Mansion, We Shall Live: Wake the Sleeping Preacher

Finnish six-piece Mansion base their work around concepts taken from the mid-20th Century Christian cult Kartanoism, which branched off the Lutheran church and was founded by and named for Alma Kartano, was noted for things like having heavily-abused child preachers, speaking in tongues, denial of sex even in marriage, and so on. “Kartano” is “mansion” in Finnish, and so the band Mansion make their debut with the We Shall Live EP on Svart with a strong sense of background in the history of this movement that at one point contained hundreds of people. I had doubts as to whether or not Kartanoism existed — there’s a Wikipedia page about it, it’s mentioned in the description of a book and namedropped on an ex-pentecostal forum — but even if not, that only makes the band more creative. Their frontwoman has also taken the name Alma, and joined by guitarists Jaakob and Veikko-Tapoi, keyboardist Aleksanteri, bassist Immanuel and drummer Mikael, Mansion proffers complex and memorable end-time heavy rock the perspective of which might best be summed up in the extension of its title: “We shall live/You will die/Lost in time.” The historical realism of the concept notwithstanding, it’s this point of view that really separates Mansion and We Shall Live from the slew of modern cult heavy rockers. Where a band like The Devil’s Blood preached Satanism during their time, and Uncle Acid are more bent on drugged-out murder idolatry, Hexvessel offer folksy nature worship on a vehement environmentalist scale and American groups like Castle, Satan’s Satyrs and Venomous Maximus run themselves somewhere between all of the above, Alma and Mansion are just as quick to damn their audience as to project an air of superiority. Some of that is vocal inflection, but I’ll argue it’s in the music as well and certainly in lyrics like the above-quoted or “Give is the names/Give is the guilty/So we may cure/Those that are filthy” from “Slumber Sermon,” the final of the four cuts on the half-hour-long EP. To the very core of what they bring to their first release (some Bandcamp digital singles seem to have preceded), Mansion remain loyal to their aesthetic and to their concept.

Where that might lead one to expect some element of the Kartanoist era’s music to make its way into Mansion‘s repertoire — some brass instrument or upright piano or such — that’s not how the songs play out. There is some organ to be heard from the synth and opener “Mother’s Burden” begins with a kind of humming drone over which Alma slips into resolute and dramatic tension, but We Shall Live remains a work of heavy cult rock. Those who had experience with The Devil’s Blood will find a few superficial sonic similarities, though Mansion are far less psychedelic than that Dutch outfit wound up. Still, Alma‘s powerful vocals on top of driving, chugging riffs like that which takes hold on “Mother’s Burden” are effective if true to (sub)genre at this point. By the time the release is finished, Mansion have developed a personality of their own within it, but especially with the underlying swirl the synth creates and the metallic hooks that stand out from “Mother’s Burden,” there will be those for whom We Shall Live rings familiar. Fortunately, as much energy as the band dedicates to sticking to their founding concept, they match that with the fortitude of their songwriting. Each of the four tracks on the EP — “Mother’s Burden,” “We Shall Live,” “Sorrowless” and “Slumber Sermon” — has both a standout feel and something that ties it to the others, making We Shall Live both an engaging first installment from Mansion and a satisfying front-to-back listen. “Mother’s Burden” breaks in its second half to choral layering and ringing bells, building back to a slower refrain of the chorus, and rides that rhythm for a while as a guitar solo takes hold, but draws back to the faster chug to round out symmetrically before giving over to “We Shall Live,” the shuffle of which proves worthy of the aforementioned Uncle Acid but becomes fleshed out with organ sounds and Alma‘s vocal drama as it works its way toward another slowdown and well-structured apex.

The last lines from side B opener “Sorrowless” — “We won’t pity the fool/Living like the devil’s tool/We despise the frail/We will see them fail” — further highlight the cultish perspective of moral righteousness in a world of filth, but it’s the thrust of the song itself that makes it work so well. Beginning similarly to “Mother’s Burden” with an introductory build from whence the track proper suddenly takes hold, “Sorrowless” is more straightforward, but interplay of organ sounds with the guitars, Alma‘s vocals and a firm underlying boogie in the drums and bass keep a sense of motion that becomes more pivotal as the leads, vocals and rhythm converge to a swirling point and drop to the crashing finish, which though it’s past the chaos retains the melody that has been central all along. “Slumber Sermon” starts out creepy with backwards cymbals and guitar and bass, stops dead and picks up forward, Alma entering with whispers at around the minute-mark. Kartanoism co-founder Tilda Reunanen was reportedly called the “sleeping preacher,” so presumably that’s the theme “Slumber Sermon” is working from, and its crawling otherworldliness would seem to feed into that as well. A doomed, lurching progression is met with layers of vocals and wails for the first three minutes, but from there, a riff that in another context would be straight-up stoner rock emerges and provides grooving release. On the sheer level of the transitions and shifts between tempos, “Slumber Sermon” is the smoothest Mansion have sounded yet, and they easily work their way back to the slower, crashes and whispers and wails to finish, rising somewhat as Alma scream-whispers the word “awake” as the last sound before the end of the song cuts to silence. Even in this last moment, Mansion are startlingly cohesive and able to bring their thematic to life through a powerful songwriting acumen, and it’s ultimately that sense of craft which is going to allow them to explore Kartanoism further should they decide to do so; the one acting as the foundation for the other. Wherever they go from here, Mansion have unfurled an impressively solid debut worthy of note for followers of the riffly arcane, and given clear signal that they may yet make sinners of us all.

Mansion, We Shall Live (2013)

Mansion on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records

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One Response to “Mansion, We Shall Live: Wake the Sleeping Preacher”

  1. Brian M says:

    This is amazingly creepy stuff. UNCREATION is an even better album.

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