Like their countrymen in Ulver, the Norwegian band Manes have traveled far from the kind of music that first drew so many to their side. And it hasn’t been an uninterrupted trip. The first releases in the mid- and late-’90s, which revealed an atypical kind of black metal that soon attracted a fanatical following (many of whom continue to seem fanatical to this day), ended in a hiatus, and when Manes surfaced again with 2003’s Vilosophe, they had become exponents of a very different sound, which led to much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair.
Even that journey also seemed to come to an end in 2011, despite the release three years later of Be All End All. But Manes are now returning again, with a new album whose intriguing title is Slow Motion Death Sequence. It’s scheduled for release by Debemur Morti Productions on August 24th, and as an introduction to what it holds in store, we are helping to premiere a video (the band’s first one ever) directed by Guilherme Henriques for a track called “Endetidstegn”, which opens the record.
I will confess that I’m so poorly versed in current styles of music beyond the realms of extreme metal that I wouldn’t know how to begin stitching together genre references that would make much sense. Debemur Morti refers to “elements of psychedelic electronica and trip hop” converging “over crunching guitars and haunting male/female vocal harmonies”. And thus I suppose it could be thought of as a form of “pop music”, which is a phrase that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
And yet, despite not being even remotely predisposed to give this song a fair chance, I can’t get it out of my head. Perhaps in part that’s because it’s possessed of its own kind of dark and haunting intensity. It’s chilling in a way that appeals to the same currents of emotion and thought that have kept me camped out in the hinterlands of extreme metal for so many years, even if the musical currents of the song are quite different.
Certainly, the subject matter is nothing light or inconsequential. The band explain this about the song:
“The title Endetidstegn is Norwegian and translates as sign (or signs) of the end times. A lot can be found right there. In many ways, it can deal with the notion of inevitability or destiny, and how some feel constricted by this — and thus how the signs of what is to come is merely registered and nothing more.
“As with much of what we do, this song has a somewhat conceptual framework, but is truly given definition or signification in convergence with a listener. The proverbial fist that hits you in the stomach hits even harder when formed in your own head.”
And that, I will say, is exactly right… exactly where and how the song hits. But to be fair, the impact of the blow is in substantial measure due to the combination of the music with Guilherme Henriques‘ stunning video, which portrays “a personal form of apocalypse, the inevitable demise handed down by the vengeful Gods of modern man, vice, alcohol, drugs…”, to quote from the press materials. A sword hangs over the heads of this man and this woman whom you will see; you can imagine their bed as an early grave, and their sleep as an endless oblivion.
But the video only amplifies (albeit powerfully) the stricken and harrowing quality of the music. The song might seem drifting and dreamlike at first, even with the glitchy, darting bits of electronica that flit about during the opening, and the high arc of the vocals. But the vocals change, with a wrenching quality in the timbre, and the crashing cragginess of the guitar and surging drive of the drums bring a sense of mounting collapse. The brief guitar part at the ends feels like heart-ache for lost souls; the final drum beats sound like the last thrusts of a dying heart.
The song seeps under the skin, hard to shake. And yes, for any of us who’ve witnessed friends or family members destroy themselves, or come close to our own self-destruction, the music is the proverbial fist that hits even harder when formed in your own head.
MANES on Facebook:
3. Chemical Heritage
5. Last Resort
6. Poison Enough For Everyone
7. Building The Ship Of Theseus
8. Night Vision