Sunday, August 3, 2008

Review: Mandrake - Mary Celeste (2007)

Mandrake [ MySpace ]
Mary Celeste
GreyFall Record

Gothic metal bands fronted by a charismatic female vocalist are far from uncommon these days, with the genre having just about reached a level where the term overcrowded comes to mind. At first glance, Germany's Mandrake  appear to be another in a long line of similar acts. Originally formed in the late '90s by guitarist Lutz de Putter as a death metal band with Gothic influences, Birgit Lau was brought into the group after their 1998 debut album and marked a more prominent female vocal presence. Since 2003 Mandrake has been contributing to the Gothic metal/rock scene with albums that contain a distinct seafaring theme - perhaps understandable given the fact that they hail from the northern German port of Emden. Mary Celeste is the band's fourth album and focuses on the mystery and tragedy of the Mary Celeste, a ghost ship found afloat but devoid of all signs of life in 1872.

The title track leads off the album in fine form, with plenty of haunting atmosphere and dread. There is more than a touch of industrial elements, but at the core the song would be familiar to fans of Beseech and Lullacry. Birgit has much in common with Lotta Höglin and Tanja Lainio, though she isn't very strong in the upper reaches of her range. She's an enjoyable singer, but not overpowering. As for the music, the songwriting features a lot of Tiamat influence. The ambitious song structures, combined with distinctively somber moods, sound familiar but never stale. With the title track being the most aggressive track on the album, the remaining songs are far from anti-climactic. "Crystals of Forgiveness" features a chunky low end riff and de Putter contributes his sinister baritone on a couple of tracks, including "Masquerade" which features Birgit assuming a style that reminds me much of Susanna Hoffs (yes, The Bangles).

Mary Celeste is full of interesting moments, but overall the album is just a cut above ordinary. Several songs in the latter stages of the album have a feeling of being filler, and the ballad that closes the album ("Paralyzed") harms more than it helps. Fans of the genre, and I am one of them, will find this album interesting and enjoyable for an occasional spin. Mandrake has the potential to propel themselves into the front rank of Gothic metal bands, and Mary Celeste hints at that potential.

Track Listing
1 Mary Celeste 6:27
2 Crystals of Forgiveness 4:34
3 Fragile 5:42
4 Forgiven 4:00
5 Adore 3:52
6 Masquerade 5:13
7 Sweet Desolation 3:48
8 Moments (Touched By Time) 3:57
9 Breathe 5:12
10 Solace 3:38
11 Life's Last Shore 4:26
12 Borrowed Life 3:57
13 Paralyzed 4:12
Total Runtime 58:58

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