Manimal – Armageddon
Label: AFM Records
Release Date: October 8, 2021
More than two decades after Manimal’s millennium formation, the Swedish quartet is back with its fourth studio album. It seems insane that the band is entering its third decade and we are only at record number four, but even more surreal is how the band continues to fly under the radar of traditional metal fans around the globe. Hopefully, the birth of Armageddon this fall will help to change that tragic oversight.
Manimal was born in 2000, the product of a longtime partnership between guitarist and principal composer Henrik Stenroos and vocalist Samuel Nyman. It took the band nearly a decade before it released a stunner of a debut with 2009’s The Darkest Room. That was the first year I got to know Nyman, a man whose vocal prowess recalled the like of Rob Halford, Geoff Tate, and King Diamond, among others. The Darkest Room was packed with huge riffs and big melodies. Songs like “Living Dead,” “I Am,” “Human Nature”, and my personal favorite, “Spinegrinder” are pure crushing metal. Still, for all its captivating glory, the first record also showcased a band working to define its sound. AFM Records chose to market them as a power metal band which is significantly off the mark, as they are truly a traditional metal outfit, albeit with power and progressive metal inklings.
Six long years would pass before Manimal returned with its sophomore effort, Trapped in the Shadows. The time away helped the band solidify its line-up with the addition of bassist Kenny Boufadene and drummer André Holmqvist. More important, the foursome emerged with a more refined signature sound. From the ripping opening riffs of “Irresistible” the band were clearly banging on all cylinders. Manimal is band that wears its influences on its sleeve, and listeners can clearly hear elements of metal heroes such as Judas Priest, Queensryche, Saxon, Accept, and Primal Fear. “Screaming Out” became on ominous and darkly moving personal pick along with the buzzsaw title cut.
This paved the way for the band’s third opus, Purgatorio, hands down one of 2018’s best metal offerings. Album opener, “Black Plague” is a blistering metal anthem in the vein of Priest and Accept, while the title track is wonderfully melodic and packed with progressive nuance. From top to bottom, the album is a perfect companion piece to its predecessor. Manimal continues to evolve here but retains the glory of its past.
Now three years hence, Armageddon is set to arrive. The record’s opener, “Burn in Hell” brings the creepy factor with Nyman’s mad cackling and the eerie backdrop of a child’s jack-in-the-box toy winding its way towards explosion. Razor riffs and pummeling rhythms drag the listener into the dark void.
This is followed by the record’s title track, which rains down muscular fretwork and sternum caving drum work. The riffs and even some of Nyman’s vocals, spider walk through the speakers with portentous menace. Conversely, “Slaves of Babylon” begins with a bouncy old school Saxon vibe ala “Dallas 1PM,” before taking a left turn into serpentine madness. Boufadene even throws in some harsh guttural vocal moments before the solo. The chorus is another soaring earworm.
“Forged in Metal” is exactly what the title might suggest, a pulverizing, riff-centric, anthemic, fists-in-the-air headbanger. This song reminds me that while Manimal are masters at channeling their musical inspirations, they have managed to create their own signature style, from Nyman’s vocals to Henrik’s readily identifiable guitar sound. Song by song, you just find yourself snapping those neck muscles, playing your air guitar, and thumping your feet against the ground. “Path to the Unknown” is another stand out track, sinister and haunting.
The record’s final track, aptly titled, “The Inevitable End,” unwinds with more chugging rhythms and roiling riffage. Nyman’s voice quickly sets the tone with a stunning balance between rising falsetto’s and melodic and edgy delivery. Throughout Armageddon, Stenroos is in his six-string element, and Boufadene and Holmqvist are simply thundering beasts.
Technical, heavy, frenetic, and imposing yet still completely accessible and melodic. That’s what Manimal deliver with Armageddon. The production is massive but not overdone. All four members of the band are in lockstep with one another and on top of their game with every performance. Having retired from writing about music earlier this year (after 4+ decades), I had to peek my head out to see if Manimal could keep its momentum going, and they did not let me down. Armageddon has been in heavy rotation with me for a while now. While K.K.s Priest failed to inspire me, Manimal delivered exactly what this traditional metalhead longed for. If you are looking for fantastic, riff-heavy, vintage metal in the vein of our pioneering heroes, this is a band you should be listening to.