Since 2005 the Santa Cruz, California trio Mammatus have been churning out some seriously mind-melting psych and stoner rock. From the Holy Mountain-released Mammatus in 2006 and The Coast Explodes in 2007, to the Spiritual Pajamas-released Heady Mental in 2013, Nicholas Emmert, Chris Freels, and Aaron Emmert have explored everything from expansive, dreamy realms, to psych freakouts, and serious guitar shredding. While they may tread similar musical waters as fellow West Coast psych bands like Earthless and Eternal Tapestry, it would be a mistake to label them and just move on. With Mammatus’ newest album Sparkling Waters, they have made a huge leap artistically. There will be no pigeonholing this band and their sound any longer. Shimmering ambient synth textures interplay with proggy psychedelic jams, while epic long form songs ebb and flow through various movements and moods. It’s a stunning work that stands as Mammatus’ absolute best record yet.
“Sparkling Waters Part One” and “Sparkling Waters Part Two” are what begins this musical journey and they are expansive feats in musical soundscapes. What I mean is that they’re pretty incredible. Both tracks together would constitute an LP, as together they clock in just over 42 minutes. The point of an album like Sparkling Waters isn’t to get to some specific point. What Mammatus is doing here is they’re taking us on a journey. While still very much a rock and roll band, there’s a more cinematic approach to their sound. “Sparkling Waters Part One” has touches of more ambient/post-rock bands like This Will Destroy You and Mono. In fact the first five minutes you feel you’re being swept up in some existential bright light before things are brought back down to earth with the three-piece rock outfit we know so well. The song takes a turn for the heavier as drums, guitar, bass, and spaced-out synths swirl together in some cosmic musical tension. The track goes back to spatial light and towering clouds before kicking into some driving rhythms and some impressive guitar work towards the end. “Sparkling Waters Part Two” feels more menacing at first. Sub-level synths mesh with a slowly evolving bass line to create tension before cosmic noise and melodic synth strings bring the song slowly out of the darkness. It sounds like the dawn erupting on some distant planet. Like the Lucifer Rising S/T performed by Jean Michel Carre. Total space-y vibe and it’s absolutely amazing. Pretty soon guitars and drums break the zone out vibe, but not in a Black Sabbath kind of way. It’s all very uplifting. Upbeat, even. Some d-tuned guitar, bass, and drums take us to the end of this journey.
“The Elkhorn” feels like the beginning of something new on Sparkling Waters. While side one and two are dedicated to a “Sparkling Waters” suite of sorts, “The Elkhorn” is pure driving fuzzed-out rock. Intricate guitar makes its way through a more than solid rhythm section. This track tips its hat to The Coast Explodes and Heady Mental with it’s stoner rock riffage, but then the track shoots into the cosmos with some synthesizer atmospherics. A back and forth between spatial and dream-like to crushing guitar fades out into an ending that’s reminscent of the synth-heavy band Night Flights, which is Carlton Melton’s Rich Millman(Sparkling Waters is produced by none other than Phil Manley who works with Carlton Melton quite a bit.) “Ornia” closes the album as a culmination of everything that came before it. Chugging guitars, big rhythm section, and icy synth textures fade in and out before an almost late-60s psych/garage freak out towards the end.
Sparkling Waters is an album of progression. It’s Mammatus moving forward and exploring more delicate and refined territory, while never extinguishing that rock and roll fire they started a decade ago. Nicholas Emmert, Chris Freels, and Aaron Emmert continue to push the boundaries of heavy rock, and if you listen close enough they may even push the boundaries of your mind. Put on some headphones and drop the needle on Sparkling Waters.