Manticora – To Live to Kill to Live Review

Two years is a long time to chew on an album. In the case of Manticora’s 2018 comeback record, To Kill to Live to Kill, personal reconciliation is in order. At the time of the album’s release, I was enamored with it, and for good reason. It’s a monolithic and singularly unique power metal LP, one which dances with extreme metal more liberally than damn near anything else in its genre. Over time, however, some of its weaker tracks lost their initial charm, and a handful of its straightforward cuts began to blend in my memory. Listening to its conceptual sequel, To Live to Kill to Live, shines a spotlight on these problems; but only because it nearly erases them altogether. Boldly ambitious and virtually free of filler, To Live to Kill to Live is the ideal variant of Manticora’s reinvigorated sound.

Where To Kill saw Manticora’s established brand of Teutonic-inspired thrashing power metal trading measures with its burgeoning extreme metal aspirations, its successor finds the band integrating their new ideas near-seamlessly. This results in an array of wonderfully off-kilter compositions. “The Farmers Tale Pt. 3,” for instance, sees melodic vocal stylings contorted to suit a wall of dissonant black metal, to perplexing yet undeniably gripping effect. Later on, “Tasered – Ice Cage” offers what essentially boils down to a death metal waltz – if Blind Guardian played death metal, that is. Where To Kill’s most experimental cuts formed its weakest links in retrospect, every track on To Live feels like a vital piece of the puzzle. It’s also the first Manticora record since 2004’s 8 Deadly Sins that has a right to such a claim.

What makes To Live to Kill to Live so special, moreso than its consistency, is how it succeeds at being Manticora’s most melodically accessible album despite its extreme metal leanings. “Goodbye Tina” is an emotive piece of melodic prog that could probably find a comfortable home on a Voyager record. Elsewhere, Song o’ the Year contender “Slaughter in the Desert Room” builds immovable grooves around a chorus worthy of Unleash the Archers – before exploding into an unexpected blast of cacophonic, catchy black metal. Even at its most melodic, To Live’s lyrical themes, centering on cycles of gruesome violence and revenge, never waver. When the lyrics of the musically tender chorus of “Through the Eyes of the Killer – Filing Teeth” describe the removal of lips in order to facilitate said filing of teeth, it makes for a deliciously disgusting dichotomy.

As with To Live to Kill to Live’s predecessor, production is handled by Jacob Hansen. Both records are engineered identically for consistency, so Hansen’s typically bold, modern metal sound remains a good fit for Manticora’s current style. Unfortunately, this also means that the vocals remain a bit obscured in the mix. Shame, too, as this might be the best showing in frontman Lars Larsen’s career thus far. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly has improved, but in general I get the impression that his delivery is more controlled and dynamic than on prior outings. Stealing the show once again is Lawrence Dinamarca, who drums the absolute shit out of his parts. I was elated to hear he joined Manticora as a full-time member this year, and for good reason. His colorful fills and flourishes make him an excellent fit for such an eclectic project.

As I reached conclusory track “Katana – Beheaded” on my initial spin of To Live to Kill to Live, I literally pumped my fist in excitement during its opening seconds. The track is so immediately excellent that I instantly knew I was listening to what is undoubtedly Manticora’s finest record. There are many bands setting new limits on what it means to play power metal, but Manticora stands apart as what might be the only group pushing the boundaries this hard after being in the game for so long. It’s honestly kind of remarkable that they managed to make both their best and most ambitious record in one giant swing. At sixty-three minutes, To Live stands in direct defiance of both the law of diminishing returns and the forty-five minute rule. Considering the genre rules they bent along the way, perhaps the more rules they break going forward, the better.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: ViciSolum Productions Official | Bandcamp
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: August 28th, 2020

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