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Manes came in right at the beginning of the scene's end. Burzum wasn't black metal anymore, Immortal were going on a crash course and Ulver departed from black metal into the vast lands of post-hipster music (which the band itself would move to). Although they have released a few demos since their formation in 1991, their first release marks the final evolution of their black metal career.
What differed Manes from other black metal bands of the late second wave wasn't their music, or the vocals. Both are very common second wave-styled, with the tortured vocal screeching not being anything special, and the half-tremolo guitar riffs. It isn't the use of the clicky drum programming, or the melancholic and excessive Gehenna-like keyboards- it is the atmosphere that surrounds the album. I don't think any Norwegian album had an atmosphere like this since Hvis Lysett Tar Oss was released five years prior this album. It is very dark, brooding and overall depressing and mysterious- a thing many black metal bands have tried to achieve and rarely managed to do so.
Let's go back to the instrumentation itself. Imagine a crossbreed between Transilvanian Hunger, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and the Castlevania soundtrack. It does sound very amusing, but it is actually the opposite of it- the guitar riffs are typical BM half-tremolo riffs, but do feature a very melancholic vibe and nourish the dark atmosphere. The vocals, as also mentioned before, are a typical BM tortured screeching. The special thing about the album's music is that it lacks any bass guitar but replaces its parts with a very weird 64-bit organ that actually manages to be very chilling and creeping, with cheap programmed drums which rarely sound like real ones and sound like they came straight out of Sonic the Hedgehog 3's credit theme (listen to it yourself).
The most notable parts of the album are songs 2-4, which show exactly what atmospheric black metal should sound like: the second song has a very Dunkelheit structure and feeling to it, while songs 3 and 4 take a more straightforward Emperor approach, but slower and with an emphasis on the keyboards. The production is very underground-sounding and is very flat and icy (like any other BM band) which accentuates the drum machine clicking over the vocals and keyboards, with making the guitars sound very distant and fuzzy- and by this making one of the only flaws of this album. Recommended.
There's an interesting succinct statement in the lyric/insert booklet here by the band: 'We do not care if the production and sound is not what you expect, and strongly hope (and think) that this album album will appeal to none of the "black" metal people of today.' Now normally a sentence of this sort would be appended to a release that didn't meet the 'normal' requirements of a 'good' sound - i.e., if the production was muffled, poor, or limited in some respect, etc. However, on this album, Manes are insulting you in the first place because they expect that you will not take to the clear and much better than average production, and that you would object to this, coming to expect a necro sound from their demo releases. Strange? This is Manes we're talking about, after all.
So even if this statement by them seems a little out of sorts, I think they accurately predicted the reactions of their audience. Why? Because these songs (re-recorded versions of tracks from their three earlier demo tapes) somewhat surprised me, even though I was prepared to meet them with an open mind, having already come to feel a great deal of admiration for them through listening to the two earlier demo CDs put out by Hammerheart. The greatest characteristic of these songs is their sense of all-consuming darkness and mystery, and the necro production they were formerly treated to greatly enhanced this feature. But what I think Manes was trying to say by releasing a derogatory comment like the one above is that they feel such interpretations are a trap, basically, and that they want their music to be taken as is, without the 'mystique' of a necro sound. They are trying to say that their music speaks for itself, to put it simply. This is fine for me, because the music does have the ability to break through any boundaries or connotations of mystery ascribed to it merely for the sake/in the name of production values, and this CD, with its improved sound, proves that without a shadow of a doubt.
These songs have also been revised somewhat, and if you are a Manes enthusiast you will probably instantly notice the changes: the drum/rhythm differences, the addition of different tones in the synths taking up the same old melodies, etc. I hesitate to say these are really 'changes' in the structure of these songs - I prefer to think of this album as just containing different 'versions' of these songs - new interpretations, maybe, new ideas dressing the classic structures. What I did notice here is how the good sound on this record enhanced the effects of the keyboards and clarified the atmospheres Manes strives to create in these songs - adding different colors, you could say, other than the accepted tones of black and white.
The one thing that this album makes clear to me is that Manes, who until now were probably interpreted as being one of the more conservative of the Norwegian bands (looking back, you could say, constantly on the feeling of '91-'92 in the black metal scene) are actually much more than this, and that their material is as pertinent and involving as it ever was. This album also makes an obvious case for their flexibility and eloquence when it comes to the range of their melodic inventiveness: they do not limit themselves only to a few colors on the palette, and these songs are only enhanced by their new additions.
So, in any case, if you are not a fan of this band, what I have said to this point probably won't make much sense to you. What are you waiting for? Manes was and is one of the few truly talented black metal bands from Norway - one with an original sound and an atypical method of composition - and they remain one of the few really talented Norwegian bands worth listening to.
Norwegian black metal, you say? Well, lets give it a shot shall we. Manes are a now infamous band, but for all the wrong reasons. Starting out, Manes were a Scandinavian black metal band with a tremendous reputation for creating a repertoire of successful works, especially the debut full-length, which is what we‘re dealing with in this instance. When ’Under ein Blodraud Maane’ came out in 1999 through Hammerheart Records, many believed the career of this Norwegian act would really begin to take off, but instead, it stalled. Norway, by this stage of the decade, were beginning to lack that cutting edge, that thrust that managed to pull the likes of America, France and Germany into the top ranked nations for producing talented black metal bands with distinctive sounds. As the years passed by, Manes developed their sound and thus invited experimentation into their lives by, and rather oddly I must say, changing their style from straight up black metal to an apparent electronic/jazz influenced band. Now, I’ve never actually listened to any of the material beyond this stage of Manes’ career, but the general gist of it is, it’s awful. Whilst that may be the case, let us not dwell on it too long as comparisons cannot be made and we’re dealing with THE successful Manes era in the form of the brilliant work of art, ‘Under ein Blodraud Maane’.
Black metal is a highly formulated genre. When the second wave hit our ears, the distinctive style that was created by the likes of Darkthrone in the form of ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ and Burzum, in the form of the self-titled effort, ‘Burzum’ was effective but as time ticked by, black metal acts were forced to think again and began to produce music that kept some of the traditions that began it all, but with an emphasise on experimentation. Manes can be considered one of the Norwegian bands that put Scandinavia, and particularly Norway herself, back on the map. It was the creation of ‘Under ein Blodraud Maane’ that inspired many to delve deeper into the roots of black metal and the future of the genre, as a whole. Manes’ debut effort is impressive. It sticks to a certain amount of traditional elements and gives them a much needed facelift with an inclusion of some fresh and interesting elements, much of which are provided by the awe inspiring programming and synthesizer usage. Comparisons are likely to be made to a number of the second wave bands, as the previous reviewer has done and some are certainly justifiable. As the previous reviewer kindly stated for me, the use of the keyboards links to an important band within the genre, the much loved and much praised Limbonic Art whom, personally, I don’t much like. Although that may be the case, I can appreciate the apparent influence on Manes’ keyboard sections, which are utterly astounding and the main positive to take away from the record.
Whilst, of course, the rasping vocals or the tremolo riffs may take credit for much of the direction of the record, it’s the subtlety of the keyboards that impresses. The soundscapes wouldn’t be as wonderful if it were not for the inclusion of the keyboards, which contain symphonic elements and are productively creating there own blend of melodies whilst the lead guitars wrap themselves around the creative juices that the keyboards begin to flow through the record. It seems that much of the inspiration behind the deceptively emotive guitars is based around the diversity that the keyboards bring to the foreground. Take songs like ‘Uten Liv Ligger Landet Øde’ or the title track, ‘Under ein Blodraud Maane’. It is songs like these that display the brilliance that is the keyboards and how they allow the other aspects of instrumentation to attach themselves around it and feed off it. The keyboards are truly immense and the main element of ‘Under ein Blodraud Maane’ that one must pay particular attention to.
Much of the debut is decisively deceptive. The tremolo riffs disguise what is actually an often slow paced affair well. The soundscapes are built gradually on the foundations that the keyboards often lay down. Vocally, Manes don’t provide anything we haven’t heard before, but the mixture of symphonic melodies and harsh undertones are an idyllic basis for the vocals to work the aggressive angle that Manes wish to portray on occasions. One would go as far to say that ’Under ein Blodraud Maane’ is a spectacular and sublime effort of controlled black metal madness. The tortured emotions that subtly etch themselves into our minds are dark and depressive, but never overbearing. This isn’t a depressive black metal record, let it be known. In terms of the production, like the sludge genre would do, it’s murky. This allows the different elements of the soundscapes to manipulate the audience in whatever they want. Whilst the piano interludes are pulling you in one direction, the dismal tones of the bass are pulling you in another. This seems to me to be a lost gem of Norwegian black metal art.
This album is just incredible. It in itself hundreds of different things and influences. It reminds me three great, but so different bands: Burzum, Samael and Limbonic Art.
The music is based on ruckling guitar, which plays simple melodies in rather slow tempo. Here, its' role is only to be a basement for melodies, just to establish the rythm. The whole music creates a great, depressive atmosphere, even more sad than Burzum. The songs last for 5 to 7 minutes, so it is enough to present various melodies and arrangements.
Why Limbonic Art?
Because of the role of keyboards. It is them, which creates melodies. They're evrywhere and they may have different functions - either build up the atmopshere, make the riffs sound better or to make melodies. You can even find here a keyboard solo!
Those piano stuff, intervals and so on, which remind me "Blood Ritual". Another thing responsible for the atmosphere and the climate.
But Manes is much more than those bands. Manes has created its own, psychodelic style, full of arrangements taken from other, not metal genres. Here you can find many industrial elements, strange sounds and so on. The vocals are growled, but in a strange way. The whole music is so complicated, so strange, so different from anything else...
The best thing in Manes is that the band used its' originality and uncommonness in creating great, fascinating music. There are many bands which show something interesting, but they cannot create good songs. Manes can. Many great riffs, keyboard melodies, industrial intervals - it all makes this music original, but also great.
So, Manes is much more than black metal. So what is it, then? I would describe it as psychodelic vanguard metal with industrial elements. Ah... just listen to it. I guarantee emotions.