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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)