Nemesea claimed a few years ago that their first studio album Mana was written and produced in somewhat of a hellfire hurry back in 2004. Thus the style kind of got aligned to the usual Gothic and Symphonic Metal outfits already at work at that time.
Only to be confronted with a result that the band did not feel wholly comfortable with. This made them change their musical direction straight after this album, a fact that became very evident in their later productions In Control and The Quiet Resistance. Their mutual soul-searching on style and direction was – as it seems – not necessarily fully evolved yet when Mana was released.
This is however a bit paradoxical. Because when looking at the outcome, it seems that this kind of discomfort and pressure yield best results, ’cause Mana is good stuff. Nothing hasty or careless to be found on Mana neither, quite the contrary: An extraordinary level of quality for a first album. But who am I…
Now, a quick glance back to the early ’00s: Within Temptation was all the rage with The Silent Force just released in 2004, and the 2000 record Mother Earth still ringing in everybody’s sub-conscious. Nightwish published their stellar record Once during that same year – we still remember that one for sure. Not to forget that Epica also just threw their début The Phantom Agony into the fray in 2003. So, together with The Gathering – at that time still fronted by Anneke van Giersbergen – and other important players of the genre, this is quite frankly some heavy competition the band was up against.
Because Nemesea attacked at this very front with Mana!
The band projected some stellar Gothic and Symphonic Metal onto this already pretty crowded scene. And they did this by sailing dangerously close to the mainstream maelström that was already forming some 11 years back in time. As an example, Manda Orphuis – their lead then, and still now – almost sounds like Sharon Den Adel in The Silent Force at times – like in Mortalitas Part 1: The Taker. If on purpose or not, I cannot say.
However, as a whole, Mana really stands its own ground in the genre. Decidedly with a similar sound and song structure than the vile mainstream, but it graces us with a commendable and quality oriented delivery. And with the origins of the Nemesea trademark sound to boot. As people like to say in Thailand: Same, same, but different. Not surprisingly, Nemesea was hailed by some as one of the contenders to relieve big outfits like Within Temptation of their glory. But what on earth would have prompted such an opinion I cannot tell.
Thanks to Thor, Mana is most fortunately almost devoid of these terrible growls Gothic Metal bands liked (and still like) to throw at us – apart from some remnants coming alive in the Mortalitas tracks, but otherwise clean. The record displays a mix of styles. Exchanging Gothic/Symphonic Metal with Power Metal and adding a Progressive/Alternative Metal flavor at times, renders this disc quite remarkable. The latter getting much more prominent in the second half of the album.
And then there is the lovely Manda Ophuis, whose smoky soprano I never heard displayed to that extent since I started listening to Nemesea. Mana becomes her, most definitely; her best performance so far. Crisp, crystal clear and very precise. Of course not to forget the band with Hendrik Jan de Jong in the producer’s seat, playing a major part in forging this record to the level of what it is.
How much good, bad or ugly is there?
I am taken aback by the quality of the lyrics on this disc. Every song a theme, a happy mix of Latin verses and English in many of them. Truly remarkable for a first album, however a bit confusing at times and difficult to follow. Same goes with the album art that displays a theme of sorts, showing an imagined likelihood of Nemesis, the ancient goddess of vengeance and retribution.
Mana takes off with … drums and heavy breathing, no shit. In Nemesis (Intro), as if you need to label the intro like that to let everybody know what the fuck it is. But never fear, this first morsel of non-metal delivers an acceptable level of quality to open the record – pretty good choir interlude in there and I really like the drummy start. This directly followed by some typical, mainstream Symphonic Metal in Threefold Law. Apparently getting into some Wiccan Cult rules – the religion of Manda, it appears. Now, what really struck me is the similarity to Epica: Same song structure, same choice of choir inclusion. Until the Nemesea sound kicks in, luckily for us. The speed and energy continue with Empress through to Angel of Darkness. The latter intrigued me, good vocal delivery, but some unnecessary dissonant parts in there that really disturb the flow.
The four Mortalitas parts mark the start of the more Progressive/Alternative Metal journey in the album. Keeping you on your toes, you never know what you are going to get. They kick it up a notch, veering off more into an alternative landscape. And this is proof of the pudding to the quality of the band itself. This direction continues for the rest of the tracks, not necessarily losing steam, but adding in complexity.
There are no obvious fillers in this record, apart from the very last one perhaps. But at some minute and a half it is not really filling anything – so we let that one slide. The band delivers an honorable quality of production – really nothing out-of-place. The only real issue of sorts is the fact that for the Symphonic and Gothic Metal parts, the sound gets really close to what other bands were displaying at that time.
In all, Mana delivers a complex piece of work to us. Definitely not the relatively simplistic Gothic and Symphonic Metal formula that many claimed to detect. It is a multi-layered production of an astonishing quality. Nemesea for sure forged a name for themselves in very little time and came a very long way in a hellufa short time. Just remember that they were hired to be the opening act of After Forever a few short months after they started the band, then continued on to produce this album. Nemesea‘s debut Mana is for sure not the easiest fare and you need some time and I daresay energy to take it in. But it will be worth the effort.
Record Rating: 9/10 | Label: Ebony Tears | Web: Official Site
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