Idle Hands' Mana is the best gothic rock and metal record since Paradise Lost's Medusa one and a half years ago. Right from the start, the American trio convinces with a gloomy atmosphere that never gets too melodramatic, plodding or stereotypical. The guitar melodies are surprisingly upbeat without ever getting superficial. The rhythm section is unusually involved for a band of this genre and quickens up the pace at the right moments. The dark but hopeful vocals remind me of a mixture of Joey Ramone and Peter Steele. The songwriting is particularly concise with the longest tune barely cracking the four-minute mark. The warm vintage production reminds of gothic rock releases from the eighties without lacking some occasional punch in the right moments. Idle Hands' music should not only appeal to gothics and metalheads but also to the few people with great taste who like horror punk.
The record doesn't have any fillers but so many highlights that it would take too much time to point out all of them. The opener ''Nightfall'' sets the tone with longing guitar notes before hauntingly sorrowful vocals set in. Before things can get too sentimental, the powerful rhythm section pushes forward. The chorus gets to the point and is almost danceable despite its upbeat dynamics. The hoarse shouts that follow the chorus are quite cool and you can't help but imagine a howling werewolf. This song would have been a perfect fit for any soundtrack of a horror movies of the eighties. One can't help but think about Pet Sematary and this is definitely a compliment.
''Jackie'' is a little bit slower and more mournful and could also come from The 69 Eyes. The vocals are given the occasion to shine in particular and take you on a mysterious voyage. The enchanting chorus is brilliant and timeless and won't get out of your mind once you have listened to it for the very first time.
''Dragon, Why Do You Cry?'' might be the record's most sentimental song but never gets too sappy thanks to a psychedelic undertone that invites to relax and dream. The track's conclusion creatively intertwines smooth funk stylistics with mellow traditional heavy metal reminiscences without losing its romanticidal identity. This is the kind of song gothics in love should dance to in a discotheque. This track makes old black hearts feel young and fresh again.
Another outstanding tune is the elegiac, slow and thoughtful ''It'll Be Over Before You Know It'' with its plodding instrumental passages and almost ritualistic lead chants. There are few songs that define elegy as well as this one does. It's equally sorrowful and comforting and might be the record's most experimental track.
''A Single Solemn Rose'' on the other side would have been an excellent choice for a single. It's a profoundly dark romantic track that will touch even the grimmest heart of stone. The yearning chorus in particular grabs the attention but the otherworldly melancholic guitar harmonies are also inspiring and make me think of seeing a beautiful woman on a lazy autumn morning.
In the end, Idle Hands' Mana is on the borderlines between gothic rock, gothic metal and horror punk and combines the strongest elements of all three genres. Haunting melodies meet upbeat rhythms and mysterious vocals. Even people who usually loathe gothic stylistics might give this particularly well-executed record a spin. If the band were a little bit more popular, I could see this record hit numerous lists for the greatest album of the year.
Final rating: 95%