Most people seem to dump Mental in with the new wave of "bro-core" bands. You know, the ones fronted by the tattoo-covered dude wearing Nike dunks, a flat-billed fitted cap, a sleeveless shirt and mesh shorts. Of course, it's not necessarily wrong to do this, since Mental (arguably) began the hardcore revival movement that most of those kind of people are a part of. They shared the stage with bands like Have Heart, Guns Up!, and Righteous Jams. After Mental's break-up in 2005, its various members went on to spawn many bands (most on Lockin' Out Records, a label created by Mental's frontman Greg Willmott) including Cold World, Mind Eraser, L.I.O.N, and (of course) Righteous Jams. It's facts like these that turn most Punknews readers away from even touching an album like this. And, of course, it means that great releases like Mental's Planet Mental go unnoticed and underrated by many.
When most people talk Mental, they refer to Mental's first full-length, Get an Oxygen Tank, a NYC hardcore-influenced, mid-tempo, angry "new classic." It was aggressive and immature and fun and sounded kind of like Judge had a super high-speed train-wreck with Supertouch. It put a little more fun into the otherwise sad and/or serious hardcore scene that existed at the time. At the same time, it branded Mental and the rest of the "Mental Crew" as immature artists who couldn't evolve past kids in VA halls screaming "I'm a fuckin' idiot" over and over again. On Planet Mental, they took a huge step away from their past releases and created a more developed and creative sound and wrote a more mature set of lyrics.
The album opens up with a big huge open riff that's VERY reminiscent of Quicksand before kicking the tempo and intensity up a notch as Willmott's vocals deliver with a passion that was unrivaled at the time. The Quicksand influence is not lacking at any point on Planet Mental; however, the band uses it as more of an homage than a straight rip-off; the hardcore punk is still undoubtedly there. The album is pretty fast clocking in with 12 songs in 26 minutes, but it never really seems to drag on like most Lockin' Out-esque bands. Every song is new and fresh sounding, and the album as a whole is a breath of fresh air in the fairly stale modern hardcore scene. For example: Where most of their peers pound on the open e-chord to make more "brutal" and hardcore-danceable breakdowns, Mental picks up the pace with very energized Quicksand-influenced riffs that give the songs a more upbeat and fun feeling. The song structure is still similar to most contemporary hardcore artists, but the way Mental executes it on Planet Mental puts them in a league of their own.
The lyrics can occasionally get a little sappy and cliché, but for the most part their simplicity is fun and heartwarming. I hate to use the word positive, since the term "posi-core" seems to scare the living crap out of most punk fans, but their really isn't a better adjective. While Willmott is no John K. Samson, he does manage to craft some lyrics that will leave you smiling and feeling good. His delivery on the album is perfect: passionate without being sappy, and fun without being goofy. This is a huge step forward from Get an Oxygen Tank, where the lyrics were practically meaningless, and the focal points of most songs were the pile-up gang vocals. While the gang vocals still exist on Planet Mental, they seem to have a whole different edge going on. It's less of a "jump on a guy's back to try and grab the mic" affair and more along the lines of a Lifetime or Bane sing-along type part. Even Willmott refrains from all-out screaming during these parts, and chooses instead to sing a little more melodically. This change, while a little odd and off-putting at first, fits perfectly within Mental's more evolved sound.
The entire album has a very progressive feel to it. Even the artwork is not your standard hardcore album cover affair, and in a sense, it encompasses the feeling of the entire album: a step forward, a breaking away from the mold, and new music in a genre that's usually stuck in a single gear. Planet Mental seems to have gotten buried away for most people. For most "new" hardcore fans, it wasn't a good followup to Get an Oxygen Tank. It didn't hit as hard, it wasn't "br00tal", and it wasn't as easy to digest upon the first listen. And the press that their first few releases got them probably turned off new listeners and traditional punk fans because they thought it was the followup the aforementioned hardcore fans were looking for.
Planet Mental should probably (and hopefully will) go down in the books as a new hardcore classic. Of course, only time will tell, but it's so far above most of the hardcore albums released both in and since 2005 that it deserves more exposure praise than it got (at least, from what I remember...). Again, I might be wrong, but I think this album is criminally underrated by lots of people, and I urge you to give Mental's Planet Mental a solid shot. You might just be surprised.