Detroit's Mammon play atmospheric black metal that can be grimy and primal, but it's also notably approachable, as extreme metal goes; big, grabbable riffs and just enough tempo and timbre shifts pace listeners with well-placed breaks, before hurling them back through the band's personal hells.
"I don't go into writing songs thinking it should be 'heavy' or 'memorable,'" says guitarist and main songwriter Antonio Mendez. "Every bit of a song created at any time specifically reflects how I'm feeling about any situation going on in my life. Anxiety, depression, panic, anger — whatever the emotion is at the time translates into the music organically."
Mendez started writing the music that would become the basis for Mammon's sound while living on the West Coast in 2010 before returning home to Michigan and joining drummer Brandon Elliott in late 2011.
"It was never intended to be anything, to be honest," Mendez says. "When I moved back to Michigan, I got together with (Elliott) and just started hashing things out."
After catching a set of an early instrumental version of the band at a Detroit house show, Jeffrey Mireles approached the group about trying out on vocals and got the job. Last year, the trio self-recorded and released their first album, Hexed.
For their second record, the band tracked at IV Lab Studios in Chicago with engineers Matthew Hutchings and Frankie Nieto. Recorded on a tight schedule, Mendez says the sessions consisted of "a lot of alcohol" paired with "12-hour, non-stop days."
It also marked the band's first work in a proper studio, and they made sure to take full advantage.
"We meticulously researched what the studio had to offer for us to play with and, beforehand, made a list of absolutely everything we could potentially create some kind of sound with," he says. "While recording, Matthew developed a plan and sound he wanted to help us create: polished, yet gritty."
The resulting album, Luna de Sangre — which translates to "blood moon" — was released on CD earlier this month by Hamtramck-based Antimagic Media. Featuring cleaner production and more variation in tone and texture, the album makes tasteful use of synthesizer, piano, both acoustic and clean guitars, and even some spoken word passages to heighten the band's established minor-key: dissonant riffing; hypnotic, blasting drums; and guttural growls and rasps.
This is manic, atmospheric black metal with enough hooks, variation, and conviction to win fans of all kinds of extreme music. It's also a very personal record, which Mendez says reflects a period of disruptive change in his and his bandmates' lives.
"When a blood moon is present, it's potentially not supposed to be a good day for humans," Mendez says. "We were having a lot of bad days."
Lyrically, Mireles also documents the bad, exploring themes of suicide, urban decay, heartbreak, misery, betrayal, and his own obsession with infamous 19th century Russian mystic and royal adviser Grigori Rasputin.
"It's all very personal and comes from a very real place," Mireles says. "When I get off the stage I'm still living that life. This is not a facade."
"I've had a lot good friends take their lives, whether it was purposely or from heroin addiction. Every year a handful of friends die from overdoses or suicide."
On stage, Mireles is a physical force, lunging, arching over forward, and reaching to the crowd with desperation, all while pulling an inhuman, full-throated howl from the middle of his guts. It plays perfectly against the more workmanlike focus of Mendez, bassist John "Thor" Ozimek, and drummer Zach Jacoboni, who replaced Elliott last May.
"Jeff is a maniac on the mic. ... The raw energy he brings definitely ramps up the chaos factor in our music," Jacoboni says. "I just try to provide a deep, relentless groove that permeates the whole set while still being aggressive and fast. It's like a meditative state I go into while performing."
During a recent set at New Dodge Lounge opening for national acts Bell Witch and Primitive Man, Mireles wore a black a robe trimmed out with mystic symbols, and the band set the stage by scattering animal bones — handpicked from the woods — around it before the show.
"The robe isn't an every night thing," Mireles says. "Some shows I feel I require it, others I do not. I used to work at a haunted attraction for about five years, and that was my attire. Over the years, I grew a connection to it, and when I started my black metal path it just seemed right."
Between songs, Mireles got a rise from the crowd with a straightfaced, passing shoutout to "Satan." When asked about it later, he confirmed the band's interest in the occult, but also that he wasn't being "literal." "If I were participating in a ritual or addressing a deity, it wouldn't be under a Bud Light sign," he says.
Playing a subgenre of underground metal in a smaller, Midwestern market has its ups and downs. Although they rarely perform outside of Detroit, Mendez notes the band has played with its share of better known touring acts who come through town.
"We've also come across groups of people that just talk about 'false metal' because something doesn't sound like whatever demo from the early '90s that's already been beaten like a dead horse," he says.
"Who wants to be a carbon copy of anything?" he asks. "To me, music is about a reflection of one's self and the goal is to create something new. My goal isn't to connect with anyone at all. But if people understand what we put forth, that's something we can appreciate as a collective."
Mammon opens for King 810, Friday, Dec. 15, at El Club, 4114 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; Doors open at 8 p.m.; Tickets are $20.