Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill – Album Review

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Artist: Manticora

Album Title: To Kill To Live To Kill

Label: ViciSolum Recordings

Date of Release: 3 August 2018

‘Will Manticora feature on your list’, I was asked a little while back in reference to my ‘Still to Come in 2018’ mini-series. The question was posed by a loyal follower, whose taste in music more-or-less echoes mine. Manticora was a name familiar with me, but I’d never really explored their music in any detail, beyond a cursory dabble with a song or two here and there. So, having been prompted to do so, I thought now might be the most opportune time to delve into the world of Manticora to see if I’d missed a trick.

‘To Kill To Live To Kill’ is, on closer inspection, the Danish quartet’s eighth full-length release during a career that has spanned over two decades. My first thought upon this discovery was ‘I bet I won’t like this’. After all, there has to be a reason why I don’t own anything by such a long-standing band within the heavy power/progressive metal genre, when I generally lap up this kind of thing.

To a certain extent, despite an open mind and plenty of spins, I’m afraid that my initial hunch wasn’t too far wide of the mark. It’d be unfair of me to say that I dislike this record. It would be more accurate instead, to suggest that it just doesn’t totally blow me away. Parts of the jigsaw are great, whilst others are seriously lacking in my opinion, leading to a frustrating listen for the most part.

Allow me to explain further:

Firstly, at over 69 minutes in length, ‘To Kill To Live To Kill’ is way too long. It is certainly generous for a band to release a record with such a huge amount of music to offer. However, the material here just isn’t consistently strong enough to justify the length. Many of the songs stretch into the six or seven-minute arena but they’d be stronger and more effective tracks if they were truncated a touch.

That said, as a concept album, perhaps the Danes felt that they needed something epic in length to go along with the horror story that was penned by vocalist Lars F. Larsen. Apparently, ‘To Kill To Live To Kill’ is the first of a double concept album no less.

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Stylistically, there’s a lot going on within the music itself. There are plenty of power/speed metal references, thanks to the general pace and tempo of the songs. The tracks for the most part rip along at a hefty speed, led by some ferocious drumming and sharp, incisive riffing courtesy of Kristian H Larsen and Stefan Johansson. You also get plenty of swift exuberant lead guitar solos and more than a vague hint of neo-classical endeavour thrown in for good measure.

And yet, for all that, what surprised me in a good way as I listened, was the overt heaviness of the material and the extremity. Thrash metal clearly plays an important part in the band’s overall sound too, with frequent nods in the direction of the likes of Darkane and Into Eternity especially when in all-out frenetic attack mode, as demonstrated within tracks like ‘Echoes of a Silent Scream’.

High points on the album include ‘Katana – Awakening The Lunacy’ which delivers everything from NWOBHM style melodies, thrash aggression and the epic qualities of high-octane power metal. I also like the nine-minute ‘Growth’, and ‘Katana – Opium’ with the forceful choral vocals.

‘To Kill To Live To Kill’ is certainly full-blooded stuff, with much to commend within it. So why am I so reluctant to give it the ‘two thumbs up’ treatment?

To begin with, the production strikes me as a little underwhelming. It might have something to do with the quality of the mp3 promo download, but the music feels quite muddy at times as if the mix can’t quite cope with the furore that Manticora create. The cymbals aren’t as clear and snappy as I’d like and although within the lengthier, more progressive tracks like ‘Growth’, Sebastian Andersen’s bass is front and centre, the same cannot be said when the music is at full throttle disappointingly. I’m fully expecting some of the issues to disappear on the final product, but I can only report on what I hear.

Then, unfortunately, there are two further major factors. Firstly, I don’t connect with the material in a way that I hoped I would. There are plenty of melodic embellishments to enjoy, as well as choruses aplenty that are full of gusto and powerful intent. There’s plenty of authoritative groove too as well as more expansive progressive passages, but despite all this, the songs don’t get me sitting up and salivating as much as I hoped, as often as I hoped.

The final element that detracts from the final product is in the vocal department. Lars F Larsen doesn’t have a bad voice but it is not a delivery that I warm to, however much I listen to this music. When he takes his foot off the pedal and tones things down a touch, he has a much more enjoyable tone. And I rather like some of his more unusual phrasings too. However, when he is belting out the lyrics with full gusto, Larsen just sounds strained and forced, as if he is liable to snap his vocal chords. And on top of that, I’m not convinced that his voice actually fits with the music around him.

And so, in spite of some more than decent individual songs, there are too many little niggles that I have with ‘To Kill To Live To Kill’ which prevent a more positive overall review. I’m certain that I will persevere with Manticora in the hope that it is just me. Who knows, I might just have the epiphany that has eluded me for two decades to date. Watch this space…

The Score of Much Metal: 6.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
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Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
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Machine Head – Catharsis
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