Santa Cruz psych rock band Mammatus are an earthy group with an affinity for the natural world, though to them it's more mystical than scientific. They're named after a cloud formation, and they name their songs after elements, dragons, and forest paths. It's not a new trope for the hard rock world, but Mammatus have shown a remarkable ability to evolve.
I don't know if Mammatus's eponymous album blew anyone's mind when it came out in 2006. It sounds assertive. It ebbs and flows where it should. Heavy and slow, loud then soft. But it's an album where Mammatus seem to be asking, can we do this? Are we a psych band? When the last song, the 22-minute long jam "Dragon of the Deep, Pt. Two" fades out at the end of the record, the answer is yeah, sure. It's a totally competent, totally good record.
"Dragon of the Deep, Pt. Three (Excellent Swordfight)" fades up at the beginning of Mammatus's 2007 release, The Coast Explodes, picking up where the self-titled record left off. Then it quickly skips ahead to a new conversation. Mammatus are pushing for more. The Coast Explodes is a mysterious, soaring, searching record. Harmonic moments slide into noise, guitar riffs nimbly flutter in and out of songs, eerie singing and strange chants emerge from the drone, then fade away. Mammatus aren't wondering anymore who they are, now they're experimenting with what they can do and where they can go.
In 2007 the band went on tour with Japanese psych heroes Acid Mothers Temple, took to wearing long wizards' robes and flooding the audience with fog. Mammatus have since foregone the costumes and props, but their show is still gripping. They don't need robes or fog machines to help them communicate their epic fervor.
Mammatus are playing Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 924 Gilman in Berkeley. For more information visit 924gilman.org.