Franco Sesa played drums on the greatest comeback album of all time when Celtic Frost roared to life again in 2006 with their ground-breaking Monotheist LP. You’ll remember him from the band’s documentary, A Dying God, as an affable chap who leaves little impression. His one poignant moment is when he says that artistic integrity is everything to him; otherwise, why would he pursue music in a group that alienates ninety-nine percent of the global population? You’ll struggle to find anything he recorded from those glory days up until 2022, when Oath of Cranes appeared form nowhere. Joining him in his mystical doom metal adventure in 2023 is Tom G. Warrior’s right-hand man from Apollyon Sun and the final chapter of Celtic Frost, Erol Unala. The prospect of two former members from the most important extreme/avant-garde metal band of all time should make you salivate at the mouth.
There’s just one problem with The Unsung Mantras – its unapologetic self-indulgence. The vinyl version of this double album clocks in at seventy-five minutes. An extended digital version on Deezer, Spotify, Bandcamp et al has a running time of one hour and forty-three minutes. You should opt for the vinyl version unless you want nearly two hours of meditational doom metal to rob you of your energy and motivation. Scream Blast Repeat will review the shorter version for the sake of our own sanity.
Disc one is a clear continuation of the avant-doom Sesa and Unala explored in Celtic Frost. It could even sit in the Triptykon back catalogue. Opener, ‘Jivara (The Great Fever)’, mixes keyboard drones and sinister digeridoo vocals in the intro before Sesa thrashes his cymbals under the weight of ringing drop-tuned power chords. The layered assembly of spectral guitar noise adds atmospheric presence to the mix. This is not the doom metal of Sleep or Electric Wizard, nor is it the nautical approach of Ahab or the blackened sludge of Wallowing. Vocalist, Fabrizio Merico, grabs the microphone with a sultry Bauhaus/Christian Death mischief in his voice before switching to a masculine scream technique. You’ll hear The Ocean in the post-metal dynamics and might even identify a strain of Neurosis in the way the band use sampled dialogue in the sections that drop out to bass and drum intricacies at the mid-way point.
‘Rudra (The Superior Proposal)’ and ‘Yama (Sacrifice of Introspection)’ prove that long-form doom metal can be enthralling when transplanted to an Eastern setting. The former continues with the menacing didgeridoo vocals in the background as Erol Unala and Chris Tragianidis drown the mix with a cacophony of morbid fifth chords and sporadic high-register incursions. Listen how the latter uses Tibetan monk chants with captivating tom drum patterns and wailing feedback loops among the filthy guitar drones. You’ll find no reductive stoner doom in this philosophical realm. “I can’t find my way to live/ I stand in my way,” frets Fabrizio Merico.
The band’s mix of post-metal introspection with doom metal malevolence and Eastern traditional music provides them with fertile territory to experiment. The successes are admirable, but the failures are alarming. ‘Puja – Celebrate the Negation of Hope’ is a magnificent journey from post-rock to hard rock like Godspeed You! Black Emperor clearing the stage for Queensrӱche until the guitars leave their low-end settings and let the bass guide the way towards a sinister mantra chant. ‘Akasha – Everything Holy is Profane’ reaches room temperature after five minutes of whispered vocals and simple arpeggiated guitars and ends with the same emotional resonance as ‘Obscured’ by Celtic Frost.
But with an average song length of ten minutes, Oath of Cranes put themselves at the risk of boring the listener on The Unsung Mantras. They could have released a record of six tracks and trimmed the fat to rework the outtakes for a later album. Instead, they dump everything on the digital version of the LP and leave the pointless eight-minute meditation of ‘Kali (The Infinite Cycle of Transformation)’ on the vinyl edition as the penultimate track. Unfortunately, disc two suffers from a lack of focus and loses momentum as soon as the windchimes and eerie ambience replace the dominance of the guitars. Only the die-hards will find the energy to sit through the seventeen minutes and fifty-six seconds of closing track, ‘Sannyasi Mantra (Elegy of the Enlightened)’, with a determination to understand it. Yes, the elitist and misanthropic English narrator voice has its charms, and the female soprano sample fills the pockets of silence with great pathos, but the doom metal ritual at the nine-minute mark arrives too late to make an impact.
The structure of this album is perplexing. Why split disc one and disc two into two different dynamic extremes? Disc one has all the momentum; the second one has none. Asking the listener to devote seventy-five minutes of their time to this expedition is a certain way to lose their interest.
The underground will always follow the musical endeavours of ex-Celtic Frost members with microscopic interest, but you should approach this undisciplined effort with caution. Oath of Cranes show that they can compose songs on a par with Triptykon, but they can also leave you dumbfounded by their inability to edit their art.
Release Date: 21/04/2023
Record Label: Klang Machine Records
Standout tracks: Rudra (The Superior Proposal), Puja – Celebrate the Negation of Hope, Akasha – Everything Holy is Profane
Suggested Further Listening: Ahab – The Coral Tombs (2023), Wallowing – Earth Reaper (2023), Orme – Orme (2023)