Review Summary: Sounds like: A second wave Norwegian kvlt crew discarding their traditional sound in favor of a progressive trip-hop/ambient edge.
Manes is a rather infamous metal band in the Norwegian community. To sum it up, they used to play raw atmospheric black metal which was still quite unique for the time being. By utilizing keyboards with heavy distortion, thundering tremolo picked riffs, and fierce vocals, they commanded a respectable amount of fandom. After their thrilling and successful debut in Under ein Blodraud Maane, Manes pretty much noosed themselves with a major sonic overhaul poised to alienate more than a few corpse painted hippies. While fans anticipating for the next album “Vilosophe” were expecting more of the same old, they instead received a progressive tinged experimental trip hop record masquerading in hard rock/metal. In Ulver-esque fashion, Manes tossed out their old black metal sound in favor of something more expansive and creative. Picture a tossup between Perdition City and Mezzanine with constantly morphing dynamics and you have a vague idea of what to expect.
Vilosophe, written and released four years after their stellar debut found the band distancing themselves from the raw, primal aggression of black metal. Instead, Manes replaced intricate, hollowed out riffing patterns with drawn out melodic passages and mid tempo chugging. The guitar’s importance has been significantly reduced although the pure metal element still remains thanks to heavy power chords. More or less, Cernunus and Eivind utilize their instruments to contrast the mellow instrumental sections with a jolt of aggression. This soft/heavy dynamic works extremely well through the album‘s duration, especially on the 10 minute epic “Diving With Your Hands Bound(Nearly Flying)” which features an Arcturus like slant. Starting off as a haunting ambient track, the track seamlessly progresses to avant-garde metal before closing in electronica fashion.
The vocal department has been completely revamped as Tommy no longer growls or shrieks, instead favoring a high pitched vocal style similar to Garm‘s work in Arcturus. Although not quite as prolific as Trickster G. Rex, his singing is powerful and projects itself as an instrument, wailing through the heavy layers of synth and percussion. Overall, the vocals nicely equip to the multi faceted nature of Vilosophe without sounding “overly” pretentious. Who am I kidding, the vocals are so pretentious they’d make even William Shatner blush. My only recommendation is for you to go in with an open mind and not be too judgmental as many of you sputnikers are. I’m sure some will be put off while at the same time be enjoyed by others. Highlights include ’Confluence”, “The Hardest Of Comedowns”, “Ende”, and “Terminus”.
Now moving on to the brains of the operation. Cernusus doubles as a synth programmer, alternating between provocative trip hop beats, jazzy electronica embellishes, and soaring ambient passages. His ability to weave through genres without sounding disjointed or forced is a feat all in itself. Occasionally discordant but always sublime, the trip hop-ambient-jazz-metal formula is executed surprisingly well. Tempos vary from low to mid, making the transitions run smoothly and effectively. It was pretty brave of these North Men to completely discombobulate their proven black metal sound in favor of a genre splicing cluster*** with career suicide looming in the distance.
The percussion on this album is definitely the most unique aspect. By bridging together organic styled playing with synthetic drum loops, Manes ridiculously attempt to bridge electronic music and heavy metal together. Fortunately the assimilation flows delicately with graceful songwriting and proficient musicianship. Pummeling drum fills and rolls are prominent during the heavier sections while the loops are integrated into the electronica elements, lending the feel of a hybrid album, which Vilosophe essentially is. Some how it works although it takes some time adjusting from the sputtering tradeoffs. The bass lines are effectively handled by Torstein who shines in his rather diminished role.
With Vilosophe, Manes have successfully transitioned from black metal band to a highly engaging experimental project. Excelling in both fluid dynamics and song structuring, Manes have created an artistic gem through the limitless confines of heavy metal. Far from just an Ulver clone, Vilosophe pushes several boundaries with their unique bastardized fusion of Massive Attack, Ulver, and Solefald. I highly recommend this album to anyone searching for quality and unique music.