I'm admittedly dubious about one-to-two man bands and more often than not find something lacking with them, more so in the two piece department. Usually these bare-boned endeavors are found in black and prog metal. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, like JUCIFER, WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM and hopping genres for a second, AIR. You can add the German/Turkish partnership known as MANTAR to the two player exception list.
When your album cover features a Baroque-touched portrait of a young woman (assumedly a witch, if you're going by the opening song "Spit"'s theme) barely in control of her obvious fear with a crown of smoldering candles testing her mettle, it's telling of the challenge you're putting before your audience. Trying to describe MANTAR, it might be the MELVINS and MOTÖRHEAD having an impromptu studio bro-down on the throes of a bad hangover, chased away with a morning hit of ASPHYX. This covers MANTAR's primary influences, exhibited by their constant buzzbombs, punk punches, flogging head crashes and warbled-pissed Lemmy Kilmister vocal interpretations. Literally translated, a mantar is a cloth or a mushroom, so consider that if you will while tripping on MANTAR's sludge-kill drones.
Hanno (guitar) and Erinc (drums) are a figurative two-headed hydra to the effect that cutting out bass from their work sprouts twice the density and punishing tones. You won't even miss the bass on this album as MANTAR's minimalist approach is filled with such substantial aggression you're plenty busy hanging on the bangs and the distorted plugs offered here. The riffs are naturally the glue to "Death by Burning"'s success, but better yet, the album benefits from variation, which is fundamental to keeping its 45-minute ride interesting.
"Spit" and "Cult Witness" carry punked-up jukes to their heavy-stepping crashes. "Astral Kannibal" almost fools the listener into thinking it's going to be an easygoing ride on a tasty riff wave until the gravelly vocals muck up the vibe altogether. A shrewd culvert of reverb opening "Into the Golden Abyss" again creates a false feeling of calm that's thrown out the door once Erinc stamps down steady pulses on his bass pedal and snare as Hanno nails a modified shred overtop him. For a moment, "Into the Golden Abyss" feels like a HIGH ON FIRE track in the making, but the verses are clobbered by filthy chords and a haunted synth you feel like you've had an evil prank played on you and you're standing naked at the cloven hooves of the Deceiver.
"Swinging the Eclipse" is one of the better examples of MANTAR's MELVINS-MOTÖRHEAD crossover with its tireless whumping and snot-clogged vocals. A narration track amidst the MELVINS-hiked riff-fest of "The Berserkers Path" is another cool moment on "Death by Burning", while the stepped-up interchanging tempos of "The Huntsman" defy you to avoid headbanging along.
The seven-and-a-half minute final track, "March of the Crows", sends "Death by Burning" to a shallow grave with its horrific dirge plod and distorted guitar swills that painstakingly toll in the vein of BORIS at their slowest. "March of the Crows" may overstay its welcome just a bit, but it makes no bones in turning an ugly cheek with echoing feedback that creates a sonic hellhole MANTAR leaves their listeners dumped into upon their exit.
A lot of what MANTAR does with their chord structures and riff patterns have already been covered before, but it's their resourcefulness and passion with just two members that speaks loudly of their efficacy. Sure, there are occasional dubbed guitar parts (like the random squelches on "The Stoning" and sweltering rails behind the main chug of "Cult Witness") but for the most part, "Death by Burning" sounds like the summation of its parts and in this case, that's a compliment. The ground these guys cover with their scant devices is pretty damned impressive.