Twenty-two years in the making, Manimalism is finally releasing their self-titled début. Fittingly, despite the obviously excellent instrumentation, it took a few listens before I started to actually enjoy the record. Now, I’ve reached the point where I think this aural demonstration of the Kim Sølve’s twisted imagination is as clever as it is disturbing. Originating as Taarenes Vaar in 1992 on a very different metal landscape, Sølve resolved to push his brand of Norwegian black metal further than previously. Composed of two demos from 1996 and 1997, plus additional material from the same period, the integration of black metal with avant garde here is raw and darkly perverse. Though not extreme in the same way as Mayhem or Thorns, the complex musical interplay, dissonant soundscape and crooned vocals contribute to an unsettling listening experience. While not perfect, I’ve been spinning it with maniacal glee.
First off, Sølve’s lyrics and the overall tone of the music are awesome. It strongly evokes an image of a Satanic dinner party, with the perversions of eloquence and etiquette this would entail, and equal quotients of sex and violence. The almost stately delivery of the vocals on “Demons In Tuxedos” feels like the opening address, and the creepy swing on “Romance” feels like the post-dinner encounter with a seductress in a dark back room. The heaviest track, “The Crooner,” is when Satan is gleefully slipping daggers between shoulder blades, and “The Cocktail Party To End Them All” is the grand conclusion to the wicked revelry. Manimalism tells a story, and I eagerly anticipate future nightmares which Sølve will hopefully unleash on the world.
Additionally, the musicianship here is excellent. A perfectionist, Sølve has shifted the line-up many times until he settled on Plenum on bass, Bjeima on drums, and himself on guitars. The rhythm and drum-line on “Romance” is perfectly decadent for such a record: it reminds me of Sigh‘s “Amnesia” for its dark and sexual swing. The technical transitions on “The Crooner” are impressive and the complex compositions and layering across the entire record aids the feeling of uniqueness. The tense atmosphere, occasional blast beats and tremolo-picked chords grounds Manimalism in black metal, but the progressiveness veers into avant garde, revealing more with each listen. The record thrives on the synthesis of discordant chords, swinging rhythms and convoluted yet melodic vocal and guitar lines. This is best represented by “The Dandified And The Devilish.”
In this lies the greatest flaw of the fascinating music: you need to be a very active listener to get everything from this record. Only when paying attention can you fully appreciate the dark intricacies and subtle instrumentation. This is not a background record, and virtually requires explicit contemplation. Many people listen to music while otherwise occupied, and this record can wash by without leaving a mark on those with divided attention. This is arguably true of much music, but it says something that I noticed it particularly for Manimalism. Additionally, as the maelstrom builds around you towards the end of “The Gentleman Is In The Detail” and in “The Crooner,” the music calls for a blackened croak or shriek, but Manimalism resolutely only uses clean vocals. The self-important and grandiose style largely fits the decadence, but does not do justice to the full extent of the complex music. The twisted soundscape would benefit from sparingly-used extreme vocals in my opinion.
Nevertheless, this is a very strong record. To those willing to invest a little time, Manimalism exemplifies the best aspects of Norwegian black metal, and builds on this to reach more progressive territory. Indeed, the production is far superior to other 90s Norwegian black metal, with a deeper bass and more holistic approach and with all instruments represented. All Manimalism needs is a little time to get under your skin. Ignore their name, listen a few times, then fall for one of the best blackened progressive records of the year.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Release dates: Out Worldwide: 11.17.2014