Portland’s Idle Hands channel goth rock and traditional heavy metal in equal measure, and in an alternate reality where the ’80s dalliance with both genres took hold into future decades, nearly every song on the band’s debut, Mana — which we’re streaming here today — would be a radio hit. A track like “Give Me To The Night,” which landed at #1 on our heavy metal column The Black Market back in February, is a ripper — an axe attack that’s as much about the riffs as it is the resolute chorus delivered in singer/guitarist Gabriel Franco’s distinctive yell that’s by turns deadpan and theatrical. “Jackie,” meanwhile, treads the borders of ballad territory, and it’s one of the most infectious songs of the year.
The retro pulse throughout comes courtesy of a group of veterans of the Portland metal scene that with their former bands, like Spellcaster, have kept the golden era of heavy metal alive in spirit, sound, and look. But despite the throwback appeal, Mana is as fresh, creative, and vivid as nearly anything being released in 2019. The front-to-back deft and stylish tracks reflect the careful study of musicians working with both the benefit of hindsight and 2019 recording technology.
Fans of bands like Sisters Of Mercy, Tribulation, or Manilla Road will find a lot to like here, and in the same way those acts have served as gateways for so many to darker, more fantastical music, Mana’s the kind of album that will open similar doors for someone catching it at the right time in life. It definitely feels a bit nostalgic to me, and singer Franco said creating the record involved, “many long walks in the neighborhood I grew up in, writing lyrics and refining the song structures. It’s the most emotionally expressive work of my life.”
I hear that, particularly on a song like “A Single Solemn Rose,” a gorgeous and pained track that bears repeat listens. But even if you’re more set in your ways at this point, and some of those earlier goth-and-roll touch points never really took hold, Mana will likely worm its way into your mind anyway. Give it a listen.
Mana is out 5/10 on Eisenwald.