without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Disclosure is the second and final part of Manticora's The Black Circus, a project rivaling even the ambitious complexity of 8 Deadly Sins and the narrative of Hyperion. The story for The Black Circus is a Manticora original, impressive in its simple structure which nevertheless allows for diverse examinations of the human condition and our weakness under the influence of others.
Disclosure opens with more of a bang, if anything, than the crushing opener on the predecessor, with the mighty melodic thrash of 'Beauty Will Fade', Lars Larsen sounding as if his mouth is a mile wide. The atmosphere is darker and the melodies more depressive sounding, few chinks of light escaping from the relentless pounding of the sharp and heavy guitars and Larsen's imposing diction. The ambitious technicality has been ratcheted up a notch, with sweep-picked, shredding guitar lines and tight drum patterns.
The reason for this intensification is the advancement of The Black Circus' storyline. Letters saw him observing the morbid behaviour of the circus folk as an outsider, whereas here he has become one of the gypsies (following a resolution he made at the end of the first album). Where before the music was descriptive in its articulation of carnivalesque insanity, here it is born directly from that madness, explaining the looser structures and schizophrenic shifts in temperament. As if to emphasize the music as the expression of the character's mental state directly instead of his thoughts, the reflective intunerics that before saw the central character questioning what was going on around him are now bereft of narration, featuring instrumental pieces of music instead.
There are in fact only five full songs here, one less than the previous album, but they are larger in scale and longer in length, more progressive if that was possible. While 'Gypsies' Dance Pt. 1' was one of the tracks that made the first album so great, the sequel here surpasses it. A truly glorious and epic section opens and closes it that makes Don Giovanni seem a little undeveloped in terms of scale, leading into hyperactive speed metal that sounds like Painkiller-era Judas Priest on crack, over two full minutes of adrenalin-filled instrumental skull-destroying before Lars is back in with all the hesitation of a paternally enraged alpha gorilla.
The short interludes between each track integrate better on Disclosure, establishing the mood of the following song and improving the disc's cohesion. 'Haita Di Lupi' meanwhile is a short and highly virtuoso technical metal instrumental built around a mournful yet rapid motif on the spanish guitar reminiscent of Isaac Albeniz' 'Asturias.' It's really, really exciting, I shit you not. Building on the themes introduced by the instrumentals, 'When the Soulreapers Cry' bears the memory of 'Haita Di Lupi' and 'Intuneric V' before it, matching their acoustic melancholy with thumping drums and lightning shredding.
I cannot listen to Letters but I have to hear this immediately after. The desparate, building tension of the melodic riffs in 'All That Remain' and the accompanying apocalyptic guitar solos create an air of finality that draws on the rest of the two discs before to add weight to the climactic, epic closer to the saga, 'Of Madness in its Purity.' Despite the catchiness and pace of the eleven full songs on the two albums, they immediately shed their magic when extracted from their intended running order and context. The same applies to the two discs; listening to one independently can deliver only half as much emotion and impression as setting aside the time to hear all ninety minutes of this unbelievably well-executed opera of power metal.
Manticora is quite the interesting band. It is a power metal band, formed in Denmark in 1996, and while they haven't exactly gained the popularity of some of their power metal brethren they've still soldiered on, releasing six albums in eleven years. But just what makes their sound so interesting? Could it be their unique take on an over saturated genre? Possibly. Their incorporating of influences such as Iron Maiden, Iced Earth, and Blind Guardian without sounding directly related to them? I suppose one could make a case for that. But I think what draws me to the band the most is their lyrical content. Both of their two latest albums, The Black Circus Parts 1 (Letters) and 2 (Disclosure) are concept albums revolving around a mysterious travelling in the 19th century. I won't dwell too much on the concept right now, but I will say that it provides a haunting edge to the album. Overall, The Black Circus Part 1 is probably a more solid offering than Part 2, but Disclosure is still a solid album regardless.
Like I mentioned earlier, Manticora plays a very distinct, unique style of power metal. Similarly to the lyrics and the album art, the album is quite dark and eerie. This dark atmosphere can be attributed to several elements of the bands sound. Perhaps the trait which most directly reflects this mood is the style of riffing which makes up a majority of the tracks. Guitarists Kristian Larsen and Martin Arendal often incorporate a heavy, thrash style of riffing into Manticora's tunes. They aren't necessarily the most impressive riffs you'll ever hear; they won't steal the spotlight, grind your face in, or send you into spastic bouts of headbanging, but they do get the job done and provide the song in question with a solid rhythm to build the track around. The likes of All That Remain and Gypsies Dance Pt. 2 are two of the strongest tracks when it comes to the riffs, as they set the pace of the track early on and manage to hold the listener's interest throughout the song's respective runtimes. Of course, the band does not solely make us of thrashy rhythms. Manticora's progressive influences shine through in songs such as Gypsies Dance Pt. 2 and Beauty Will Fade, two tracks which contain several time changes, lengthy solos and technical performances. Those who enjoy aggressive power metal or thrash should readily enjoy Manticora's latest offering, as it is quite infectious and interesting.
Another aspect of The Black Circus 2 which adds to the dark, brooding sound is the vocal efforts of frontman Lars Larsen. Similarly to the likes of former Iced Earth vocalist Matt Barlow and Falconer frontman Matthias Blad, Lars is not your typical power metal vocalist. Rather than making use of a high falsetto throughout the 42 minute record, Larsen sings in a much lower range. Much like the album's riffs, Lars' contribution has a deeper sound to it. He can hit the mid to higher range songs at times, as All That Remain shows, but for the most part he sings in his deeper tone, which fits the music better anyways. Truth be told I personally do not like his style of singing, especially in the chorus of Gypsies Dance Pt. 2, but throughout the album Lars proves that he has the ability to front the band at a high level.
And finally, there's the concept behind the album. Don't let me raise your hopes too high, as The Black Circus' lyrical content is not some extraordinary masterpiece. No, a piece of inevitably classic literature this is not. But it is still quite an interesting tale. Like I mentioned earlier, The Black Circus Pt. 2 tells of a travelling circus in the 19th century. Like the album's title should imply, the circus in this story is not your average circus, and throughout the about half dozen tracks with lyrics, the peril which surround those who come into contact with it. The lyrics of songs like "Burning, destroying and with a violent gust / All that remains are ashes and dust" (All That Remain) or "All the sounds have faded, everyone holds their breath / Suddenly aware of the heavy smell of death" (When the Soulreapers Cry) paint a very powerful picture in the listeners mind, and depict the horrors of the concept hauntingly well. The lyrics are complimented by the music extremely well, and for this reason The Black Circus Pt 2 is definitely an interesting album to listen to.
Overall, Manticora's latest album is a very worthwhile album. Combining power metal with thrash and progressive influences, the Danish band seem to have found an infectious formula which is both enjoyable and interesting. Songs like All That Remain and Of Madness in its Purity and Gypsies Dance Pt. 2 display both the song writing and the musical skill of the band quite well and are all (especially All That Remain) quite fun to listen to. As most of the full length tracks exceed six minutes, a few of them could stand to be a little shorter (especially When the Soulreapers Cry), but for the most part much of Manticora's sixth release flows exceedingly well. Those who enjoyed the band's previous record will likely enjoy this album as it does not exactly change up the band's style of playing, but manages to make it sound fresh and new all the same. Pick this up if you have the chance.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)