The inventiveness of the wider metal genre never ceases to amaze and delight me. Every once in a while, a band comes along that gives a familiar sound a new twist, a twist that I did not expect, making me remember music I like and fall in love with it all over again. Idle Hands from Portland, Oregon, are such a band and to my ears they sound brilliant.

Already on their EP Don’t Waste Your Time released in November last year it was audible that Idle Hands were up to something slightly different. Their mixture of traditional heavy metal, new wave and goth rock got a lot of attention and praise from critics and audiences alike. Their first full-length Mana proves that both praise and attention were completely justified. On Mana the band have perfected their very own mixture of heavy music. Apart from the above-mentioned genres, I can hear the Ramones, Misfits, The Sisters of Mercy and a bit of Bob Mould in their sound, which makes me like it even more.

Very melodic and often catchy, all of the album’s 11 songs have an almost instant appeal. Listening to the pre-released Give Me To The Night will be enough to warm you to the band’s sound. An additional listen will win you over and have you long for more, and before you know it, you’ll be singing along. Mana is fun to listen to, despite its gloomy atmosphere.

What’s so special about it? While the guitarwork will put a smile on every metalhead’s face, what I like best are the vocals, the lyrics and the drumming, and, of course, all of it together.

Gabriel Franco’s vocals are of a naturally dark and deep character, and although the album features only clean singing, apart from the occasional howl or grunt here and there, the vocals are the main factor that creates the gloomy, dark atmosphere – aided by the lyrics. Themes covered are in accordance with the gothic genre. Although no creatures of the night are explicitly mentioned, you can hear them lurking in the shadows. However, more philosophical subjects are touched as well. Give Me To The Night, for example, deals with the attractiveness of the darkness and the liberty it offers. Don’t Waste Your Time is drenched in a black metal nihilism, and Dragon, Why Do You Cry? seems to bemoan the loss of the power of imagination that’s befalling mostly younger generations.

Apart from the vocals and the lyrics, the drumming is what makes the band’s sound so special. Even on slower tracks, the drums sound like a horse eager to run. You can hear that drummer Colin Vranizan is playing with gusto and enjoyment. The drumming, with its occasional double kick outbursts, is the element that prevents the band’s sound from ever becoming too soapy, despite the catchy and melodic tunes. This is exceptionally well thought through.

I like each and every one of the album’s tracks and would therefore suggest that you leave none out and start at the beginning. The album’s opener Nightfall will introduce you to all of the above. Symbolically titled, it will take you to the edge of the darkness and then it will be up to you to decide if you want to dive in deeper.

It’s only May, but Mana has already secured its place on my best-albums-of-the-year list. Go get it and enjoy.

(8.5/10 Slavica)