Hailing from Corralitos in the mountainous terrain of inland Santa Cruz county, Mammatus describe their sound as “the final war between amps and sea creatures”. Judging by their latest album, The Coast Explodes, the sea creatures that inspire them aren’t placid sponges or phytoplankton-gorging krill. These Californians mean the older, larger, stranger ocean-dwellers, the mythical beasts that surface on the Lenox Globe beneath a banner reading “Hic Sunt Dracones”.
The Coast Explodes picks up directly from where their self-titled debut left off, with the third part of the epic “Dragon Of The Deep” (the word epic is not used lightly as the three pieces collectively top the 42-minute mark). Though a thematic continuation, the sound has changed slightly. “Dragon Of The Deep, Part Two” closed the first album with bristling, heavy, acid-soaked psychedelic doom. “Part Three” opens with the same high-pitched guitar feedback that closed “Part Two”, but 20-odd seconds in a quick, very mid-seventies progressive rock figure is introduced, rapidly followed by a second quick figure of over-driven guitar which would not sound out of place on an Iron Maiden album. Mammatus, in one short year, has expanded their sound from circa-1972 to circa-1976; the space-rock has met prog and is touching at the beginnings of NWOBHM. This inspired amalgam lasts for the first six-minutes before giving way to the retro-psychedelia of the heavily reverbed vocals (Mammatus’ singer, Zachary Patton, has a relatively high-pitched voice with a bit of softness to it, reminiscent at times of Perry Farrell without the whine). The pace slows, and the call to arms – “Take up your sword/Raise up your shield” – comes across as a softer version of the ceremonial chants at the heart of Sleep’s Dopesmoker, only with a message akin to Shakespeare’s Henry V before the battle of Agincourt.
The lyrical thrust of the album keeps with that martial (but hopeful) theme; rise with the sun’s/Son’s light to clear away the darkness. This duality is explicit in the lyrics to “Pierce The Darkness”, but does not veer into preachiness. It is the view that nature and divinity are entwined; they come across not as dogmatic but more an awakening to the majesty of creation and the strength and salvation that may be drawn from it. To reinforce that point, the sound of the album is reflective of nature, with long, soaring passages evoking flight and the swirling winds, repetitive washes of feedback coupled with cymbals and toms to mirror the waves crashing on the shore.
This evocation of nature does lead to the one glaring misstep on The Coast Explodes; actual sea lion barks and squelches make an appearance on “The Changing Wind”. This song, which serves as a break between the longer, heavier tracks leading into and out of it, pales in comparison to “The Outer Rim”, a Pink Floyd homage that served the same purpose on the debut. Easily described (and dismissed) as “Man Man goes freak folk”, complete with a weeble-wobble-wooble-weeble-weeble-wooble chant over sub-Vetiver acoustic noodling. Plus sea lions.
Luckily Mammatus redeem themselves with the album closing title track. The song is built around a guitar riff that sounds somewhat like Tony Iommi playing around with Led Zeppelin’s “The Crunge” at half his usual attack. The loping gait over the steady drums is instantly intriguing, and builds nicely to a strong, full sound before cutting back to allow a slow spoken word interlude that again brings to mind Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction, in particular “Summertime Rolls”. The casual Iommi guitar returns, and Mammatus alternate passages and styles again. This song shows most clearly the strides they’ve made since their first album; where the longer tracks there were heavy, thick waves of feedback and haphazard grooves, “The Coast Explodes” is a 12-minute track where there is a practiced precision to each step, a surety and strength that is crafted instead of jammed. While furious riffing and “riding the groove” may make for a powerful stage performance (and a fun – if flawed – first effort), the refinement of ideas on The Coast Explodes indicate Mammatus is more than just a band to see, but to hear. Just lose the sea lions.