Manes undoubtedly come from the Norwegian planet, inhabited by Atrox, Green Carnation, Audrey Horne and others, where life is seen from an odd and oblique angle. My only previous exposure to this band, who have now released four albums and endless other bits in three spells since 1993, was their “Teeth, Toes and Other Trinkets” (2014) collection which ranked highly in the unusual musical mix department but less highly in coherence.
From the beginning, “Be All End All” sucks us into a world of woozy nightmares. “A Deathpact Most Imminent” is dark, hairy and spooky. The impression that Manes give is that they’re somewhere else while we’re left alone in isolation. The trip hop beat adds to the languidness. In this respect I am reminded of Netra. Strange sound effects emerge and suck us into this weird and dark world of misty atmospheres. The watery mechanical sound of “Ars Moriendi (The Lower Crown)” has a strong air of Pink Floyd. Weird and nightmarish is the only way I can describe “A Safe Place in the Unsafe” and indeed most of this work. “Blanket of Ashes” is delivered in a sinister and deliberate vocal style which strongly recalls Green Carnation. Musically, it’s dark and moody and even has a strange eastern distortion. One slightly unsatisfactory feature is the way that it finishes without any apparent attempt at conclusion. I thought there was much more in this track but Manes decided differently.
This band likes to experiment with sound and “Be All End All” is all the more interesting for it. A throbbing rhythm runs through “Broken Fire”. The echoes give way to a post rock feel but these moments are fleeting. When I first heard “Free as In Free to Leave”, I though Manes had lost the plot. It’s trip hop with swirling clouds, samples and voices. Having listened to it again, I’ve come to appreciate the buzzing intensity of this ode to total insanity. “Name the Serpent” is almost normal but then anything would be after “Free as in Free to Leave”. The pounding drum sets the atmosphere. The guitar’s ring is sinister while the vocalist rambles on darkly. As the track develops, so does the tension. “Name the Serpent” goes beyond deep psychological impact and touches nerves like musical acupuncture – great track. Not for the first time, the vocalist reminds me of Bowie on “The Nature and the Function of Sacrifice” but more significantly, the skill lies in the subtle and sophisticated shuffling of sound which takes on a post rock form with shimmering bells and orchestral elegance. The ambience is soothing and wondrous in a near spiritual way. Manes pull off a masterstroke with the epic closing track “Turn the Streams”. The drum sets the mood as always. An off beat rhythm is the foil for an anthemic and memorable chorus. It’s passionate but measured. The shadowy air is reinforced by one last surprise: a lonely trumpet refrain which takes to us the middle of the night amid the bright lights of the city. The balance of “Turn the Streams” is amazing, and brings the album to an end on a high note.
Although “Be All End All” seems to be made of thick, clotting blood, it’s highly imaginative and got my juices flowing. The only solution is to check in to my nearest lunatic asylum. I expect I’ll find the members of Manes somewhere in there.
(8.5/10 Andrew Doherty)