Album Title: Mycelium
Label: Mighty Music
Date of Release: 26 January 2024
On paper, Manticora are a band that I should thoroughly enjoy. The Danes have been around seemingly forever – well, since 1996, so the healthier end of thirty years – with ‘Mycelium’ being their ninth full-length release in that time. I admitted back in 2018, when I reviewed their last record, ‘To Kill To Live To Kill’, that I was relatively unfamiliar with their output and that remains the case five years later as I return to review their newest endeavour. That’s despite the band enjoying a varied genre tag of progressive power metal amongst other things, including a healthy dose of thrash as well as melodic leanings.
The reason for my unfamiliarity with Manticora, though, was simply that I was not overly enamoured with ‘To Kill To Live To Kill’, certainly not enough to delve deep into the Hvidovre-based quartet’s back catalogue. I found the music to be great in places, but overall, just a bit bland and hit-and-miss for my personal tastes. Plus, there was the overall production and vocal delivery of singer Lars F. Larsen, neither of which were completely to my tastes.
Nevertheless, I wanted to give Manticora another try, especially as they featured so heavily on many ‘most anticipated for 2024’ lists by those that I generally trust within music circles. By and large, too, I’m pleased that I have because ‘Mycelium’ is definitely a leap in the right direction as far as I am concerned. In fact, this record contains some of the best music I have heard from Manticora to date. It’s not perfect but compared to ‘To Kill To Live To Kill’, it’s a huge improvement.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed me refer to Manticora as a ‘quartet’ and you’d be right – the accompanying press release offers no reference to the drums, so it’s left to guitarists Kristian Larsen and Stefan Johansson alongside bassist Kasper Gram and vocalist Lars F. Larsen to take the plaudits here. And plaudits they should take, too, as aside from a Jacob Hansen mastering job, everything else on ‘Mycelium’ has been handled by the band themselves.
First on the tick sheet is the length of the record. Despite being a concept album apparently, the whole thing clocks in at an ideal 48 minutes, well over twenty minutes less than the bloated predecessor. The production is also better to my ears, too. At times, it feels a little harsh on the ears, but far less so than previous records, meaning that I can listen to it a lot more frequently without too much fatigue.
‘Mycelium’ kicks off with that most ubiquitous of openings, an instrumental into in the form of ‘Winter Solstice’. However, far from being a moment of eye roll-inducing time waster, it sets a nice tone with a solid melody, dark atmosphere and some chunky riffing that showcases the muscular guitar tones utilised this time around. From there, we’re launched headlong into the unrelenting, high-tempo ‘Necropolitans’ which reminds me initially of latter day Nevermore. That is until Lars’ vocals kick in to provide a much more power metal heavy vibe. It’s here, too, that Manticora have improved in my opinion, as the vocals feel much more in keeping with the music and nowhere near as difficult to digest. Plus, there’s an unrelenting power and pace to the material, not to mention a cracking chorus that’s a hook-laden dream, begging repeat spins.
What I wasn’t ready for was the follow-up, ‘Demonday’, which mashes those Nevermore and power metal influences with more of a grandiose black metal sheen. Admittedly more Dimmu Borgir than Mayhem, but the riffs and overt dense atmospheres certainly offer something far more ‘black’ than I was ever expecting from Manticora. I think it works – it certainly offers a touch of diversity, especially with the effect-laden harsher vocal sounds – but the chorus feels just a little underwhelming overall. Still, kudos for trying.
‘Angel Of The Spring’ offers a touch of respite via the intro and the verses which feature clean guitar notes and a quieter, brooding feel. The chorus ramps things up in terms of heaviness, but not in terms of pace, but this matters not a jot as the strength of this track is found within the melodies that are deployed as well as the effervescent lead guitar work in the latter stages.
If you’re looking for more of Manticora’s thrash leanings, then look no further than the likes of ‘Golem Sapiens’ and ‘Beast Of The Fall’. The former employs some thunderous riffing alongside pounding rhythms, whilst the latter takes a little time to get going before hitting hard with some rather delectable galloping riffs that cut as hard as they bludgeon. In the case of the latter, however, there’s more than a little speed metal and lashings of atmosphere to intermingle with the overt thrash attack that permeates for the most part.
For all that, one of my absolute favourites on ‘Mycelium’ has to be, rather fittingly, the title track. And it is all because of the central melodies that are employed within ‘Mycelium’. Not instantaneous, they work insidiously to take full effect when least expected. The churning, roiling riffs and lead guitar licks that feature are worth the admission fee alone, but when joined with the chorus, the whole song becomes unstoppable and arguably one of my very favourite Manticora songs ever. I like the layered vocals within the chorus, as well as the quasi spoken-word embellishments that crop up here and there. But that chorus is a real thing of epic but understated beauty, so much so that one listen at a time is rarely enough. For my money, Lars F. Larsen has rarely sounded as compelling either.
It all conspires to create a rather surprisingly great listen. If I’m honest, I really wasn’t expecting this conclusion either, given my track record with Manticora. However, I’m genuinely delighted to start 2024 with a positive review, one that the Danes thoroughly deserve. ‘Mycelium’ is without doubt my favourite Manticora release, and by quite a significant margin. Call it power metal, call it thrash. Call it speed metal, call it melodic metal. Call it what you will. The bottom line is that ‘Mycelium’ is a slab of nicely crafted heavy metal with passion, commitment, and a fair bit of variety to boot. I like this, and I’m sure you will too.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%