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Artist: Mammatus

Album: Mammatus

Label: Holy Mountain

Review date: Jun. 27, 2006

Mammatus get their name from one of the great points of inspiration for hard rockers: the sky. But instead of borrowing from the known tropes of Greek or Norse gods, they take from a type of cloud, the mammatus, which the band describes as “the heaviest cloud found on our home planet.” These clouds form from downdrafts in the wake of cumulus clouds, and are characterized by dark pouch-like bubbles of cloud that seem to loom large and ominous over the world. They are, in fact, harmless, coming only in the wake of storms, a last reminder of the carnage that just passed. The name, and all its implications, fit the band perfectly.

A cursory listen to Mammatus’ self-titled debut album quickly reveals them to be in the same heavy, spastic psych as Acid Mothers Temple, Psychic Paramount, Comets on Fire and Green Milk from the Planet Orange. And at their most dense and crazy, they can evoke those groups. But most of the time, this album feels like generic and mostly harmless stoner rock. It’s certainly better than a lot of things spewed from guitars on the altar of Black Sabbath; the wank here (and let’s face it, this music is based entirely upon wank, with good separated from bad by whether or not the wankary has a purpose) is a cut above most, clearly honed and at least partially directed. But where Acid Mothers Temple use focused insanity, Psychic Paramount (and Laddio Bolocko before them) minimalist repetitions, and Comets on Fire a self-consciously channeled sense of history, Mammatus seem to only have riffs, reverb, and imposing album art. Each song falls within the well-defined tropes of heavy psych – the wailing, intertwined guitars of “The Righteous Path Through the Forest of Old,” the Eastern tinge of “The Outer Rim,” the spare wah-wahs of “Dragon of the Deep Part One,” and the slow burn of “Dragon of the Deep Part Two.”

Don’t get me wrong – each song is well executed, sounds good, and spares no heaviness, they just don’t seem to strive to expand the genre in any new directions. Like their nebular counterpoints, they are a reminder of the real storm going on nearby. But since hard rock has always been one of the most sclerotic musical genres, operating well within its boundaries is not a deadly sin. It’s much better to make generic stoner psych jams than bad stoner psych jams, and Mammatus makes generic to good stoner psych jams.

By Dan Ruccia

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