May 10th marked the day when Idle Hands debuted their occult/gothic-rock-metal fusion to the world with Mana. With all the hype surrounding the band at the moment, we had to check this release out.
Mana is one of those records that kind of just popped out of nowhere, yet it already seems to have this mass following. Perhaps the album amassed some speed earlier on in the occult rock world prior to penetrating into the realm of all things unholy and heavy, but regardless, I’m happy it caught enough people’s attentions to make it to me.
Idle Hands seem to pull a whole lot of influence from a whole lot of places. You’ve got Blue Öyster Cult’s signature style with the somber lead vocals and shorter song structures, every track on the release is fitted with some sort of catchiness akin to something you’d hear in the lead singles of whatever your favourite classic rock record is, and finally, the vocalist’s various grunts and screams are used optimally to attain individual heavy atmospheres within the relatively melodic release. Let’s unpack all of this, shall we?
Let’s start with the song structures at play. Idle Hands have achieved the perfect mix in regards to catchiness and intricacy. While the album’s tracklist might lead one to believe that Mana is simply a collection of successive radio hits, the band have proven their worth past that of stadium rock bands. Even though the 11 featured songs all clock in somewhere between three and a little over four minutes in length, a lot of these tracks offer a fair inclusion of depth. From the slower, more flowy nature of “Jackie”, to the touching lyrics on “Don’t Waste Your Time,” which ultimately deals with humankind’s eternal struggle between God and the grounded, there’s a lot more at hand here than simply four minute rock numbers.
The album composition is also masterfully set up as it favours the record’s diverse palate of influence. While each track certainly has their own signature style, they allude to one another through the very medium of Idle Hands’ eclectic style. In a past summary of the bands’ sounds, I quoted influence from sounds varying all the way from those of ‘80s occult rock and primitive metal grunting. While calling this band occult rock would be just as much of a misnomer than calling them a primitive metal band, the flavours are all very much present in the Mana mix. The question arises: wouldn’t these eclectic styles clash? Or at least not blend properly within the concept of a full-length?
Idle Hands conquers this feat by properly intermingling these separate elements on a per-track basis. “Nightfall,” the album’s lead single, offers a really great demonstration of what Mana is all about with it’s anthemic choruses, calculated speed, and various heavier portions. However, the record successfully slows down with the following track “Jackie” which shows the group’s more somber side. Finally, “Cosmic Overdrive” appears next, which is paced at a similar speed to that of the previous track, albeit with a few injected growls and shouts from the vocalist. These growls and shouts, ultimately juxtaposed by his main melodic singing voice, serve to tie the whole album together; while you were enjoying the record’s various twists and turns, the aforementioned vocal inclusions remind the listener of how much they enjoyed the heaviness of “Nightfall,” the opening song. “Don’t Waste Your Time” follows, injecting similar somber melodies, albeit with a heavier finale. Just as the listener hungers for a speedier number, the album picks up with “Give Me To The Night.” We’ve come full circle, and we’re only halfway through the album! I usually refrain from doing track-by-tracks but I feel like this summary helped to appropriately define the album.
There are some qualms I have with the release, but they aren’t anything game breaking. There’s a slower, almost spoken word-like track towards the end of Mana that seems unnecessary. The track, titled “It’ll Be Over Before You Know It,” is barely a song at that, if it wasn’t for it’s back half which kind of picks up with a few guitar doodles here and there. There’s also a random scream from the vocalist as the number is wrapping up which really feels out of place. I praised Mana before for successfully incorporating the juxtaposition between melody and harshness, but this is the only section where I don’t feel like it works. If anything, this “track segue” if we can call it that, serves to give the listener a break from the album, and to kind of set the mood as Mana is wrapping up. But with the nature of the record, with the shorter song lengths and catchy atmosphere, I really don’t want a break; I’d just rather Mana be four minutes shorter because this track wasn’t included. I feel like this one might grow on me, but as of now, it’s not doing too much.
The usage of track title repetition in each song also helps to vary the release. Truly, these songs are all easily identifiable because they are extremely catchy and the lyricist managed to include the song titles into each track in varying and memorable ways. I’m too used to thirty minute death metal albums being separated by offending track titles that don’t really feel like they attach to the music at all. Regardless, the songs on Mana are all identifiable after a handful of listens, which is a good thing.
Don’t sleep on this release. It is a definite album of the year contender. It’s unique, diverse, and something fresh within the world of occult rock and heavy metal.