Review Summary: The album doesn't immediately draw the listener in, but it later proves to be a solid album.
I am aware of the amount of hate this album has received over the years. As a result, I would just like to set the record straight – this is not a bad album. I concede that the album has its flaws, especially in comparison to the tightness and consistency of their sophomore venture, Doppelgänger. This is most prominent in the difference in quality between the two halves of the album, with the latter half proving to be much stronger and truer to the band’s chaotic formula. Songs such as 'Sledgehammer' and 'Ex-Creations' stick to a similar frame as their predecessors and yet they crank it up a notch. However, even the vastly different 'Caught Up' aids the latter half of the album by showcasing Erak’s singing ability, which was mostly lacking in their previous album. As an acoustic piece it’s very different to their previous work and yet it acts as a fitting breather between the frenetic vocals and guitar work of 'Shhh! If You’re Quiet, I’ll Show You A Dinosaur' and the album’s closer. In regards to this latter half, I agree, there are virtually no flaws (cringingly high vocals in 'Shhh!...' aside).
That said, the first half of the album has been sadly overlooked by many, myself included, due to its catchier and more formulaic nature. 'Quarter Past', for example, is the antithesis to any decent TFOT song in that it is slow and focuses more on vocals rather than the music. Yet despite this, 'The Dark Trail' features some of the best screams heard in a TFOT album with a catchy chorus to boot. The album opener features some lovely guitar and bass work, whilst 'Problem!?' provides an example of the band’s more manic nature, cramming itself into a tidy 1:56 minutes. 'Semi-Fiction' also stands out as another opportunity for Erak to sing properly without any expense to the band’s trademark progressive sound. Some funky space noises are also included during the interlude. Bonus.
The opening half is slower, granted, with a focus on catchier and distinguishable lyrics rather than the usual manic fretwork and crazed shrieks. I admit, it’s markedly different from the second half of the album, but the songs are by no means bad. I implore the haters to give the album another try. Listen to it again. From the start. It may take a few times to fully appreciate the songs, but there is always the chance you’ll find at least one song from the first half you can enjoy. The album isn’t perfect and yet after giving the album another chance I find myself listening to most, if not all of it instead of skipping straight to 'Sledgehammer'. It’s different, sure, but that’s what marks progression in a band. There would be no point cranking out variations of Doppelgänger every two years; it would be boring. Manipulator marks the band stepping out of its comfort zone for the first time, and in spite of what others have said, it is a worthy successor.
'Sledgehammer', 'Seattlantis', 'Semi-Fiction'