The music of Lord Mantis does not deserve clichéd descriptions, as it’s far too rich, too textured and too important for an easy dismissal. Still, on listening to their 3rd full length, Death Mask (out April 29, 2014) the usual tropes immediately came to mind: ‘brutal; “punishing;” “Kvlt” (even though I’m still not exactly sure what that means), but as despite my wandering thoughts that led my imagination to some very dark, deep and yes, sexual and weirdly pleasant sado-masochistic places on the first listen, I was able to put a few coherent thoughts together to know that this album does not deserve the usual metal tropes.
The Chicago - based quartet also raises some interesting questions about music and how we consume it. My ego would like to think that I was an early supporter, having given their first album, 2009’s Spawning the Nephilim a glowing review in Metal Edge magazine (RIP). Sure the music was nothing I’d ever hear before; the rhythm section blew my mind, but it was the feel, the way that the band invoked a physical reaction that stood out for me. With 2012’s Pervertor the music was even more of a swirling, blackened cesspool of filthy goodness, but with Death Mask, it is not something that can be listened to with ‘enjoyment’ but instead with wonder and deep introspection. Vocalist / bassist Charlie Fell has put his blood, guts, semen and whatever other bodily fluid into creating not just another genre-bending album of blackened thrash with a healthy dose of noise, but a soundtrack for The End Times. With precise production from Sanford Parker who doesn’t gloss over the grittiness of their ethos and the recent addition of Abigail Williams vocalist / guitarist Ken ‘Sorceron’ Bergeron, Death Mask is a unique creation – a deviant, disturbing but thoughtful fragment of art that demands that you listen carefully and more importantly, lose yourself in the darkness of Fell’s mind. Noisey got a few minutes to ask him about the band’s latest LP, which features the track "Body Choke" streaming below.
It’s been a horrible winter in Chicago - well, in general. How, if any does living in Chicago, in relation to the crime, political unrest, etc; play factors in your music or lyricism?
I suppose it does; you can’t help but be influenced by your environment. Thankfully I dodged a bit of a bullet since I have been on tour in the South, filling in on drums for Abigail Williams all winter. Chicago’s an abrasive place. It’s just one giant ghetto with the worst weather in the States. Slander is a sport here. It’s inescapable and the whole place is out to fuck you in every way. I wouldn’t make the same music if I lived in LA and I think there’s a certain real life depravity and depression that the good bands in Chicago tap into that just comes natural from the desperation of this place. There’s no place like home: Chicago - Home Of The Strung Out.
My all-time favorite Lord Mantis track is “Hit By A Bus” off of Spawning the Nephilim. The second fave track would be “The Whip and the Body” from Perverter. What gets me every time is the swing - that rumbling, circular, swaying, lurching bass line that it makes me almost physically queasy - in a strangely pleasant way - every time I listen. In terms of the music composition, the early buzz about Death Mask is that it will be your bleakest darkest album to date, which if Pervertor was any indication, is going to be even more emotionally and physically punishing. Are there going to be any distinct changes in terms of the music direction on this album from your previous one?
Ha, “Hit By A Bus” -- oy, that first record was such a travesty. Musically Death Mask is more of a continuation off of tracks like “At The Mouth” and “Whip and The Body” which were the last two tracks recorded for Pervertor. We pretty much just go off the cuff; I feel that’s the only way to make anything honest, although there was a bit of vision in it. We used a lot more electronics on this one than Pervertor; though we have always done the samples and synth stuff, it’s just become more a part of the songwriting than an afterthought. All of us listen to a ton of old industrial and noise stuff it had a lot more of an influence on this album. You can get super dark textures with synth and it gives it a real clinical vibe, soulless. Ken joining the band brought some changes as well. The dude’s an ace writer and musician and brought in a melodic element that we have never had in the band. Dude also kept everybody from killing each other, which is also important.
Did you make any changes to your bass rig on this album?
I used my Spectre Euro Pro as usual then an Acoustic 370 for hi end and an Ampeg v4 with a cold war era Big Muff for lows. Live I use a Mesa 400 instead of the v4. Most the tone comes from the tuning which is GGCF.
Profound Lore is one of the most well respected labels in the underground heavy music scene. What led you to work with Chris Bruni?
Drew(Markuszewski, guitarist / vocalist) has been working with him for a while with (his band) Avichi and he and I met Chris a bunch while out with Nachtmystium so he’s known about Mantis for a long time now. He’s a friend and it was the obvious decision to work with him since he’s more than fair and is upfront about everything. We were with Candlelight before this and they were the worst people I have worked with. You literally can’t even get them to answer an email. They come off as just a bunch of fat lazy jaded morons. Another cup o’ tea please!
In 2013, there was a lot of public awareness about the issues concerning the Trans community. While Jef Whitehead is known for his provocative music and art (and personality for that matter) it can be argued that in a year in which mainstream media is becoming more aware of Trans issues, the album cover can be construed as offensive, against the positive awareness that is currently circulating. Can you explain, or if you want, dispel some of the controversy about the album cover?
I was going to have Bartlett do it again but there were some communication problems mostly on my part. Jef’s one of my favorite dudes in the world and knows my brain enough to pull off something fitting. Trans awareness? I had no idea that this was going be such an issue. I thought maybe the trans community would be pumped that they’re getting some culture points! I tend to watch people a lot and in that I feel pretty detached from being human. It’s like being in a monkey cage, you start seeing people for the animals they are; laughing, eating, smoking, dick sucking, cum loving, piss-in-the-mouth monkeys. It’s strange thinking of sex when you see it from and outside perspective; meat slipping into meat; female, male. It’s blurred. I think everybody’s half gay when you remove the shame.
When I was 20 I used to hang out at Neo a ton, it’s a Goth club in Chicago. I was there one night on a shit ton of acid as usual and I’m outside smoking and this pimped out SUV pulls up and this hot chick tells me to come take a ride with her so I get in. We start making out like immediately and stop at this light. She asks me if I like drugs and then pulls out this big crack pipe and takes a huge rip then she starts going down on me in the car, so I stick my hand up this chicks skirt and just get a handful of dick. My whole world just fucking crashed right there. That’s when I first started thinking like that, the whole detachment and seeing people as meat thing. So I just said fuck it and then blew my load in that dudes mouth. He got some young dick and I got a new perspective on the animal kingdom. Hope that explains something.
I’m thinking that Lord Mantis’s music allows people to release that side of themselves that if not restrained, would have the propensity to either self-harm, or harm others. Why do you think listeners would find some sort of pleasure in that?
It’s a way to break through numbness - to connect to something; and sometimes the only thing people can connect on is misery. In a way it’s a good feeling it releases you. That whole ‘give no fuck, throw yourself in the gutter feeling,’ that’s the main appeal. It’s what I put in so I hope it’s what you get out. I kill myself so you can from the comfort of your home.
You said in a previous interview for Pervertor that you watch people a lot, and that “everything we do is in some form jerking ourselves off.” Are you ‘jerking off,’ in relation to your songwriting? It seems to be resonating with a lot of people, as the bleakness is strangely captivating.
I write what I want to hear but it’s not an exercise in being “metal”. It comes to you from somewhere you can’t be fully in control of to write these songs so in that ways it’s not so much jerking off as more of being jerked off. We just happen to cum bleakness.
A previous version of this article contained a different headline which we have since removed.