Mammatus clouds are a force of nature not to be reckoned with. The geometric cellular pattern of pouches form through atmospheric turbulence within cumulonimbus clouds. They’re primarily composed of ice and can extend for hundreds of miles, often changing direction due to unstable air pressure and wind shear.
As turbulent as they are, mammatus clouds are also wondrously beautiful, igniting awe-inspiring sunsets for quiet moments of reflection.
You don’t need to know all this to listen to Santa Cruz’s prog-psych stoner trio, Mammatus, but it lends a meteorlogic perspective for the group’s expansive vision.
“I think our emphasis is that life is amazing,” explains guitar player, Nicholas “Nicky” Emmert. “It’s sacred to be a living, breathing thing experiencing and interacting with the universe.”
He takes a pause, then laughs with his band mates–brother and drummer Aaron Emmert and bassist Chris Freels–before adding, “That’s pretty much the theme of every one of our songs. There’s lightness and darkness and we want to be bearers of light in the darkness.”
Ok, that’s a heavy answer to asking about the band’s inspiration. However, one listen to their upcoming album, Expanding Majesty–out June 23 on Silver Current Records with a record release party that same night at the Blue Lagoon–and it makes perfect sense.
As the title implies, Expanding Majesty is a massive journey of sound. Ethereal synths, space exploring riffs, and heavy rhythms take the listener on an aural adventure through the multiverse of music. Unlike their 2015 release, Sparkling Waters, with its mellow and majestic melodies, Expanding Majesty finds the band grounded in their heavier sound allowing them to take off at any point on a gust of fresh air.
It’s the result of a long, drawn-out and heavily meditated process of how the band builds their music.
“Certain songs we thought were done and then we’d add five more minutes of music,” Freels says. “There were songs that were mostly written but then we’d go on a backpacking trip and feel super inspired. We’d pour that inspiration into a song we already wrote and all of a sudden there’d be a new riff.”
Mammatus is the living embodiment of the saying, “All good things take time.” Despite playing together for almost 20 years, Expanding Majesty is only their fifth studio album. Large gaps in time between albums is common–like the six years between their sophomoric The Coast Explodes and their third release, Heady Mental–which allows the trio a chance to ruminate on what they’re doing, giving meaning to each note and movement.
“If we didn’t do it this way we would’ve broken up by now because we would’ve burnt out,” explains Freels.
Even with the time they give themselves to write and record each album, Aaron views Mammatus’ music like a fourth generation copy of a cassette–present but some of it is lost in the static.
“Once you start finding the riffs and themes, then you have this epic vision of what it’s going to be. [However], then it ends up maybe 60 percent close to what you were going for and you say, ‘Ok, I guess we’ll go with that.’”
If true–that we’re only listening to a portion of what Mammatus wants to sound like–maybe that’s a good thing. The human brain might not comprehend if they were able to get any closer to the great collective aether artists draw from and strive to return to. Songs like “By the Sky” and “Foreveriff” have a spiritual quality to them, briefly peeling back the curtain to something else before returning the listener into this realm. Finite beings trying to express infinite ideas.
“Phil Manley, who recorded Expanding Majesty, described Mammatus as when you look up in the sky and see a hawk,” explains Nick. “When it’s flying really high up there and just looks like a speck.”
Manley should know. Along with being a longtime friend of the band and founding member of D.C. post-rock trio, Trans Am (as well as current member of space jam rockers, Terry Gross), this is the second Mammatus album Manley has recorded at his El Studio in San Francisco.
However, Expanding Majesty marks the first time the band has worked with Spanish sci-fi and fantasy illustrator, Cristian Eres. A red dragon soars across the clouds into a castle backlit by the setting sun perfectly encapsulates the common feeling throughout the album. An otherworldly sense of simple and pure freedom.
Those that get the rare chance to see Mammatus live should always take it. Just as their albums are elusively spread out, so are their shows. This year they only have four dates planned with a fifth unannounced show in the works.
“If there was an AI [artificial intelligence] version of Mammatus, it would just be sitting there doing nothing,” Aaron dryly smiles.