Recorded at Spiren Studio, Cernobyl Audio, Timebandit Studio and Vindmill Studio. Mixed by Anna Murphy at SoundFarm Studio. Mastered by Knut Prytz at Magica Mastering. Music and lyrics by Manes. Cover art by Ashkan Honarvar. Released on Friday 24 August 2018 via Debemur Morti Productions.
The last recording I heard from Manes was [view] extended play (2006) which I described at the time as ‘curious ‘. Not exactly a glowing report but I did give them 85%, so I must have thought they had something going for them.
This time around, though—holy moly!—Manes has excelled themselves. This is an album that I just can’t stop listening to. During the last month it has dominated my Last.fm charts for artists, albums and tracks; sadly my car isn’t hooked up to Last.fm otherwise the stats would be even higher.
A quick catch-up for the uninitiated, Manes started life as a Norwegian black metal band in the 1990s—an obligatory starting point for any rock band in Scandinavia—who evolved into what Wikipedia describes as “a hybrid of jazz, trip hop, electronica and metal with clean sung vocals and many progressive overtones.”
The album opens with a pounding, epic song “Endetidstegn” (track 1). It begins with an electronic ‘blitz’ that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a dance track. But as it melts into the background the vocals emerge weaving a delicate melody—a fusion of clean male and female vocals; the male vocal in places going falsetto. It is a gorgeous and powerful-sounding song that chugs along at a steady pace like a steam train carving through the countryside, burning itself out when it runs out of fuel.
“Endetidstegn” (Norwegian for “signs of the end times”) sets up the rest of the album beautifully and I love the humour that places a track with that name at the start of an album.
“Scion” (track 2) opens with another electronic-inspired beat and pounding arpeggio. Again the male vocals are higher than expected but it creates such an interesting atmosphere for the song—relaxed but ever so slightly unnerving. This song is a beautiful example of how to be heavy without the need for over-driven guitars and breakneck-speed drumming.
“Chemical heritage” (track 3) opens with a simple melody played on something that sounds like a old fairground steam organ. A simple drum pattern and tick-tocking bass guitar fills the sound. Soulful, slurred vocals take us to a passionate, quantized chorus. About halfway through there is a buzz guitar riff that the vocals wind themselves around. The song builds to a climax before slowly picking itself apart to the coda. This song has humanity.
“Therapism” (track 4) reminds me every time of the Die Krupps album of Metallica covers as it throbs and builds until the breathless vocals gasp out their message while a sonic storm rages in the background to the heartbeat of the bass guitar. Brilliant stuff, just brilliant…!
“Last resort” (track 5) brings things down a few levels with a gently-strumming guitar and falsetto vocals. The guitar solo about a third of the way through is mournful and emotive, which really sums up this song as whole. I’ve not heard a song this beautiful for a long time; it’s haunting.
“Poison enough for everyone” (track 6) takes a more experimental path. It opens with a very stripped back, four note riff with strings like a stretched cassette beneath and a distorted, spoken voice above. A minute in, simple drums and a mournful guitar picks out a repeating melody. The song has an acerbic feel as it plods through to its poisonous conclusion.
Following the darkness of “Poison…”, “Building the ship of Theseus” (track 7) has a more upbeat, hopeful riff that is confirmed by the rich, soaring vocals. Listening closely to this song is like looking at the detail of a fabulous painting: small, simple brushstrokes of musical colour that combine to create a majestic picture.
“Night vision” (track 8) opens with a 1950s sci-fi movie-style sound effect that gets sliced in two by a piano. Radio distortion like a drum beat. Snippets of vocals, like the trapped memories in Dear Esther. Falsetto vocals that morph into a baritone—this is somewhere between Radiohead and The Sisters of Mercy. This is the aural equivalent of being caught in a wave.
The final song “Ater” (track 9) gradually rumbles into life. Drums in the deep. Radio static. Tubular bells. Falsetto vocals. Industrial beat. And then just as you begin to wonder if this song is destined to continue its thin, shadowy path … BOOM! Like a Rammstein song breaking from its icy prison, the guitars, bass and drums suddenly transform this song into something as epic as the opening track.
And again, as suddenly as it arrived, it ends. Creaking to a close. Gone!
Wow! Just… wow!
This is an album that I have come back to again and again. Surely it can’t be that good, can it? And then I listen and I hear something new, and it tightens its grip around my heart. I love this album.
This is a strong contender for my album of the year—seriously, nothing has come close to the beauty and delicacy, its power and emotion.
It’s full marks from me for this one.
Review score: 100%
Stampede Press UK contacted me a few months back, inviting me to preview this album.
I have no connections to either Stampede Press UK or Manes. I’m not being paid to review this. But I did get a free digital copy of the album to review—which is pretty cool.
Many thanks to Rob from Stampede Press UK, and Manes.