When it comes to straight-up heavy metal, most fans believe that it can’t get any better than the classics: Maiden, Priest, Sabbath, etc. If their latest release, Trapped in the Shadows, is anything to go by, Sweden’s Manimal are certainly subscribers to this philosophy. Their second album thoroughly succeeds in translating the essence of classic heavy metal into the mid-2010s by staying very true to the formula that made waves in the ‘70s and ‘80s – speed, solos and shrieks – while giving it a fresh coat of paint through slick modern production and stylistic sensibility.
The album’s first track, “Irresistible”, also its first single, is an unabashed tribute to Judas Priest’s “Painkiller”, which will no doubt sate the appetites of heavy metal purists with its driving riffs and vocalist Samuel Nyman’s piercing, high-pitched wail. Following tracks “March of Madness”, “The Dark”, and title track “Trapped in the Shadows” all offer more of the same head-thrashing goodness, veritably ensuring that any Manimal live gig will incite enough circle pit action to wear a disc-shaped depression in the floor of any club. Not satisfied with mere imitation, however, the band has opted for a decidedly modern approach to production – no more tin-can guitar sound and eerily doubled vocals. Instead, the instrumentation and mixing on Trapped in the Shadows is noticeably more Scandinavian than British, with razor-sharp guitar tone and an abundance of pedal-note riffs often evoking the likes of Children of Bodom or Mors Principium Est, rather than Iron Maiden or Dio.
Those who are concerned that the album may stagnate after the initial onslaught of thrashy tracks need not worry. While Manimal does not experiment too liberally, tracks like the doomy “Man-Made Devil”, or the cinematic “The Journey” do manage to break up the moshing periodically. The latter of the two allows Nyman to showcase some of his more nuanced vocal technique, as well as share the spotlight through a guest appearance by ex-Accept vocalist Udo Dirkschneider, whose devilish rasp is instantly recognizable when juxtaposed with Nyman’s cleaner style. While the band should be praised for their attempts to add dynamics to the record, these divergent tracks unfortunately prove to be the album’s weakest offerings. Many listeners will find these songs to be more of a labor to listen to after repeated plays, and will likely reach for the skip button in order to recommence the fist pumping.
Contrary to tradition, however, the latter half of the album actually holds some of its strongest offerings, as Trapped in the Shadows starts out ‘80s Britain and leans more and more toward ‘00s Sweden as the record goes on. “Invincible”, and “Silent Messiah” are both riff-laden pummelers, but have an increased melodeath quality and carry more compelling hooks than anything the album had previously laid out. “Screaming Out” makes excellent use of a children’s choir in its chorus, giving an almost spiritual feel to an already engaging song. The record closes with “Psychopomp”, which offers little fanfare, but certainly ingrains itself in the listener’s head with its chanted call-and-response chorus.
All in all, Trapped in the Shadows is an enjoyable revival of classic heavy metal with a bit of a Scandinavian spin, however it takes little to no risks in doing so, and is not likely to sway anyone’s opinion on either genre in any meaningful way. One’s expected reception of Manimal’s work mostly boils down to the question, “how do you feel about Judas Priest and King Diamond?” If the answer is, “love ‘em!”, then these boys will be right up your alley, especially considering Nyman performs such a convincing vocal impression of King Diamond that it will undoubtedly cause countless iTunes shufflers to double-check their album info in disbelief. If the answer to the question is “it’s not my thing”, then Manimal, while still worth a listen, is more likely to be passed on. Of course, there is always plenty of middle ground, and for those who normally enjoy modern metal – and can get past the fact that the impossibly high male vocals are a torch-carrying tribute to the heavy metal gods of yesteryear, and not the result of a helium leak in the vocal booth – Trapped in the Shadows will only take a few full spins to have you desperately squeezing your own vocal cords together as you can’t help but sing along.
Visit Manimal and order the new album here.