1998, Hammerheart Records
There's an interesting succinct statement in the lyric/insert booklet here by the band: 'We do not care if the production and sound is not what you expect, and strongly hope (and think) that this album album will appeal to none of the "black" metal people of today.' Now normally a sentence of this sort would be appended to a release that didn't meet the 'normal' requirements of a 'good' sound - i.e., if the production was muffled, poor, or limited in some respect, etc. However, on this album, Manes are insulting you in the first place because they expect that you will not take to the clear and much better than average production, and that you would object to this, coming to expect a necro sound from their demo releases. Strange? This is Manes we're talking about, after all.
So even if this statement by them seems a little out of sorts, I think they accurately predicted the reactions of their audience. Why? Because these songs (re-recorded versions of tracks from their three earlier demo tapes) somewhat surprised me, even though I was prepared to meet them with an open mind, having already come to feel a great deal of admiration for them through listening to the two earlier demo CDs put out by Hammerheart. The greatest characteristic of these songs is their sense of all-consuming darkness and mystery, and the necro production they were formerly treated to greatly enhanced this feature. But what I think Manes was trying to say by releasing a derogatory comment like the one above is that they feel such interpretations are a trap, basically, and that they want their music to be taken as is, without the 'mystique' of a necro sound. They are trying to say that their music speaks for itself, to put it simply. This is fine for me, because the music does have the ability to break through any boundaries or connotations of mystery ascribed to it merely for the sake/in the name of production values, and this CD, with its improved sound, proves that without a shadow of a doubt.
These songs have also been revised somewhat, and if you are a Manes enthusiast you will probably instantly notice the changes: the drum/rhythm differences, the addition of different tones in the synths taking up the same old melodies, etc. I hesitate to say these are really 'changes' in the structure of these songs - I prefer to think of this album as just containing different 'versions' of these songs - new interpretations, maybe, new ideas dressing the classic structures. What I did notice here is how the good sound on this record enhanced the effects of the keyboards and clarified the atmospheres Manes strives to create in these songs - adding different colors, you could say, other than the accepted tones of black and white.
The one thing that this album makes clear to me is that Manes, who until now were probably interpreted as being one of the more conservative of the Norwegian bands (looking back, you could say, constantly on the feeling of '91-'92 in the black metal scene) are actually much more than this, and that their material is as pertinent and involving as it ever was. This album also makes an obvious case for their flexibility and eloquence when it comes to the range of their melodic inventiveness: they do not limit themselves only to a few colors on the palette, and these songs are only enhanced by their new additions.
So, in any case, if you are not a fan of this band, what I have said to this point probably won't make much sense to you. What are you waiting for? Manes was and is one of the few truly talented black metal bands from Norway - one with an original sound and an atypical method of composition - and they remain one of the few really talented Norwegian bands worth listening to...