I have a soft spot in my heart for wraith-metal, because it always feels like I'm listening to someone else having a nightmare in a language I don't understand. It has a kind of throbbing madness that makes it a bit bloodier than other metal forms, and Houston's own Spectral Manifest has produced a pretty awesome collection of tunes on their new self-titled LP.
Spectral Manifest has been a long time coming. I remember discussing the song "Fate of the Disgraced" with drummer Cryptos Granamyr Grimm two years ago. At that time I was looking to answers about why someone would bother writing lyrics no sane person could readily understand amid animal growls, and there's no doubt vocalist Depravis Nocturna is a king bear when it comes to primal roars.
I sort of get it now. You're not really supposed to latch onto these lyrics; that's like riding a seat belt on a motorcycle -- a safety measure that completely misses the point. Instead, the voice become an instrument of brutality, leaving you forced to interpret the meaning the way people used to do with classical music. Something like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring doesn't need to say anything to unnerve people, and neither does Spectral Manifest.
Not that I'm comparing this album to one of the greatest ballet scores of all time. Spectral Manifest is good, but nowhere near that good, and its weak spot is its repetitious presentation. Songs suffer from a distinct lack of separate personalities, usually repeating a two-movement format that makes the song count seem much higher than eight. It's a Frankensteinian mashup that feels like several different song ideas were grafted onto several others in order to make the running times more suitable for metal. Which is dumb, because the songs that shine brightest are the shortest.
"Spiritual Gallows," for instance, is a real standout, partly because there seems to be a bit more exploration in the guitar riffs, and partly because Grimm and bassist Ulf Thorvaldson hit some really wicked rhythm accents on the end of phrases that kick like a government mule. More than that is that Nocturna uses the small space of the song more comfortably. It doesn't drag, and his growls feel nicely framed instead of wild howls without boundaries. It's a tight tune.
Another short one is my absolute favorite, though. "To Cold Interstellar Winds" is predictable enough in the context of the rest of the album, what with the sudden stops serving as transitions and the band's weird tendency to use this oddly timed waltz melody within eight bars. However, like "Gallows" it feels more complete for not having to live up to a greater length.
Not that the group isn't capable of exploring an epic. "Trascending the Macrocosm" stretches over seven wisely-used minutes, reminiscent of the oft-overlooked Guns N' Roses masterpiece "Coma." Its movements approach symphonic, or as symphonic as a trio can get, but group only plays chicken with metal's boundary line instead of attempting a pretentious and likely tragic stage-dive into something else.
Nocturna also shows off some of his most memorable riffs in the song. He's one of those guitarists who will never be hailed as a master player or solo crafter, but he is good with simple but memorable bits that play merry hell with your emotions.
All in all, Spectral Manifest is a fast and fun album with some great cosmic flourishes. Frankly, it probably would have made a better EP, with about half the songs repurposed into a new direction. There are no duds, though. Every single track is a perfect representation of the album as a whole, and it's a good album to represent.
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