Album Review: Mantra - 'Dreamland'
West London’s rock outfit Mantra have just released their debut album ‘Dreamland’ via Dine Alone Records.
Born out of the numbing experience of detachment that singer/guitarist Simon Stark felt whilst at university, Mantra was the coming together of friends who consciously decided to make music with the intention of counteracting the influx of songs without substance and meaning. Their debut album Dreamland oscillates between fast-paced pop-punk and more swagger-filled songs that have the musical intonation and dramatism of Muse. In making the album, Mantra worked with Tom Dalgety, who has produced for the likes of Ghost, Royal Blood and The Pixies.
Throughout Dreamland there is a sense of paranoia that is scattered amongst the songs. At first glance it feels as though ‘Cola Brat’ is an apology to another person, but the lyrics begin to allude to the fact that it is a lesson in self-loathing and not wanting to experience it any more – “anaesthetise all the pain I have caused […] why am I still here?” In a similar vein is ‘New Friends’ which leans to the more melodic/indie side of Mantra’s spectrum. There is an atmospheric moodiness in the air, that is all down to Richard Leeds’ barely-there bass and Rob Emms’ consistent drumming. Whilst the feeling of the songs are quite similar, there is a distinct stand-out moment in ‘Too Little Too Late’ which opens with the filthiest fat riffs that border on heavy-metal in the breakdowns. A theme that tends to pop up, lyrically is self-acceptance and observations on the world around you – “don’t you wanna be good? It doesn’t matter who you are.”
There is something about Mantra that reminds me of Biffy Clyro; staccato riffs, intricate guitar-work paired with the distinct annunciation of Simon Neil and simplistically poetic lyrics – “We grew up in a depression, I never knew how much it cost. We grew up to be nothing at all” are the impactful words that repeat in ‘Run Away’ whereas ‘Annexe’ is a little more pleading than observational – “I’m running out of time. Give me a piece of your mind.” There is a really clean rhyming scheme that comes with basic lyrics, but the driven pace of the instruments covers it up quite well and makes the songs feel like they have a lot more depth. Whilst ‘Russian Roulette’ has a beautifully hypnotic time signature that ticks away in a steady manner, it occasionally feels like an album filler that redeems itself towards the end as Simon screams “save me from myself.”
Standouts of Dreamland come from ‘Skinned Alive’ which is unlike anything that has preceded it. There is a huge drum solo for the intro and the layered guitars almost screech at each other in computer-game style riffs. In somewhat of a surprise, the album ends with a cover of James Blake’s sparse and mellow ‘Retrograde’. Instead of backing vocals; Mantra use electric guitars. The song steadily grows in aggression and intensity which makes for a fantastic interpretation. Overall, I would say that Mantra’s debut feels quite lived in, as though this isn’t actually their first full length release – which is always a good starting point.
Words by Tyler Damara Kelly