It’s no secret that Charlie Fell has issues. Anyone reading the few interviews he gave to promote Death Mask (Profound Lore Records), his last outing with Chicago’s Lord Mantis prior to his acrimonious departure from the band, won’t fail to be staggered by some of the personal revelations feeding his lyrical contribution to that album. Coupled with the tragic loss of revered drummer Bill Bumgardner in 2016, it was hard to see a way for the soul of this truly disturbing entity to continue forward: yet here we are with Universal Death Church (Profound Lore Records), Fell back behind both bass and microphone and re-absorbed by the nucleus of Andrew Markuszewski, fellow returnee Ken Sorceron and honorary fifth member, vocalist Dylan O’Toole.
For those who fully understand the appeal of such concerning, depraved music, the love is well and truly reignited with the Powerviolence of opener ‘Santa Muerte’, its incandescent hiss fed through vocal distortion and decorating a vicious post-Black landscape. The buzzsaw guitars of the ensuing ‘God’s Animal’ blend with that horror to leave a Thrash imprint which is embossed by howling leadwork and a staggered, sometimes tribal rhythmic structure that reflects the creativity this band has always possessed.
It is the vocal input, however, that largely characterised both Lord Mantis and sister outfit Indian, so it’s apt that this tribute to the sadly departed common denominator contains some of the most hostile, infected delivery yet. The screams of the hard-hitting yet often moving ‘Qliphotic Alpha’ are both hysterical and demonic, beautifully tempered by the electronic refrain of the chorus and complemented by the sinister pressure of the Blackened Doom template. The comparatively subtle opening to ‘Consciousness.exe’ still displays the distorted roar one would expect, but here a slow, automatic rifle riff and Gothic Indie jangle play with the mind: while the spoken word and acoustic bedrock of ‘Low Entropy Narcosis’ shows a further evolution of the usual sound, yet serves only to excite the senses and maintains faithful service to the pain within. The brutal expression of this angst is revisited in the more scathing, savage ‘Damocles Falls’, dictated by maniacal riffs, the titanic drumming of Bryce Butler, and vocal emanations which occasionally verge on the emetic.
The album closes with two eight-minute blasts of vengeful anger. ‘Fleshworld’ is a return to Blackened Doom degeneracy, rampaging riffs flitting in and out of bulldozing, lightning rhythms and Bosch-evoking howls, with a tolling mid-section the only relief: while the slow-burning, sax-graced closer ‘Hole’ is as filthy and sinful as its title suggests, but is so expertly crafted by Butler that Bumgardner would be proud of the ensuing tension which at times verges on the unbearable. To say that the return of Lord Mantis is welcome, is a little like saying ‘This Trump bloke: he’s a bit controversial eh’: for that return to be so effective, progressive and triumphant is enough to make one well up with joy, and revel in the utter antipathy of it all. Unclean and glorious.
9 / 10