Thursday, January 28, 2016

Manimal - Trapped In The Shadows (2016)

Having not heard the band's previous record, I'm going completely off what I've heard here from the Swedish power metallers. The disc claims to be a mixture of Painkiller-era Priest with a touch of Queensryche at their best, and I can say for the most part that the definition is true. The riffs certainly remind me of thrashy Priest, while the melodies and progressions clearly remind me of Queensryche. I could never get into Queensryche and may have mentioned that I still can't get into the legendary Operation Mindcrime album. It's not that I haven't tried though, I've given that record five listens at least and just never felt it. Trapped In The Shadows is a completely different story however as the record comes forth with the Priestly power evoked on “Irresistible” (6:02) and charges right into the proggy “March Of Madness” (4:36) which both show fantastic highs from Samuel Nyman, and pure firepower from axeman Henrik Stenroos. Both pieces are literally catchy as hell and should have nearly every classic metal fan with their horns raised in the air. “The Dark” (4:58) seems to stand in the way though and almost feels a bit out of place. Though Nyman hits the highs in chorus, the track just sort of plods for me and you'll see what I'm talking about. The title cut (4:12) comes next though, seeming like a variation of “Painkiller” as it quickly changes to a more melodic note, by which a fantastic and very memorable chorus number escapes. There's even a nice little solo on the piece. “Invincible” (5:20) follows right in thick chugs, as background keyboards and clean harmonies really bring the chorus home. So far, I can say that this record has far more hits than misses, and when it does hit, it hits hard. Additionally, these guys like to texture their songs a little more than other bands in their genre, giving me something more to listen to than verse chorus. The bridge sections really deliver, allowing them to really bring it on home with the finale. Love them or hate them, Manimal are one of the best power metal acts I've heard in a very long time. Can they keep this up?

A Swedish interviewer on MA says that around “Man-Made Devil” (5:27) things started to slow down for him. While I can see what he's talking about, I can't completely agree. Even Painkiller had it's slower cuts, like “Touch Of Evil” for example. But there's not a damn thing wrong with that, especially noting how memorable the cut was. With this song however, the band seem to go into an almost theatrical state that brings with it more chunk later on in the piece. There's a piano section, as well as a really interesting theremin type effect that creates an otherworldly atmosphere to the track. It's different, but different is always good. If these guys made nine more copies of “Irresistible” then I would have irresistibly thrown the disc into the waste bin. We need to allow musicians to experiment and evolve, which is what they've done here. “Silent Messiah” (6:02) really comes off like Helloween, which certainly isn't a problem, especially when you're catching Nyman's amazing highs in there. The track adds some electronic effects and orchestration (to which some might utter, what?) which adds a little bit of possibly unneeded longevity to the piece. Though the much shorter cut, “The Journey” (4:13) takes things into a more balladic nature as the legendary Udo Dirkschneider guests on a much different piece than we might expect from the Swedish metal act. It's another experiment, which should appeal to fans of Udo's previous work. “Screaming Out” (4:17) continues the experimentation, as a backing children's choir backs Nyman's chorus. It strikes me as a bit odd, especially seeing that the track is quite punchy. The final note here is “Psychopomp” (5:15) which features an unexpected harsh vocal chorus in lieu of the familiar heavy metal heat. It feels like a bit of an afterthought and doesn't really accomplish anything that hasn't already been accomplished on the earlier cuts.
Having taken the entire album into observation, I can honestly say that it began as a really promising piece. But I feel that after “Man-Made Devil” things just sort of fell apart. The last couple of songs just kind of felt like outcasts and didn't really strike the impact that we felt with the first half of the disc. When you first hear this disc, it's going to feel like a giant has punched you in the face. But as you continue listening, it's going to feel as if that mighty giant has walked on to greener pastures. I liked the fact that they were experimenting, but perhaps it became too much of an experiment at the end, sounding like a band that perhaps got a bit confused or maybe even rushed. Trapped In The Shadows is still worth a listen, but it's a classic example of starting out with a bang and ending with a whimper.

(10 Tracks, 50:00)


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