It may come as a surprise to some, but Manticora have been a going concern for over 20 years. Their debut came out in 1999 and their Dark-tinged speed-driven Power Metal style spawned a further 5 albums over the following 8 years, culminating with “The Black Circus”, a conceptual two part journey over two albums in two years. “Safe” emerged in 2010 that continued the band’s route into speedier Metal territory, but then nothing from Manticora until now.

That 8 year break in recording enabled vocalist Lars F. Larsen to write a novel (the concept behind this album and the next) and was audibly a pause for the band to take a big deep breath and explode into their next endeavour with seemingly limitless speed and aggression. I guess the writing was on the wall after reading the album title but those early Power Metal-fused days have on the surface been quite literally pounded into submission by a Nevermore-esque, Thrash-tinged Speed Metal style that is initially unrelenting. The vocals still maintain their Axenstar/Human Fortress/Mob Rules type mid-to-high range delivery, which sit low in the mix as they have always tended to do and along with the bands newly refined sound, ties them nicely to late 80’s US Speed Metal.

After an intro piece ‘Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor’ (© Tchaikovsky 1875…yes, that one…) the frantic rhythm section underpins impressive Jeff Loomis style guitar-work and doesn’t really ease off until track 5 when some farmers start to get involved. Quite literally as the track in question is called ‘The Farmer’s Tale Pt. 1 – The Aftermath of Indifference’ (certainly a more interesting fellow than most of the farmers I’ve met or we’d have six and a half minutes about how bad the weather’s been and worming cattle…). It has a groovier Brainstorm flavoured undertone to it that gives more room for the vocals and sports a really nice violin break and some great lead-work. Going forward, it feels that the album is a little more varied from here on in with tracks like ‘Growth’ and ‘Katana – Opium’ having more variation than some of the earlier tracks.

I’m sure this is an intention of the band – bombard the listener for a few tracks and leave them reeling while the album explores some other areas, whilst still maintaining it’s persistent heaviness obviously! The poignant ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ even has a piano intro and a doom-laden gait to it’s make-up. As the album draws to it’s epic conclusion when a farmer wades in once more with his size 12 wellies on ‘The Farmer’s Tale pt 2 – Annihilation At The Graves’, the mood is back up to full tilt and intensity once more and readying the listener for the second instalment, due sometime next year. Watch this space…

(7/10 Andy Barker)