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Mansion : First Death Of The Lutheran

Treat yourself to something genuinely different and exceptional: Finnish band Mansion's cult-based Stoner/Prog debut.

Finland's Mansion (sometimes known as The Mansion Congregation) have been around for about seven years now, with their debut EP 'We Shall Live' coming out in 2013. Since then, there's been a sporadic trickle of short-to-medium releases on various different (predominantly old-school physical) formats, of which the 2014, 36-minute, EP 'Uncreation' was the most substantial.

On the face of it, during those five years, they haven't exactly set the world on fire - perhaps ironically, since that's pretty much the essence of their viciously judgemental and bleak imminent-second-coming cultist inspiration - having acquired just shy of a couple of thousand Facebook followers. Though that's obviously not the whole story - check out all the 'Sold Out' items on their Merch page, and you'll see that that fanbase is clearly a loyal one. And this debut full-length, though self-released on LP through their own Mansion Records is also being on launched on CD by I Hate Records - hardly an insubstantial thing in underground terms.

I guess that could simply be because they're a 'difficult' band. Hard to categorise, for a start - I have them simply tagged as 'Stoner Doom' in my library, though that's a simplistic approximation based on their frequently fuzzy and psychedelic '70s-via-Sleep vibe - and deeply occult in their choice of direction, taking on the personae of the ultra-ascetic, anti-sexual, breakaway Lutheran Kartanoist sect to preach authentic sermons of hellfire and inevitable damnation. I've always taken that to be a slightly ambiguous image: containing elements of both sardonic mockery of religious extremes, and deadly serious depiction of the horrifying darkness at the heart of such lunatic beliefs. Musically, though, it's very much a consistent and tight narrative that's spanned all of their works to date. And, just as an aside: even in a supposedly mature religion such as Christianity, Kartanoism and related cults - like the Russian скопцы, whose adherents would cut off their own external genitals - genuinely persisted into the mid-20th century, so there's a distinct authenticity to their sources. Illustrating their perspective, the release flyer includes this quote from the (original) Alma Kartano: "You think you are on your way to heaven/As the reverend promised you./Sheep to the slaughter in the name of Satan."

So, how does 'First Death Of The Lutheran' translate that into a listening experience? Well, in simple terms, and even on first impressions, the answer is 'very well indeed'. From the initially slow-riffing Stoner Doom of 'Wretched Hope', which unfolds easily into a complete wig-out guitar assault, to the Industrial-tinged weirdness of 'Lutheran', through the creepy Gothic vibe of 'The Eternal' and the ritualistic and choral 'The Eternal', and on to the extended, groove-soaked finale of 'First Death', this is an album which fully represents all the complex facets of the band. Lush, psychosexual, steeped in religious and tribal madness, infused with a bizarre and potent mix of instruments that include organ, violin, trumpet, sax and hurdy-gurdy, Mansion cut loose with a fearless mix of styles and influences. If I absolutely had to come up with a single comparison, it'd probably be the sultry occult Stoner of 'Totem'-era Jex Thoth, though this is considerably nastier in concept and, at the same time, a mistier and much more avantgarde work. That's partly due to the fairly soft and blurry mix giving the whole album a frequently dreamlike and hypnotic quality, and partly because there are all sorts of prog/psych elements involved, including moments which make me think directly of older bands like Van Der Graaf or String Driven Thing and newer ones such as Vestige Of Virtue.

Really, don't put much credence on namechecks and sounds-likes, though. There are literally dozens of other names from the '70s onwards that spring to mind at different points, but the sum of 'First Death...' is much more than those individual parts, and the result is a distinct and individual blend that is all Mansion's own. It may take a few more spins for the most oblique details to fully reveal themselves, but they're all in there. From the harmonic blend of clean male and female voices and choruses to the dissonant squalling violin and saxophone, the delicate piano melodies to the sinister half-buried background noises, there's a great deal of depth to the compositions and all of it put together with a remarkable focus and variety. What you're listening to, here, is something a bit special - an invocation of the most scathing and absolute of God's judgements, wrapped in a paradoxically dark and intriguing beauty, where main vocalist Alma gilds her contemptuous, scornful and cruel words with the most disturbingly seductive and sensual of voices. If nothing else, that quite perfectly encapsulates the cult's premise that all earthly distractions pave the way to Hell...

On the caveat side - I'm not completely convinced by some of the lyrics, which are a little too forced into rhyming couplets, and the male/female challenge/response use of them doesn't quite live up to the quality of the rest of the album: that's really a quibble limited to the centre section of 'First Death', and even that's grown on me with repeated listening. And, obviously, it'd be a difficult listen for anyone who doesn't like Trad-based styles, tribal/ritualist percussion or clean vocals - so if you fall into any of those categories, best just give it a wide swerve in the first place. For everyone else: over the years, there have been a significant number of Finnish bands who have consistently punched above their weight on a worldwide stage, and I'd have no hesitation in including Mansion on that list, with 'First Death Of The Lutheran' as an outright justification of that claim. It's one of those rare works that can actually make you think about what you want to believe and how far you want to take that, whilst still presenting a musically-entrancing journey, if you prefer to simply take it at face value. Different, brilliant, and - I'm predicting - a future classic, this is an easy choice for the top end of my 'best of 2018' list.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. Wretched Hope
2. Lutheran
3. The Eternal
4. 1933
5. First Death

Duration : Approx. 43 minutes

Visit the Mansion bandpage.

Reviewed on 2018-11-14 by Mike Liassides
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