The Spanish band Mentat belongs to the roster of the independent French label Boue Records, in good company of bands Drone Throne, Ives, Amort, Toad and Cemeterio.
Presently Mentat, from Valencia, includes two musicians: Marc Celma (drums, keyboards and bass pedal) and Javier Vivó (guitar, bass pedal, vocals and lyrics). The band had an actual bass player, Pablo Peiró, but he left last june 2010, and there’s no plan of getting one new. I’m quite fascinated by all this because Marc told me that he plays the bass lines with a foot pedal, while he plays the drums. And Javi plays guitar and adds other sounds with another foot pedal. Amazing …
The band started back in 1998 and recorded its first demo in 2001. However activity was stopped for a while due to tragic loss of the initial bass player, Quique Martinez. Their debut, eponymous EP was eventually released in 2006 (200 handmade copies done by themselves, long sold out). Their second album, Inerte, was out in 2007 by Parade Records (they still have some left).
During 2008 they worked on their debut full-length album “Amarillo Abisal” which was initially released by label La Crisálida Records as double LP. Later on the CD version was released by Odio Sonoro, Boue Records, Boue Fanzine and the band’s guys, in a combined effort (there are still vinyls and cds left).
To complete the info, the Spanish label Producciones Tranquilo Música edited in 2007 a collection of songs from different Valencian bands, in which they included a demo version of Mentat’s song “Vestigios de una derrota”.
Over the years between 1999 through 2001 several friends joined the band: Daniel Roig (visual projections), Fernando Vilella (oboe), Nicolás Sola (trombone), Lucas Puig (saxhorn), Antonio Arnau (percussion), Jordi Torres (guitar) and Pau Ferrando (viola). Subsequently other contributions came from friends Olga and Diego for electronics and cello.
Mentat’s style, fully developed in their debut “Amarillo Abisal”, is a heavy, dramatic to apocalyptic mixture of sludge, doom, progressive and post-metal with some contaminations from hardcore. These different styles are combined together with the sensitivity of experimentalists who also dare produce extreme metal sounds by further adopting unconventional instruments such as brass sections and piano.
I took a while in writing this review as for me this kind of music is not easy and needs, and deserves, the right time and mood for trying to understand and appreciate it.
A genre like sludge/doom blended with post-metal or in general experimental sounds is not a kind of music apt to be listened to in the metro or in a car or while being into a noisy environment. Apart from the first surficial impression, I personally need to listen to this music more than one time, in silence and with full dedication before building up a decent opinion.
The band’s name recalls those super-logical humans in Frank Herbert’s Dune. Such band’s name and an album title like Amarillo Abisal, or “abyssal yellow”, can’t be pure coincidences.
And the tunes, well, are not simple desert tunes …
The album includes 6 tracks summing up to almost one hour. The tracks are numbered by Roman numbers and ordered in an awkward sequence (XIII, XII, XIV, X, XI, IX). Titles induce uneasy sensations which will be developed by music: abyssal, chrysalis, irrevocable, the sky is closing, a landscape in yellow (flames?), vestiges of a defeat …
The six tracks are separated from one another but actually all of them taken as a whole act like rolling waves that bring you in and out from gloomy and oppressive atmospheres.
The six tracks share a broadly comparable structure. They generally start with a slow intro before entering the band’s style, i.e. sinister-sounding sludge characterized by bursts of wild distorted guitars alternating with calm, atmospheric parts.
Tempo changes are frequent and may affect instruments separately. For example, there are some particularly interesting parts where drumming follows rather fast, rolling rhythms while guitars slow down.
Guitar-driven parts generally develop according to down- to mid-tempo rhythms and are a mixture of sludge and drony post-metal. When the dirty sludge sounds and distortions prevail Neurosis come to my mind, whereas some dynamic, faster, airy parts remind me more of Isis (or at least the memory I have of Isis).
A feature in Mentat is the frequent use of slow, atmospheric parts, either used as intro or inserted into the long tracks. These slow parts are often very simple, like a single chord vibrating over a buzzing or pulsating background. But in some cases these “non-metal” parts are driven by a crystal-clear piano melody starting alone and then interacting with guitars in a crescendo, or else by brass sections. These insertions help in creating definitely strange but highly charming sounds and moments. These slow parts are either gloomy or melancholic and often merge into the “metal” parts in a smooth, almost natural way.
I may be wrong but these piano insertions are not that common. UK sludge-post metal band Flatlands used them, but there may be other bands adopting them. Cool …
Mentat’s melodies are, well, beautiful. The whole album doesn’t fit in the category of “easy-listening music” but the songs are catchy, in the sense that they are hooking. Mentat’s songs are complex, rich, well constructed and amenable to be followed more like in prog metal than in post-metal (where, I must confess, I sometimes gets lost ...). Melodies are consistent and not too overloaded by dissonance and disharmony like in post-metal or in other experimental genres. And they are pleasant.
This is probably why Mentat’s hour-long trip into their oppressive yellow abysses is not that “oppressive” and flows rather smoothly. The continuous but balanced shift in tempo helps in keeping attention alive. And the adoption of unusual but haunting sounds (with piano and brass section) adds further charm.
Vocals consist of bursts of harsh, desperate shouting in a post-hardcore/screamo style. For my personal taste they are a bit too monotonic, and I would like them a bit more Iron Money-ish, filthy or “rotten” like, for example in Llorah. But they are rather subdue or else rendered as softened relative to the other instruments. So the shouting is not prominent, it becomes an essential ingredient of the sound and of the uneasy sensations it is meant to induce.
Mentat are one of the bands from the raising and very stimulating underground music panorama of Spain. A vast majority of Spanish bands are involved into extreme genres such as wild, violent black-thrash and death metal, but Spain is home to several endowed and eclectic bands devoted to sludge and doom as well. Maybe it is something related to the dramatic, tragic features of Spanish history and culture and the roughness of the country, coupled with the warm, poetic sides of the Spanish character, but Spanish musicians are able to create some greatly emotional stylistic hybrids.
Do you need some names of bands? Well, try Aathma, Marasme, Monkeypriest, Warchetype, Lords Of Bukkake, Toundra, just to mention a few …
So Mentat are part of this creative, sonic turmoil. They share some features with the above mentioned bands but independently contribute with their personal style and some great tunes to build up a growing scene which deserves much more exposure.
Are Mentat “original”?
Well, maybe real experts in post-metal may give you a more “professional” opinion about this. I guess that mixing genres and devoting to experimentation in music may offer more solutions or opportunities for making something “different” relative to bands that stick to a genre. Obviously creativity is not just mechanically assembling things but also linking things together in a harmonic, and possibly agreeable way.
My feeling is that Mentat includes highly endowed musicians able to blend styles and sounds with an experimental attitude. They created some extremely heavy, oppressive, apocalyptic, emotional and involving music which, unfortunately for them, won’t win any Grammy Awards …
Review by Marilena Moroni (Mari)
Mentat @ Myspace