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In general, Mandragora Scream appears to be largely unknown despite having three full lengths out, hence why I honestly had no idea what to expect when turning on this particular album. Vampires and gothic rock? Okay, well that shouldn't be too terribly hard to get a rough idea of what I was going to be listening to for the next 53 minutes. My initial expectations weren't terribly high, as I'm sure we're all too familiar with the mediocrity that plagues this style of music.
The album has the obligatory introduction to set the atmosphere. There's not much going on here except for the “dark”, “melancholic”, and “gothic” feeling created by the keyboards/sound effects, which are done fairly well. Actually, this happens to be an intro that does well on it's own, as the tone of this and the first song are indeed significantly different.
From then on the first song starts, but not before a sound clip! Actually, to be fair, it's a slosh of special effects imposed over said sound clip of a hose plodding along a cobbled path with a young lady speaking in what I'm going to assume is Italian. Okay, so now the music kicks in, and from the second Morgan Lacroix's vocals are heard, you're struck with an uncanny feeling that this might be a very interesting 53 minutes.
To my surprise the special effects sloshed around in the intro and first moments of Dark Lantern remained consistent throughout the album. They come in the form of high pitched laughs and screams, ethereal wails, bats, and almost any other noise you can associate with Halloween and similar themes. What really enthralled me, however, was how Morgan's voice was enhanced throughout the album. In addition to her clean voice, she often sings with a rasp. Try picturing your typical wicked witch from any Disney fairy tale, and then imagine that voice is capable of singing ; that'll give you a fairly accurate idea on how she sounds. Combined with her thick Italian accent, it makes for a very enchanting sound.
Composition and structure gets a positive mark as well. Throughout all 11 songs the one thing I never felt was bored. These folk's sense of musicianship is exceptional, though that's to be expected by a third album. As each song progresses, I noticed nothing was repeated between them. Each song acts completely independent of each other, yet staying consistent with the theme and mood of the album. Lyrical content is also surprisingly enjoyable. Yes, vampires and fantasy are the dominant themes, but not in the cliché, overplayed style you might expect.
Unfortunately, for as creative the effects are and how enthralling Morgan's voice is, and despite the song composition and structure, this album suffers from two major flaws. First, and easily the largest, the male vocals. Good lord man, get off of the album, seriously. I can't name a single time in the album where your vocals do anything productive. As opposed to Morgan's enchanting sound, this guy constantly wails throughout the album, rarely changing his style between songs. Oh, and you're also the guitarist? That's a second strike against you. Yes, while I did mention the exceptional sense of musicianship each member had, the guitar itself is very bland, the common problem with a lot of music of this particular genre. To be fair to it though, it didn't really do harm to the album, but it also didn't help it. The guitar here feels like it's just here because it has to be, because it's a metal album; therefore it has to have a guitar. Two exceptions to this being Silences and Ghost of Swan, but the slightly-above-average guitar work isn't present anywhere else on the album.
Despite the guitars and unpleasent masculine wailing, this an entertaining and decent album. Standout tracks include Dark Lantern, Silences, and Ghost of Swan. If you're looking for an alternative to the stereotypical mid-paced, dull, unoriginal, female symphonic/goth rock band, this album is for you. If you're looking for new and original music for that Halloween party, this album is for you.