Reviewed: October 2018
Released: 2018, Vicisolum Records / Sound Pollution
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
Welcome back, boys. It’s been eight years in the making, but Manticora have at last returned with a new full-length album, To Kill To Live To Kill. How have the intervening years treated them, and has their sound undergone any change in that time?
For the unfamiliar, Manticora are a progressive power metal band from Denmark. To Kill is their eighth full-length album, following 2010’s Safe. The time between included several line-up changes, as well as frontman Lars Larsen writing a novel, one which shares the title of this new album. Alas, I did not have time to read the book as part of this review; perhaps something for a future piece.
In terms of core sound, little has changed over the near-decade since the last release, this is still the Manticora we love and remember. The band has always had a truly unique approach and sound that’s all their own, rather than an imitation of any others. They deftly meld in influences of power metal, progressive metal and lashings of thrashy aggression, avoiding the common cliches and, while playing in a very technically proficient manner, never sounding like they’re being overly flashy just for the sake of it. Everything contributes and comes together beautifully.
What has always stood out most about the band, and still does here, is their ability to weave storytelling into the music in a way few can. Whether it’s individual songs, whole albums or more, they put it together organically and with unending vim and vigour. Never does it sound like the story behind it is tacked on as an afterthought, nor does the music fade and soften to awkwardly make way for more narrative. This is dramatic, powerful storytelling, tales told with swooping and soaring guitars and pounding rhythms all working to drive the story along. The hands on the instruments move perfectly in concert with the one holding the pen. It’s a gorgeous balance, and honestly some of the best in metal.
(Sidenote: not to lessen the story here, but I wouldn’t feel right not mentioning: much as I enjoy the song “Growth”, the first time I heard the steady chanting of “Growth…growth…growth” I couldn’t help but hear it as a bizarre Manticora cover of “row, row, row your boat”…)
As good as all that is, it’s still worth noting that when taken as part of their whole history, this album doesn’t offer much development. If you didn’t like the band before (and yes, those vocals do take some acclimatising to), this won’t convert you. Even as a long time fan, I also do still miss the keyboards from their earlier releases (though 8 Deadly Sins remains one of their best, and proves they can still pull it off without them).
On the other hand, the old adage is “if it ain’t broke…”, and holds true here, especially given the long wait since their last release. If you’re an existing fan and have been pining for new material, this will definitely scratch that itch, and even Manticora doing their usual thing is still a quality act. Some more experimentation next time out would be welcome, but for now, I’ll reiterate: welcome back, boys. It’s great to still have some of the best storytellers in metal with us.