Glass" begins to bring you to Obsidian Kingdom's heavier, darker side. Heavy riffs, pounding drums and ethereal keyboards drive this track into "Cinnamon Balls" which, though it seems like an odd title, is pure melodic death metal with a wicked riff right in the middle of the track.
The band lets you breathe a little with "The Nurse," which feels like you're wandering through a dark alley behind a jazz club. How many metal bands use brushes for their drum tracks? "The Nurse" and "Answers Revealing" are really one piece, with the second track having beautiful harmonies. That leads you to "Last of the Light," which acts as the perfect summary of the previous six parts of the album - snarling vocals, heavy riffing and frenetic drumming yielding to a very calm, jazzy section (the brushes are back!) and a trumpet solo. Absolute perfection in every way.
The second half of "Mantiis" kicks off with "Genteel to Mention," which vocally reminds me of Midlake or Baroness - very rootsy harmonies. This is another track I LOVE and it's different from everything else you've heard so far, yet it still fits perfectly. "Awake Until Dawn" starts as a wake-up call of sorts. In case you forget just how heavy Obsidian Kingdom can be, sections like this ensure that you know what their roots are. But the band would rather change gears midway through it with a piano solo and synthesizers underneath. The vocal at the end of the track sounds like a missing track from King Crimson's "Lizard" album. (It's quite clear that Crimson is definitely an influence on the band. Since I love King Crimson, I obviously love that about Obsidian Kingdom.)
The amazing "Haunts of the Underworld" is next and is PURE progressive metal - the keys, the tight Opethian guitar riffs, a bass solo (!) and an awesome guitar solo. The instrumentals on this album, or even tracks that are mostly instrumental in nature, never feel like instrumentals because there is SO MUCH going on musically to hold your attention. "Endless Wall" revisits the onslaught that "Last of the Light" began and is relentless as well.
Next up is the song that is the first official video from the album, "Fingers in Anguish." This song makes for a very moody video. Very clean vocals against a bizarre soundscape make for a strange choice for a "single," but the band does not play by any rules but their own. "Ball-Room" is a real head-banger with a solid pounding rhythm. "And Then It Was" is the climatic closing section of "Mantiis." It has everything you need for a perfect epic ending: massive guitars, pounding drums and finally creepy keyboards.
When I started writing here I told myself I wouldn't give a 100 rating to any album I reviewed, but having listened to this album so many times and been left in complete awe each time I've heard it, it truly deserves a perfect score. I'm so glad Season of Mist signed Obsidian Kingdom so I can get my physical copy of this album. (Yes, I pre-ordered it with a t-shirt!) I hope fans of progressive music listen to Obsidian Kingdom and become fans of this great band like I have. It's rare to have a band that pushes itself to this level. It makes me excited to hear what they have coming next. Odds are it will be completely mind-blowing.
Do yourself a favor and buy "Mantiis." It is one of the BEST albums in a very long time.