There’s a story behind local rock outfit Mandara. “As a Buddhist in the Tennessee bible belt, [Amanda Mandara Sky] grew up facing much religious persecution. These events soon became the inspiration and foundation for her music,” says the website for the singer and the band that shares her name. (Also, her grandfather was Imre Kovacs, a Hungarian freedom fighter, author and senior editor of Radio Free Europe.)
Each of the three songs on Mandara’s new EP, The Event Horizon, is heavy-hitting and politically charged. Those politics could be personal or national — it’s hard to say, and ultimately it’s up to the listener to decide. “You make these statements / Like you haven’t heard / Actions speak louder than words,” Sky sings on “Empty Hearted.” It’s a big song built on swells of guitar, searing solos and drums that shimmer and seethe. The band — Spencer Cranfill on lead guitar, Chris Brittian on bass and Joe Campbell on drums — create a muscular wall of sound.
“Holding Me Back” enters on a march, the drums kinetic and the bass coiled and low. Instruments layer like a foundation onto which Sky unfurls her vocal. That song, more rhythmic, more syncopated that its prog-rock predecessor, offers the kind of dance beat needed to shake off a week’s worth of frustration and fist-pump into a happy place. “You have your blinders on / You don’t want to see / Is it threatening? / You’re oppressing me,” Sky sings. The words challenge limits both perceived and enforced, but the music has a supple bounce. There’s a smart tempo change, with the drums a tight pummel propelling the song through its paces. Cranfill’s solo bursts out of Sky’s final “Whoa-oh,” a serpentine ribbon of melody.
Final track “Into the Ashes” starts slow with melodic guitar and Sky’s voice. Her vocal is never shy. Instead, the pared-down music allows her to open up, exploring the reaches of her sound. The drums soon add rolls and cymbal flourishes, not picking up the tempo so much as adding to its heart-beat thump and emotional insistence. On bass, Brittian provides a solid floor allowing Cranfill to add texture and sonic color with clear high notes that rise out of crunch and buzz. Sky soars into her upper register just before the song’s end, showcasing her range without overplaying her hand.
It’s a tantalizing collection — just enough to hint at what this band is capable of on a full-length recording or live show.