Before transitioning into more experimental territory, Norway’s Manes released three demos and 1999’s Under ein blodraud mane which cemented their legacy in black metal. By 2005’s Vilosphe some shades of black metal remained but elements of trip-hop and avant-garde rock had seeped in, and original vocalist Sargatanas had been out of the band for nearly six years. Since then, Manes has branched out further and explored a wide range of rock and metal styles, but for those hoping that they might someday recapture that darker black metal side a separate project called Manii emerged. Sargatanas was joined by current Manes member Cernunnus and they proceeded to release extremely dark, haunting material that preferred moving along at a slower pace to build in atmosphere. Material has been spread out, as there was a five-year gap between the band’s debut Kollaps and sophomore full length Sinnets irrganger (with an EP containing two re-works of early Manes songs in between). Five years after that effort, the duo has been joined by Whoredom Rife/Syning drummer V. Einride and composed the lengthy thirty-seven-minute track that makes up their third album Innerst i mørket. It’s an effort that bears some similarities to Syning’s debut from 2021 with deliberate build-ups and sinister atmosphere, and while it does have some lulls give this one some time and it’ll get under your skin.
It’s always interesting when a band chooses to write one or two lengthy compositions for an album, as it shifts how the listener approaches the music. Rather than having natural breaks after five to seven minutes and specific passages that make one song stand out over another, these types of compositions demand more focus out of the listener and require the artist writing them to ensure they have enough to keep those listeners engaged from beginning to end. Manii does have a few lulls throughout Innerst i mørket but do ultimately manage to offer enough high points to keep a sense of tension and dread that provide some standout moments. Like some of their previous material and Syning’s debut, the approach here is more methodical and slow paced with periods of faster instrumentation that provide some violent outbursts at just the right time. Listeners are initially met with sparser melodies and haunting synths that have a more mysterious tone to them, but around the two-minute mark those familiar walls of distortion come roaring in. For around the first ten minutes or so Manii lurches forward at a slower pace, letting layers build naturally so that the tension and constant sense of darkness envelops the listener. The keyboards add to this ominous feel, and unlike the cheesier symphonic angles of the 90s they have a fullness that only makes the material more powerful and dense. Around the eleven-minute mark things slow down further as a haunting melody is stretched out over the recording, giving an almost melancholic tone while still having some razor-sharp edges. But the best moments come towards the end when the tempo whips things up into faster blasting and the guitar work heads into the more aggressive side. With the ebb and flow between denser layering and sparser atmosphere, it did take a few listens for Innerst i mørket to fully click and it doesn’t quite have the same immediacy as some of Manii’s back catalog. Combine this with some of the sparser transitions feeling like they’re a little too stretched and too sparse, and this does hurt the impact slightly. But the highs make up for it, and after those first few listens, I found myself drawn back into the band’s darkened grandeur.
Sargatanas’ vocals have gotten even stronger in the years that have passed since Manes’ Under ein blodraud mane, and they continue to be one of the elements of Manii’s music that really sets things over the edge. Right before the four-minute mark the vocals come bursting in with extremely raspy screams that tower over the instrumentation, and this immediately contributes additional tension. It’s the type of pitch that can easily send chills down your spine, and each appearance is spaced out so that the maximum level of impact is reached. In addition to the screams, there is also some spoken word that sounds like it’s off in the distance, and when Sargatanas snarls and screams over top of it that makes for some of the most haunting moments on the album. These days some black metal vocalists sound like they’re on autopilot, but this isn’t the case for Manii as they feel genuinely abrasive and unhinged.
A few of the softer interludes didn’t quite land for me and when it comes to longer compositions, I’ve still found myself returning to Syning’s debut a bit more often than Manii’s latest effort. But even with that being the case, this is an ambitious undertaking that still has some incredible highs and is up there with the rest of the band’s discography. It will need some time to sink in as there’s a bit more at work here compared to your average black metal, but if you give it the chance to do so expect to be drawn back once everything clicks. Innerst i mørket is available from Terratur Possessions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg