Review Summary: Business as usual, in the best way possible.
Power metal may have a reputation for its whimsical escapism abilities--forget the modern world with Tolkienisms, dungeons and beasts and knights and magic and quests!--but it’s a wash when it comes to Manticora. In a perplexing turn of events, they’re entirely disinterested in allowing their listening base to run from the terrors of reality and make-believe. Where some turn to Lord of the Rings, the Danish gang delve into Lovecraftian mythos, the abstract sci-fi narratives of the Hyperion Cantos, or even a horror novel developed by vocalist Lars Larsen himself. Sure, there’s a sense of triumph here or there, but a given Manticora release is more likely to feature hints of death metal than carefree uber-melodic “Just killed the dragon AMA” soloing. Alongside a menacing prog metal edge, the band’s uniquely foreboding aura has assisted in making their material stand out from peers for over two decades--no small feat in a genre often criticized for mimicking the greats rather than building upon their accomplishments.
As the tenth record in the collective’s catalog, Mycelium
is unavoidably stacked against those accomplishments, which is to say nothing of the fact that it’s attempting to succeed a massive double-album concept album of hitmen, a possessed katana, and any other manner of nightmare-fueled supernatural phenomena. Credit to the band’s unshakable consistency; Mycelium
delivers plenty of textbook Manticora earworms that may lack the narrative flair of albums past, but it compensates via improved songwriting and the gang’s tightest pacing since The Black Circus, Part I
The harshness of the Kill to Live
series lingers, embodied in furious blast beats and death-tinged riffs, bombarding the listener with menacing tones that pack ample punch alongside a sturdy rhythm section. However, the excellence of Mycelium
comes from how it can balance those more full-frontal assaults alongside tracks that favor gentler, melodic motifs. Consider the one-two punch of “Demonday” and “Angel Of The Spring”: the former is a veritable whirlwind of furious percussion, unpredictable time signature shifts and foreboding guitar passages, whereas the latter quietly erupts from a soothing melodic riff into a bombastic chorus and emotive soloing. Each has their own unique payoffs, be it a pure shot of adrenaline or a hook-laden, gentle progression to a climax, which assists greatly in diversifying the album’s tracklist.
That commendable variety is aided by a breakneck 46-minute duration--an incredibly concise runtime that comes courtesy of an overall streamlined approach. Resident axemen Kristian Larsen and Stefan Johansson liberally flaunt their talent when offered the opportunity, such as the raucous solos of “Mementopolis” and “Dia De Los Muertos,” yet they ultimately remain within the bounds of finely-tuned arrangements that have meticulously trimmed the fat of prior efforts. Downsizing in that regard has demonstrated immense potential; it transforms proper opener “Necropolitans” into a fierce, galloping jaunt reinforced with a punishing Symphony X-type edge, and the title track into a artfully-refined melodic powerhouse. There may be comparatively less room for exploration, but the sheer vitality of Mycelium
proves a sufficient supplement.
From the ageless baritone bellowing of Lars Larsen to his brother’s menacing riffs, Manticora sound as energized as ever, delivering knockout progressive metal blows like prime Nevermore or furiously charging into battle like a bona fide power metal act. Naturally, it’s all staged in a suitably heavy production that accentuates the low end, boosts the darkened stylings of the group’s songwriting, and enhances the horror-infused dramatics that their lyricism so often leans into. That level of consistency across multiple decades is an impressive achievement in of itself, and it’s made even more commendable when considering how easily the group can still craft irresistible, addicting rockers. The ingenuity that powered classics like Hyperion
or 8 Deadly Sins
is still observed in abundance, and it can doubtlessly maintain another few decades of Manticora’s delightful reign of terror.