[Click play above to stream Mangog’s Mangog Awakens in full. Album is out Jan. 9 on Argonauta Records.]
For those off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Maryland doom must seem like a curious animal. It’s angry, but restrained, sad, but grooved, melodic and still weighted down by a particular disaffection. Over the last three decades, it’s also become one of the longest-lasting and prolific regional sources for heavy output, and as Mangog‘s Argonauta Records debut album, Mangog Awakens, demonstrates, it remains a sound that is growing and shaping itself. As rigid as its tenets can sometimes seem in post-The Obsessed riffing and Sabbathian loyalism, there’s room in the Chesapeake State for a breadth of atmospheres, and Mangog take advantage of this while staying grounded in deeply human experiences of loss and betrayal on “Ab Intra” and “A Tongue Full of Lies,” and still having a bit of fun in a cut like “Meld,” which from its opening lines, “Your thoughts to my thoughts/My mind to your mind,” through the inclusion of “It is a good day to die” in the chorus was bound to win over my Star Trek-loving heart.
Granted that cut is a long way from “Walk in my shoes/Feel the abuse” and “Chase the dream then you die” from “Modern Day Concubine,” but it fits sound-wise with Mangog‘s straightforward, semi-metallized take, marked out by the rumbling basslines of Darby Cox (Major Company), the thickened riffing of Bert Hall, Jr. (also bass in Beelzefuzz, ex-Revelation, the snarl in the vocals of Myke Wells (ex-Final Answer) and the dead-ahead push drumming of Mike Rix (ex-Iron Man). In any case, a bit of thematic variety doesn’t hurt, especially when so much of Mangog Awakens basks in the emotionally grim.
Welcome to doom, chief. I’ve said many times over the years that repetition and that grueling feeling that sometimes emerges from bands in the style are key markers for doom, and Mangog do a fair bit to play into that, but from Mangog Awakens‘ opening salvo of “Time is a Prison,” the aforementioned “Meld” and “Ab Intra,” they seem intent likewise on finding a niche for themselves within the sphere’s overarching lack of pretense. “Meld” is shorter, but “Time is a Prison” hits seven minutes and “Ab Intra” tops eight, so there’s an apparent drive toward immersing the listener quickly in the album’s moody vibes, and if they haven’t already done it by then, the creeping start of “Ab Intra” assures the task is complete. Compare that to the ticking clock that begins the lumbering “Time is a Prison” and the sounding alarm at the end that still jars every time I hear it and Mangog are clearly pushing deeper as they go, but both “Time is a Prison” and “Ab Intra” rely on strong hooks to help get their point across, and that root of classic-style songcraft is important as the rest of the album continues to build fro this beginning.
“Ab Intra” is one of the three songs from Mangog‘s 2015 debut EP, Daydreams Within Nightmares, to be included on the full-length alongside “Of Your Deceit” immediately following and “Daydreams Within Nightmares,” placed here as the penultimate track before “Eyes Wide Shut” closes, but there’s no discernible interruption in flow between previously-released material, despite the band having worked with a slew of engineers — Jason Blevins and Mike Franklin, Mike Engel, and Drew Mazurek — on the recordings. The crawl-paced plod of “Of Your Deceit” might be preaching to the converted, but one wouldn’t accuse it at all of being incongruous in doing so. If nothing else, Mangog Awakens makes plain that the four-piece know the sound they’re shooting for.
Fine. The question then becomes whether they get there. From “Of Your Deceit” into the sub-three-minute tempo kick of “Into Infamy” and onward to the chug of “Modern Day Concubine,” the answer would seem to be yes. These are not rookie players, and while this is their first outing together in this incarnation, they sound comfortable in the mode of expression, going so far as to have Wells branch out a bit into a more rhythmic vocal patterning on “Modern Day Concubine” with just a hint of growl layered in. “A Tongue Full of Lies” offers more languid flow after that aggro moment, but has a build of its own that comes to a head in its second half, leading into the more upbeat shove of “Daydreams Within Nightmares,” the lyrics of which nod toward political turmoil — one might say “Into Infamy” did so earlier as well; both working in a general way relatively open to interpretation — as a choice riff churns around a hook that seems to reorient the listener moving into Mangog Awakens‘ final statement.
That comes with “Eyes Wide Shut,” which at 5:41 doesn’t touch “Time is a Prison” or “Ab Intra” in terms of runtime, but in its layered vocal harmonies — either Wells on his own or Wells with backing from Hall — and ultra-slow initial rollout punctuated by Rix‘s snare, it’s nodding enough to give the impression of being longer than it actually is and atmospheric after the fashion of classic Pentagram. Once again, Mangog bring their own stamp to the proceedings, adding a speedier, metallized bridge in the second half of the track before returning to the lumber to end out, not quite paying off the full record, but at very least assuring their audience there’s more to come. That may well be true, and at this point one might only speculate where Mangog might go after this “awakening.” What the band establishes, though, is the core of songwriting that will hopefully continue to be fleshed out from here and a strong awareness of where they’re coming from that will allow them to grow as they move forward.Argonauta Records, Awakens, Baltimore, Mangog, Mangog Awakens, Maryland