Four horsemen, a debut opus, and the raw emotional power of an energetic instant classic.
In this nebulous and often ambiguously categorized web of heavy music, the scene has spun and it's easy to become trapped in the constant rotation of new music, which typically shifts from Black, to Death, to Doom, only to wake up, and do the whole dance over again the next day. That's why it's a supreme pleasure anytime something truly unique and enjoyable slides across our desks. That work today is courtesy of the fine lads from Portland, otherwise known as IDLE HANDS. Reborn from the ashes of SPELLCASTER, the group effectively sheds the garb of a speed-metal worship group. Combining a flair for the nostalgic with a fun and dance-worthy first release, Mana is the subject of our review today, and pure power is the name of the game.
With an initial twinkling of a soft guitar melody, Nightfall kicks off with a hopping, catchy verse for chorus pattern that much like new chapter of the album beyond it, is insanely catchy and difficult to not attempt to vocally compete with. It's full of the simplistic, lively instrumentals that make IDLE HANDS such a gem in the world of Heavy Metal. Clocking in at just over three and a half minutes, we're torn away from this first taste. Short, sweet, and thirsty for more. Listeners will be blown away, as this reviewer was. Yet it has only just begun.
Jackie, our second stop on this tour, sweats the blood and tears of an all-80's throwback show, rife with the sentimentality and the drive of any young soul with the intent to create a ballad for modern times. Plucking and chugging along in the vein of a Blue Oyster Cult B-side, Jackie wrestles, often with tunnel-vision, with the dreamlike and rose-tinted image of a woman in her youth. Pining for long lost times with the girl left behind, the track sings of an era that many listeners will empathize with. It's a love song for all, a ballad for remembering who was lost, and the heart-wrenching void of what could've been. It's an electric tune with a truly infectious chorus.
Several samples from the third track cross the great divide back into the territories of metal that we're all familiar with. Hard hitting crash and splash coalesce with a harsh bark, a growl, a characteristic "hooah," and a generous sampling from the scene around them. Cosmic Overdrive has all of the blast beats, dual harmonics, and howling vocals an audience could ask for, plus more.
Don't Waste Your Time. What an inappropriately titled quiet assassin. Repetitive, and on first listen, rather Sophomoric. It doesn't take long to see why this track made its way to the public as the first hit single — and hit it does. A troubled tune plays with what feels like it could've been featured in the foreground of the Cascadian classic Pale Folklore, yet the compelling sound behind the track is the heartbeat of sounds in unison, a constant ringing of a hi-hat, the deep hum of a bass-line that is comes out in force for this one. Dooming, foreboding, and heartless, it's no question that IDLE HANDS ran out of sympathy is showing you the door here. Few tracks north of the Depressive-Suicidal Black Metal scene dare to tread the dangerous line of painting a canvas with the bleakness of life, and this reviewer, for one, is glad to see it done so masterfully.
Of all the rock 'n' rollers on this ride, it may be bold to claim that this one stands as tall as it does. The claim remains. This fifth offering, a fist-pumping drive down the IRON MAIDEN avenue of sound signature, is the marrow of what this group brings to the table. Accelerated, crowd-conscious choruses, dual-guitar solos, shifting octaves, and several lines that are written for longevity, not just for this year's release. Mark this reviewer's words; Give Me To The Night is an unforgettable track that is a hook that acts not just as a credit to the group's discography — it's an anthem that represents the finest work Metal has to offer. While more jaded Metalheads may find the composition safe, and easy to access, there is so much to love here, and given the chance, listeners everywhere will find themselves wailing into the distance along with Gabriel Franco, that the "darkness is calling my name."
While the opportunity is there to effectively ruin the surprises behind the album, it will be left to mystery. There are haunting soundscapes to venture through, lyrical themes of dragons and messages to friends who have passed on, await in the upcoming tracks. There's no denying that with any great homage to ages past, the gimmicks and memes of that era are destined to leak into the content of whatever body of work pays tribute to them. Mana is no different. Goofy countdowns, a copious helping of "hooah," and some surprisingly ill-timed harsh vocals break through into otherwise peaceful sections that don't call for it. All of these missteps can be redeemed by the infallible quality of the group to approach every song with an unyielding loyalty to that song's often rigid, and concrete arrangement. Its consistency cannot be overstated, and if in listening to the album one feels it may stray far from the course, they can rest assured, the familiar sound that drew them in is just across the bridge.
Mana is undeniable and enduring. It's the culmination of years in the underground scene of the Pacific Northwest, mingling with Speed, Black, and Doom metal groups that have forged the community into what it is today, as well as heavy hitters from the early 80's that reshaped the airwaves into what we all hear today. If they were placed on stage next to their predecessors in the early days of the mainstream, outside the extreme metal environment, IDLE HANDS would be virtually indistinguishable from their counterparts. This is something to cherish, and encourage. The music community as a whole deserves more groups as willing to devote time and energy into recreating such a true-to-form version of Traditional Heavy Metal, and Goth Rock. It will fill a void that many listeners never knew they had. It will satiate the desires of those made apathetic by years of copy-cats attempting to cash in on a decade that got it right the first time. But most importantly — it will introduce many Metalheads to a less extreme side of their own musical culture.
It is this reviewer's humble opinion, that while Mana is by no means the darkest, it is nonetheless, the HEAVIEST OF ART.
FFO: In Solitude, Tribulation, The Sisters of Mercy, Paradise Lost, The Cure
Mana is out now and you can get your copy HERE. IDLE HANDS is currently out on tour supporting the album and listeners in Europe can catch them live now. Details on obtaining tickets can be found HERE! Don't sleep on it.