I love when a band can combine different genres in such a seamless way that no single song can be defined as a specific type. It’s almost like creating a whole new kind of music. Italy’s Manthra Dei pull that off beautifully on their self-titled debut album, merging space rock, stoner rock and progressive styles into a psychedelic brew that will have your head spinning.
Perfect example is the 11-minute opening track, Stone Face, with its grungy desert riffing coming from guitarist Paolo Vacchelli, offset by the complex whirlwind rhythm play of bassist Branislav Ruzicic and drummer Michele Crepaldi. You already have something that goes beyond standard stoner rock here, but throw in some weird spacey effects and the pulsing, progressive keywork of Paolo Tognazzi on organ and synths and you’ve got a real powerhouse of sound on your hands.
And so it goes throughout the album, this perfect blending, from the heavy, thundering rock of Xolotl to the 70’s retroblast of Legendary Lamb (this track also featuring melodic vocal harmonies) to the reverent and stately organ of Urjammer. In fact, and no slight intended towards the other musicians who are all excellent, but it’s really Tognazzi’s superb keyboard playing that gives Manthra Dei its unique sound. The tracks are drenched in beautiful, acidic organ whether it’s the spacey effects laden passages of Xolotl or the energetic arpeggios of Stone Face, the mix allows the keyboard to shine and be the star through much of the album.
Things really and truly come together on the nearly 18-minute monster Blue Phantom. It opens with nearly 4-minutes of trippy, Floydian style ambience, all cymbal swells, sustained organ notes and freaky guitar effects, before it explodes into a swirling, delirious heavy psych jam that eventually leads into a very cool mellower passage with a mystical Middle Eastern vibe to it and a haunting melody that sounds like it’s played on a glockenspiel. Totally cool. The piece finishes with a mind blowing finale of crunching guitars, frantic rhythms and those sublime, arpeggiating keyboards.
The album’s not over yet though. The proceedings close with a gentle acoustic reprise of Stone Face, which makes me wish a little that they’d woven some of that acoustic playing into the other songs as well. Nonetheless, Manthra Dei, the album, is great from start to finish; an album that can unite stoner rock fans, space rock fans and fans of progressive music. There is much to love here and it’s well worth checking out.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald