With every gig, tour, festival and major release postponed/cancelled for 2020, musicians the world over are suddenly finding themselves with a lot of spare time on their hands – so what better time to give something a little different a try? The recurring theme currently appears to be sludge bands paying tribute to the greats of grunge; Thou’s album of Nirvana covers was a welcome distraction from a planet in lockdown. MANTAR have now followed suit with an album of their own, a far cry from the punk infused blackened sludge they’re best known for; ‘Grungetown Hooligans II’ is a collection of the German duo’s take of 90s classics, lifting tracks from L7, Babes in Toyland, Sonic Youth, The Jesus Lizard, Mazzy Star, Mudhoney and 7 Year Bitch.
If you’re expecting the likes of ‘Puss’, ‘100%’ or ‘Who You Drivin’ Now’ to stay true to form then you’ll be sorely disappointed – Hanno and Erinc have adapted each song they’ve selected to sound just enough like the originals they’re inspired by to be recognisable while making them entirely their own. The psychedelia of Mazzy Star’s ‘Ghost Highway’ has been stripped back to make way for a much more aggressive punk dynamic which lends an entirely new and almost threatening atmosphere to the song. Admittedly, hearing a man sing (or scream) the lyrics to L7’s ‘Can I Run’ (a song about sexual violence against women and rape culture) is incredibly strange – “Switch to paranoid from having fun. Will he use his hands, knife, or a gun? Knuckles are white, wrapped around my mace. Comes from living in a terrorist state.” Choosing this particular L7 track to cover was a bold move, however, the harshness of Hanno’s voice deepens the ominous message it has to deliver and makes it that little bit more potent.
This album is an enjoyable listen if taken for exactly what is – the band having fun and experimenting with their influences. It’s by no means a follow-up to ‘The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze’ and shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s fun, it sounds dirty and provides a deeper insight into the musical tastes of one of metal’s most energetic pairings, however, if covers aren’t your thing then you could easily give this a miss and not feel like you’ve left any gaps for yourself in the band’s discography.
(7/10 Angela Davey)