Review: Mantic Ritual “Executioner”

It’s simple to review very good albums and very bad ones.

If I like an album, then all I have to do is discuss the highlights and technical details. Reviewing a bad album is a bit more complex, since I usually try to support my dislike with evidence (poor musicianship and/or songwriting, lousy production, etc.) – but the reasons are all already right there on the disc. I just have to point them out.

A middling review, however, is a much bigger challenge … which brings me to the debut Mantic Ritual album “Executioner,” an album that is well-played, tightly-crafted, decently produced – and totally lacking in originality.

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Mantic Ritual, striking their best "Reign in Blood-era" Slayer pose

Mantic Ritual’s inability to break new ground isn’t unique. Rather, it’s chronic in the whole thrash metal revival movement of which the Pennsylvania band is a part.

Now, people will say the lack of originality is the whole point of the thrash revival – that it’s a return to thrash’s heyday, that “heavy time, from ’85 to ’89,” to quote Anthrax. If Mantic Ritual went all “Progressive Nation” on us, it wouldn’t be retro-thrash, would it?

That’s true. “Executioner” is not meant to be original: It is meant to wave the old Metallica/Megadeth/Exodus/Slayer banner while chugging beer and flashing the horns, just like the kids in “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.” In that, it succeeds very well: In fact, I’d say it’s the most successful homage to “Kill ‘Em All” era-Metallica I have ever heard. Did these guys get their start as a “vintage” Metallica tribute band?

 Everything about “Executioner” seems designed to mimic “Kill ‘Em All” and, to a lesser extent, “Reign in Blood.” Vocalist/guitarist Dan Wetmore does a pretty accurate young James Hetfield imitation, all the way down to the barked “all right!” at the opening of “Panic,” a song which bears more than a slight resemblance to “Metal Militia.”

I admit the comparisons are unfair, but I found myself thinking, “what band are they trying to sound like now?” as I went track to track. “One By One” has a Exodus feel with a “Four Horsemen” time change thrown in for good measure. “Murdered To Death” would fit very well on your iPod next to Slayer’s “Piece By Piece” or “Black Magic,” with Wetmore spitting out the lyrics like a certain Slayer front man you, me and obviously Wetmore know and dig so much.

Every track here sounds like the work of other bands. I didn’t notice any overt Megadeth or Anthrax references, but if someone were to point a few out to me, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Musically, the sound here is flawless. The riffs are solid if not exactly inspiring, the musicianship is tight, the solos blaze in a style I’d describe as Kirk Hammettesque and the drumming is frenetic. Wetmore’s vocals are well-delivered and the production sounds like Johnny Z did it himself in 1984. If you like retro-thrash, there’s much here you’ll enjoy.

The problem I have with “Executioner” is simple – I already own, “Kill ‘Em All,” “Reign in Blood,” and all the other ’80s thrash albums the guys in Mantic Ritual are emulating here. Having all of the original discs, I don’t need a copy, even a well-executed one.

Ultimately , whether you’ll enjoy “Executioner” will depend on your feelings toward the entire retro-thrash movement. Either you think it’s a welcome return of the old school, or it’s unnecessary copy-catting of older, better material. Obviously, I fall into the second camp, which isn’t necessarily fair to Mantic Ritual, but oh well.

From listening repeatedly to “Executioner,” I’m impressed enough with the musicianship to not write Mantic Ritual off entirely … but it’s obvious these guys are capable of a little more than slavish aping of their idols. Perhaps, with more time to perform and write, the band will develop its own style, or will at least rise to become something more than just the sum of their influences.

Here, decide for yourself, with the video for “One By One.”

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