Manticora - The Black Circus Part 1 - Letters
Massacre Records
Melodic / Speed / Power Metal
12 songs (47:24)
Release year: 2006
Manticora, Massacre Records
Reviewed by Ross
Album of the month
Isn’t it strange how some things work out? Way back in 2001 or thereabouts, whilst checking out reviews for Demons & Wizards on Metal Reviews, Manticora’s Roots Of Eternity was reviewed in the same week. The review mentioned the similarities of Iced Earth and Blind Guardian so it was a complete no brainer to get hold of Roots Of Eternity and although I didn’t agree with the reviewers comparison (I thought they were more Stratovarius/Sonata Arctica), I instantly became a fan. And here I am now, writing my first review for Metal Reviews on Manticora - Weird! Later, when Metal Reviews reviewed Darkness With Tales To Tell and said, and I quote - Manticora was going to be “… the next big band on this planet”, I wholeheartedly agreed. However, 5 years down the line, Manticora are still one of Power Metal’s best kept secrets. That is now going to change! The Black Circus Part 1 – Letters sees Manticora coming of age.

From Roots Of Eternity and the similarly sounding Darkness With Tales To Tell, Manticora have been gradually developing their own sound. The Black Circus… sees them dialling-up the low end, cutting back the high vocal shrieks and guitar squeals and it even appears as if Lars F. Larsen’s vocals has dropped a couple of keys. The guitars also sound as if they have been downtuned a step or two and the kick drums come blasting out the speakers like sonic sledgehammers! This lower key sound really gives The Black Circus… dark and heavy atmospheric overtones, giving you a feeling that evil is just around the corner. There are even clips of that creepy carnival jingle in there. If you’ve watched horror or thriller movies that involve people getting dismembered at circuses, fun fairs and carnivals you’ll know what I mean. Talking of evil, low growling vocals appear at points throughout the album that crank up that chill factor; kinda sounds like Danni Filth with a sore throat. Working the knobs and sliders on producing is Manticora silent member Tommy Hansen, who also plays keyboards throughout the album.

The Black Circus… is a concept album, (The band’s third in a row) about a travelling circus touring America in the 1800s, run by Romany Gypsies, and the tale is narrated by a young man who’s dream it was to join a circus. If, like me, the listening to concept albums is marred by a constant whooshing sound as the storyline goes over your head, fear naught, even I managed to understand the story in this one. So much so, that I can’t wait for Part 2

The Black Circus… starts with Enter The Carnival, a speaking introduction with a scary violin and orchestral arrangement that just oozes malevolence before blasting into The Black Circus which is pure Manticora that we know so well. Everything playing at warp factor eleventeen, shredding guitaring that beggars belief and kick-drumming that a ‘Riverdancer’ would be hard pressed to keep in time with. Enchanted Mind is an eclectic mix of chunky riffs, blending in some Progressive/Jazzy guitaring, changing time signatures and haunting vocals from Lars.

Forever Carousel, my personal favourite track, is a guitar freak’s wet dream with everything you’ve ever wished you could play on a guitar in there: Pinch harmonics, sweep picking, tapping, shredding, dual guitar harmonies and everything else obscene you can wring out of a guitar. Guitarists, a re-enlisted Martin Arendal (Wuthering Heights) and Kristian Larsen must have some kind of telepathic powers to keep it all together at that speed. Keeping it all zooming along is some truly awesome drumming from Mads Volf and keeping it all low and menacing on some of the best bass playing I’ve heard for a long time is Kasper Gram. What also strikes you about Forever Carousel is that it sounds like there are two different tunes being played, kinda similar to the two motions of a carousel – Round and round and up and down. Whatever way you want to describe it, like a carousel, it still messes with your head. Of course, all this magnificent musicianship is not confined solely to Forever Carousel, it is interspersed liberally throughout the album, but this track, in my opinion, shows it off in all its manic glory.

Freak Show is a dark brooding ballad that tells about the limbless, extra limbed and deformed wretches that inhabited circuses in these times before the introduction of ‘Political Correctness’. It makes you question who were the freaks; the unfortunately deformed spectacles, or the morbidly fascinated spectators!

Gypsies Dance is another all-out aural assault on your senses that builds up to a crashing crescendo of a finish. Wisdom will have the fur on your tail fuzz up with the hauntingly melodic vocals of Karin Bodum. Old fans of Manticora will remember her from Hyperion. Disciples Of the Entities finishes the album in an explosive blast of lightning fast kick-drum patterns, guitaring and vocals that will leave you strung out like a junkie looking for its next fix, and with the power that is the repeat button, your fix is right there. Unfortunately, these last three tracks have Lars’s vocals reaching their limit of performance which show signs of blowing. But with songs as potent as these, I’m not surprised and the occasional cracks just emphasize the power that is driving them.

Although it says above that there are 12 tracks, throughout the album there are breaks which along with the introductory Enter The Carnival tell the story, so there are really only 7 proper song tracks. These breaks are Intuneries I to IV with Intunerie II kinda creeping you out with a child whispering “C’mon, let’s go”, and you all know that when you hear a child whisper stuff like that, Evil is not far away. Intunerie IV is when the young man is offered to become a gypsy after spying something he shouldn’t – a meeting in the big tent, the daily summoning, The Gathering! All powerfully emotive stuff that will leave you hungry for Part 2 which is due early 2007. FYI, Intuneric is Romanian for DARKNESS; make of that what you will!!

The Black Circus Part 1 – Letters is probably the finest album of European Power Metal I’ve heard in a long time. It had me hooked on the first spin and reels me further into its depths with each listening. In the past Manticora have been likened to Blind Guardian, Halloween and Iced Earth (Though I can’t say I agree with that personally) but this album should shake off this kind of thinking once and for all. However, the album cover was created by Blind Guardian and Iced Earth covermeister Leo Hao which cannot help but muddy the waters somewhat when trying to escape the comparisons. The Black Circus… shows that Manticora have their own sound and are ready to be released from the uncalled for shadow of the aforementioned bands. But hey, if some people are still intent on comparing them to Blind Guardian, Halloween and Iced Earth they must be good to bring such stellar bands such as these to mind. I say “Stop trying to compare!”, enjoy Manticora for what they are, what they do and what they create!

Killing Songs :
All Of Them!!
Ross quoted 96 / 100
Other albums by Manticora that we have reviewed:
Manticora - The Black Circus Part 2 - Disclosure reviewed by Ross and quoted 96 / 100
Manticora - 8 Deadly Sins reviewed by Ben and quoted 86 / 100
Manticora - Hyperion reviewed by Danny and quoted 92 / 100
Manticora - Darkness With Tales To Tell reviewed by Danny and quoted 91 / 100
Manticora - Root Of Eternity reviewed by Danny and quoted 86 / 100
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