A commanding, altruistic collection of dynamic sounds; vocalist & composer Mentrix has shared her debut album, My Enemy, My Love, via her own label, House of Strength today (April 3rd). It’s a powerful exploration of resilience, independence, and what happens when women are caught between two cultures; each filled with their own flaws and freedoms.
Born in Iran but now based in Berlin, Mentrix (aka Samar Rad) blends her experiences of eastern and western culture, along with traditional Sufi instrumentation to create her beguiling, bold soundscapes. Her extensive travels and multiple influences – from Latin and French Literature, to The Qu’ran and traditional Persian poetry – give her music a diverse and fascinating edge.
One of the most striking elements on My Enemy, My Love, is the sound of the hand-played daf drum; an ancient, traditional frame drum native to Iran. In Sufism, Mentrix explains the instrument is both “a call for the soul to awaken”, and a sound that can communicate “emptiness” and desolation. As she poetically words it, “it’s the dark side and the bright side of the moon in one instrument.” This is personified on cinematic opening track ‘Nature’, and re-enforced with the lyric “We all have a nature that harms us / if we let it”. This duality – the battle between acceptance and choice – is seminal to Mentrix’s music, and it’s what makes her art so compelling.
‘Dreams’ is a beguiling lullaby, showcasing Mentrix’s agile vocal range and more of her instinct for altruistic percussion. The slow-burning, seven minute epic ‘Loyalty’ blazes with ominous electronics, before the intense ‘Longing’ breaks through like a powerful ray of light; inspired by a traditional Mooyeh mourning chant from Lorestan in Iran. Eerie synth textures, assertive lyrics, and marching percussion collide on ‘Walk’. “Trees give fruit / men seek truths / don’t you wonder why nothing changes?” Mentrix extrapolates, before commanding listeners with the instruction: “you need to walk / now, get up”. It’s stands out as one of the most rousing, powerful tracks on the record.
On the eponymous ‘My Enemy, My Love’, layered vocals and pummeling beats flood the track. The title is a reference to Mentrix’s contrasting feelings of being seen as an immigrant and a deserter, but also her love for the country she was born in, and its rich musical heritage. “I am forever attached to my birth place, and my identity and aspirations are very rooted in Iranian culture” Mentrix explains. “Since the West so often portrays Iran in a questionable way, I feel obliged to share its diverse and positive faces to the world.”
This diversity and positivity is felt during the gentle opening of penultimate track ‘Igneous Sun’, which then flows into the searching ‘If’. “If you were not standing in my way / where would I be standing right now?” muses Mentrix over atmospheric beats, and entrancing electronics. With such direct, and intense song-writing talent, it’s hard to imagine anyone blocking Mentrix’s path; but it’s reassuring to hear she challenges those who attempt it.
Multiple aspects of Mentrix’s My Enemy, My Love are rooted in self-autonomy, and the empowerment of women. Session musician Claire Bay plays the ney, while multi-award winning New-York-based mastering engineer Emily Lazar helped to create her vivid recordings. Even the name of Mentrix’s label – House Of Strength – is a reference to the “pits” where Iranian men would train to defend themselves against the Mongols. There was no equivalent place for women, and Mentrix is still struck by the need to “fight” this patriarchal structure. She does so by seeking out those who are also self-autonomous, and who are prepared to work alongside her to create her sound; and what a fluid, energetic, refreshing sound it is.