The double helix and the album title, Hazmat certainly make you question what kind of album are you about to venture in to here? Cunning Mantrap hails from Köln, the fourth largest city in Germany and going by their name I had not expected to find that it was an all guy band. Sure I was being facetious because I was expecting it to be an vengeful all girl band but appears not to be the case. The band designed themselves back in 2011 and in 2014 released their inception EP “Dull Days” and finally this year they have let loose with a full blown 12 track album that we here at Progressivelyso will dive in to like we do.
Köln was one of those cities in the late 60’s and early 70’s that saw a lot of bands from the Berlin scene migrate to along with cities like Dusseldorf, Hamburg and the small towns out in the countryside to escape the cookie cutter formats that were shaping up in the music scene by then. They devised a series of psychological plans that kept them away from the “Pop” circuit and the surrounding commercialism to create that wonderful Krautrock sound that evolved in the early 70’s with bands like; Floh de Cologne, Faust, Harmonia, Guru Guru et al all which I thoroughly enjoy as a listener and how they have influenced me as a musician so I’m looking forward to seeing if the legacy has remained true and strong over the decades and has seeped its way in to Cunning Mantrap’s debut full length Lp. Lets find out shall we?
The album opens up with Red, a kick you in the face drum roll start that drops down as the guitars bury the hatchet here to a slow grind as the song begins to emerge as a straight out of the gates rocker that should be in the soundtrack to the next big highway racing game because it just rips the nitro loose here. The vocals growling and snarling as the song shifts timbre and takes us a gear faster. More hard rock Judas Priest style in spots than Prog but the band does have some different plateaus throughout the song giving it a snag of Prog but you have to lean in for it. Clever and creative for sure. The guitar solo has a pure 80’s Metallica feel to it and then it drops for a dirty bass riff to a quick step build up to a slam down full stop finish. Shifting the timbre of the song there was a great way to close it out. Snapping opener and an idea to what’s in store for the remainder of the record…. or is it? Company follows up with a sleezy intro that has your feet tapping away as the guitars just melt in to each other before they pull back for the vocals to come up to the front.A very 90’s tone and feel to it but they do capture an essence of Prog here with the sway of the guitar sounds from the front to the back here and they use the middle section to be a bit more melodic and ballad like to bring in the more progressive side to that 90’s genre of hard rock just before letting loose another ripping solo that will have every “rock” guy or girl who plays wanting to figure out that stripper pole feel to it because it just gleams and slides around that fretboard with a dirty grace. Without wasting a second of digital tape (!) the band smash their way in with Play the Prophet that has a more modern Prog-Metal feel to it but not heavy metal rather that Quasi-Tool vibe to it in spots making it an interesting track to behold. Shifting timbre after two minutes the band bounce nicely between a smooth run to a sprint and back again. The solo takes an interesting turn as half way through it the band change the timbre again which caught me off guard and was a joy to hear how they did that. Like the hills on a roller coaster this song takes us up and down throughout yet keeping both feet on the ground as the track has a solid bass line and thundering drums that pound the ground like a group of angry gorillas. The classic fade out at the end was good to hear as it gave the song closure but also giving you that feeling that it could come back at you at any time.
Uncanny Valley brings out a scratchy side to their guitar tone in the beginning and the song sheers through as it slices through the air in your room. A very rusty blade sounding song to me as it plays out its Neo-Prog overtones to a 90’s metal vocal treatment. The odd squelched note from the guitar reminisces on the early years of Proto-Metal bands along with the tight snappy drum patterns and bulldozer bottom bass riffs. Definitely a crowd pleaser track here as it stays its course and just has that kick you in the teeth and walk away feel to it. A Light that Should have Shined calls upon the ghost of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar tone here in the beginning in what sounds like an homage to his song Little Wing brings out the band’s softer side in this ballad that will have you reaching for your partner, spouse or broom to slow dance with. An iconic hard rocker move to put it almost halfway through the record to give your brain a rest and slow you down a bit to remind you that the band has more sides to them than heavy. Done in the classic framework of a rock ballad but without the pretentious lyrics attached thankfully. They thought this one out and take from it what you will, it’s heartfelt and rewarding, well done boys, well done. Detox strikes out with an industrial bass line that has destruction written all over it as the guitars scratch their way under the skin of the song and begin to emerge as a drug as the thumping drums begin the rush of narcotic through its veins as we begin to Detox. Like what one would hear in a seedy underground club in New York in the late 70’s, angry and outwardly in its ugly appearance as the song takes over the crowds and they love to shift the timbre to a swing beat refrain that has an total punk feel to it then drops back to the drain and strain of the main riff. It blends multiple genres in to one making it a unique progressive move. The guitar solo cuts through the wires at the end and the song erupts in to a frenzy of drug overload as it comes crashing down to the last note played. A non-stop ride through hell in just over 8minutes, dark and foreboding but a great tune to say the least.
Weary brings out The Tea Party/Led Zeppelinesque vibes here with the multi-blended acoustics and eastern drumming styles with a slinky bass line to accompany it to bring the song to a medium boil of afternoon tea in a far off Eastern land somewhere. The acoustic tone here is warm and inviting as you sit cross legged on the floor in one with your chi. Another classic Prog move to incorporate music styles from around the world even if only a snippet of it, it adds a nice spice and flare to the record and shows the band’s willingness to explore and be diverse. The Past bring out the dirge and the darker side of the band’s lyrical content. Snippets of The Doors comes to mind at times with the way the synths make their presence known and the long pulls on certain words have a very Jim Morrison style to them. The song has its bombs during the chorus where they bring out the big guns and gives us the heaviness but draw it back for the verses to remind us the calm before the storm. A shorter but fulfilling song on the album. The Future II marches in with a militaristic feel to it dictated by the drums as the guitars slink their way to and fro along with the bass to the commanding vocal track giving the orders. It’s the build up at the end that snaps you out of the trance the song puts you in which was surprising how they did it as the song is just over 4minutes long but it felt longer than that before we realized it was over. Orange conjures up Neo-Prog-Psychedelia from the word go here as the band bends notes and evolves like an emerging amoeba out of the watery pools of the world to form in to a slow burn of a song that crawls before it walks with this great example of what can be made at 3am in the studio after the last beers have been had. The band loosens up the reigns here and lets the creativity flow like water here as they sink it down to a fuzz tone and driving beat that doesn’t quite run but stand tall in the lineage of the record. Not quite rocker and not quite ballad but the twain met and formed this song in to a 6:41minutes journey through sound. Straight Outta Hand sees the band return to the harder rock edge of their sound with a straight up rock tune that again would certainly be a crowd pleaser as it gives that nice shuffle beat to it where the crowd can rock out in sync with the song just perfectly. The band blends everything together here as a group and no one instrument over powers the other and goes off to be different at all. Not that the rest of the album does but this song has all the classic symptoms where it just blends out the best. The album’s final and longest track keeps in with the classic Prog recipe to save the longest for the last concept with The Curse of the Leaden Tongue. A final powerhouse track that lives up to its name and the predecessors of the record here as a driving track that carries the many elements of various genres held within its walls of sound here. Rock, Metal and a bit of Prog to roll in to a shifting timbre, fast/slow looping and short hypnotic passages to make a triumphant closing number. It has a smidgen of that 90’s Metallica feel to it but without the growling James Hetfield vocals although in the 90’s he did finally begin to experiment with multiple tones to his voice, but I digress, CM certainly takes the album to full tilt boogie here with this one and just as you think it’s beginning to fade away to finish off it stretches out the notes to bring back that psychedelic style of slide notes and feedback held in checked control and you hear the refrain coming back in to the fold for one more round on your ears and then fades to gray to black to finalé.
Cunning Mantrap certainly has cut their teeth listening to many of their musical forefathers with style and grace and has given us an album that surely will appeal to the ears of listeners in a number of different genres and definitley to those who prefer a harder edge feel to their music. Future releases by the band will define their style even more so and it will be interesting to see if they hold true to the multiverse of genre influences they’ve given us here in Hazmat or if they decide to shift their gears to be more of one style than another. Time will tell but they have a great start to what they know how to do well now. Looking forward to their next album. Enjoy