“Roots”, the MANTRA debut of roundabout two years ago, had really not been my thing. The mix of LED ZEPPELIN and traditional Hard Rock had not been my main problem, but rather the voice of Jacopo Meille, which my ears did not like at all and therefore almost completely killed the CD for me. So when the second album, “Hard Times”, reached me, my enthusiasm was anything but big.
Guitarist Gianluca Galli (now also with TIME MACHINE) formed MAD MICE already in 1988, which then renamed into MANTRA, and one look into the booklet confirms right away that Jacopo still is in the Italians’ line up, well, singers can develop, so how are we doing here? Well, Jacopo still is not among my favourite singers, but still the difference is almost like day and night, even though in the higher regions he still sounds a bit forced and lets my neck hair stand on end (e.g. on “Red Oak Wood”), but in the deeper pitches he has quite some expression and really sounds good.
Also musically they stayed pretty close to themselves, LED ZEPPELIN still shine through a lot, so it is not a big surprise that Jacopo has toured Italy as singer of NORGE, a LED ZEPPELIN cover band. Now it is quite widely known that I am not a big fan of LED ZEP, in the case of MANTRA I have to say, though, that they not only are up to par instrumentally (ok, with the exception of the high notes in the vocals), but also in terms of song writing have grown quite a bit, as the excellent “The Big Wave” proves, the same also goes for the very atmospheric and emotional ballad “Memory Song”, which fully convinces and also “Crocodiles” with its very catchy refrain has got something and the closing ballad “After The War” also features a great and intense atmosphere.
There’s nothing to be desired in the production, also visually they are right there, so even though the b note of some vocal pitches suffers, I can attest MANTRA a definite evolution. And the voice for most will be the decisive factor, if you will like this band or not, so if you have the chance, listen in, it definitely is not the every-day-run-of-the-mill Rock. (Online May 28, 2004)