Review Summary: Five years after their lauded but criminally overlooked debut, Norwegian epic auteur-shoegazers return with a follow-up to be contended with, in a year of follow-ups to be contended with.
“A rock'n'roll chamber of magic.” A what? Seriously? Wait. Ok, now I see. Oh, well, maybe he is right. Maybe band leader/songwriter/workhorse Emil Nikolaisen is onto something here, maybe he’s been
onto something for a while now. Maybe in cutting down everything from the meandering, repetitious song writing, to album length (nearly in half!) and band members (now just
a 5-piece), he really did craft this so called “rock’n’roll magic.“ Or just could be that Norwegian dream-rock masters Serena-Maneesh have finally cut out all the fat, grown up just a little (most into their 30s at this point), and thrown together another shambled collection of masterful pop tunes drenched in reverb and wispy vocals -- oh yeah, and some seriously raucous guitars.
Five years ago when they came roaring out of Norway like a force to be reckoned with to major musical shores around the world (rest of Europe, US, Japan) they played alongside the likes of Nine Inch Nails and
Oasis. Which really is fitting, because if anything Serena Maneesh is a band of extremely well balanced polar-opposites. In the every apparent vein of shoegaze, and please don’t mistake it, they are shoegazers, they balance serene beauty with intrepid chaos. Thing is, and what’s always given them a bit of an edge, is just how chaotic they are. Emil, an ex-metal band guitarist, always seemed to instill a certain Black Metal aesthetic to their music, preferring gut-wrenching reverb that was very bass and riff heavy. They consistently were much louder, a lot brasher, than many of their counter-parts, but also, still present distinctly gorgeous pieces of music. Even so A Place To Bury Strangers would get a run for their money in a contest for ‘most ear-bleeding.’ Emil always throwing down serious rippers of solos and guitar licks amongst his sister Hilma’s rumbling bass. She as well, was a bit of an ace in the hole for them, preferring a distinctly droney low end that seemingly few other bands have the balls to bother with, she always gave their lowest lows a serious earth shaking lull, or the greatest heights an invaluable pop bounce. Not to mention the prominent use of keys, and strings (in house organ and viola player), they were always able to hit absurd pop peaks along with their hell bent distorted rock outs.
S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor
is the same Serena Maneesh as before, but, different
. Much in the same way A Sunny Day In Glasgow did last year with their exceptional Ashes Grammar
, they take the fractured, distant, almost cold aspect of their music and heat it the *** up. Abyss
is in your face without question, and even though the riffs are razor sharp and the musical haze thick, it still aims for the heart. Caring less for the epic post-rockish buildups and more so going straight for the hooks, the length of S-M 2
is about twenty minutes shorter than their previous outing, and in sacrificing the repetitious build-up they employed frequently in their old material, it did change their music a lot; but all for the better. Now everything feels concise, complete, there’s no muck to mull through before you hit the good part
-- it is all the good part. The album as well, works superbly as a whole, as compared to a collection of singles, which is very different from their other albums. Their debut seeming almost like a stand-up greatest hits
comp from their early years, this on the other hand is an album. Opener “Ayisha Abyss” heard on it’s own may seem like a meandering ***-all to good pop songwriting and just a decent attempt at a droned atmosphere. Though when employed in the confines of Abyss In B Minor
it reads more like a brilliant calm before the storm. All the influences you’ll find here, from the MBVs & Primal Screams to Swans and Moody Blues, all the metal, prog, punk, and pop, it’s all held carefully under one distinct motif -- be absolutely, ***ing loud
. The pop upheavals that are “Reporbate!” and “I Just Want To See Your Face” are just as head-rattling as the epic-drone-slow burning middle section of “Melody For Jaama,” “Blow Yr Brains In The Morning Rain” and “Honey Jinx.” Which of course is followed by the just as boisterous proggy-pop mammoths, “D.I.W.S.W.T.T.D” and “Magdalena (Symphony #8),” both serious contenders for their best song yet. It is nice to see the five years, and apparent months hulled up in a literal cave outside Oslo, culminated into not only another impressive album, but one that delivers on everything this band had hinted it was capable of over their career.
In a year so far where many old stalwarts have returned with admirable or at times down right awe-inspiring releases, and with what looks to be an almost unfair amount of them on the horizon, its daunting. Not to mention all the young bands who’ve really just come into their own, dropping career worthy LPs like it wasn’t a question, Serena-Maneesh finds themselves at an interesting cross road. They’re not a trusted veteran, with a proven discography, but neither are they young. But really with Abyss In B Minor
, you couldn’t tell, everything here is full of youthful exuberance, with an almost clinical bombast few are capable of without years of experience. But maybe that’s just it, maybe this is not the sound of a band trying to remind us why or prove to us how, but simply craft a collection of great tracks that flow together effortlessly as one interesting, beautiful albeit at times frightening, yet still completely enthralling; album.