Huntsmen - Mandala Of Fear review

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Band: Huntsmen
Album: Mandala Of Fear
Release date: March 2020

01. Ride Out
02. Colossus
03. Atomic Storms
04. God Will Stop Trying
05. Pirates Of The Waste
06. Hill People Drugs
07. Bone Cathedral
08. A Nameless Dread
09. Awake At Time's End
10. Loss
11. The Silver Lining
12. The Swallow
13. Clearing The Sand

The natural follow-up to a grounded, compact, roots rock-influenced debut record is clearly to make your sophomore an expansive 80-minute concept album.

American Scrap, Huntsmen's first outing in 2018, took a sludge/post-metal sound and infused influences from Americana, both in the music and lyrics, to produce something quite unique-sounding. Songs about coal mining, Atlantic City and a Presidential address on the eve of Armageddon (the latter of which featured Aimee Bueno as a guest vocalist) demonstrated a focus on personal storytelling heavily based in American culture and history. On Mandala Of Fear, Huntsmen have aimed to be more "epic", crafting a story of a soldier wandering a post-apocalyptic desert, aided in part by making Bueno a full member of the group. When I first opened the album on Spotify and saw its runtime listed at 1 hour and 18 minutes, I was perplexed; American Scrap wasn't the sound of a band aiming for the grandiose. How would the band pull off such a shift in focus, and how would it affect their sound?

The first thing to notice from the opening moments of the lively "Ride Out" is a cleaner, more polished production this time around. There also seem to be more pronounced prog influences this time around - the clean vocal harmonies at the beginning of this song bring to mind 70s prog rock pioneers such as Yes more than Bruce Springsteen. Having two lead vocalists in Bueno and Chris Kang allows for interesting call-and-response interplay between the pair that works nicely in the lighter moments, which feel more "lush" and serene here compared with the stripped-down acoustic sections on American Scrap. The band is still capable of bringing the heaviness, with a frenetic, pummelling riff soon thrown into the fray on this opening track, and some frantic blasting on "The Nameless Dread". However, this aggression is relatively restrained here; instead, from the triplet gallops of "Colossus" and driving rhythms of "Bone Cathedral", to the slick bass lick dominating "Pirates Of The Waste", Mandala Of Fear reveals itself to be a groovier album than its predecessor. In general, the music here feels more expansive and brighter than the subdued and gritty tone on a lot of American Scrap.

There are quite a few treats to be found in the extensive tracklist of Mandala Of Fear, such as the energetic opener, chuggy "Colossus" and proggy climax "The Swallow". However, the simple reality is that this album did not need to be this long - whilst I didn't notice it so much on initial, less attentive listens, when I actually focused on the album, I really felt it dragging during the middle third. It's not quite enough to erode the goodwill from the strong opening few songs, and my feelings towards the album are rescued by the similarly strong ending ("Awake At Time's End" onwards). Nevertheless, I feel like at least 2 or 3 songs could have been easily removed from this middle section without really losing much; the stretch of "Pirates Of The Waste" to "Bone Cathedral" in particular sticks out as an easy way to shave 15 minutes off the runtime.

Two of the three tracks in that stretch are purely instrumental, along with a couple of other songs on the record; one has to wonder why there is such a substantial amount of instrumental material on Mandala Of Fear, particularly when Huntsmen took the effort to include the sorely underutilized Bueno as a full-time member of the group. She gets a few brief solo moments, but mainly appears as an occasional harmonizer on songs otherwise dominated vocally by Kang. In contrast, Kang gets to show off a range of different vocal styles, including what seems to be an artificially distorted scream on several songs, most notably and irritatingly employed on "The Silver Lining" (another obvious choice for cutting the tracklist down).

I also feel like the relative prominence of the Americana influences has decreased substantially from the debut. Instead, a song like "Colossus" feels like it takes more from desert rock than anywhere else, and "Atomic Storms" is a straight-up instrumental prog/post-metal jam, with twists, turns and an emphatic climax (including some lovely post-rock tremolo). The roots elements are still present on certain songs, most notably the downbeat "God Will Stop Trying" and soulful "Awake At Time's End", but not to the extent that they were on the likes of "Pyre" or "Canary King" last time around, and overall, it feels like the band have tried to move away from that sound, for reasons unclear.

Mandala Of Fear certainly has its merits, and generally makes for enjoyable listening. However, it does feel a bit like Huntsmen didn't get why American Scrap was well-received in the first place, and sacrificed a lot of their core strengths (Americana musical elements, grounded storytelling and a grounded tone) chasing something greater, leading to an end result that leaves a bit to be desired.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 7
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 7
Production: 8


Written on 22.03.2020 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 4   Visited by: 76 users
22.03.2020 - 18:04
This definitely didn't need to be that long
- I've dreamt of that for years.
- Dying?
- Running.

2020 goodies
22.03.2020 - 19:23
Written by RaduP on 22.03.2020 at 18:04

This definitely didn't need to be that long

For sure. When I had it on whilst working it just kinda went by, but when I sat down and paid proper attention to it, I did find myself getting bored in a few places. Main issue is most of those low points are in the middle, which really exacerbates the feeling of dragging.
22.03.2020 - 21:19
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Hill people drug and Funny you told atlantic city its best Bruce Springsteen song together whit the river
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
22.03.2020 - 23:04
Written by RaduP on 22.03.2020 at 18:04

This definitely didn't need to be that long

Just realized you might've been making a quip about my long review, in which case... fair enough :p

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