Again we have another band gracing the halls of this non-metal column (although pretty loosely so), one that certainly we on staff here cannot seem to get enough of and statistically speaking, quite a number of you all out there in Reader Land probably feel the same way. Hail Spirit Noir are no strangers to boldly and unabashedly pushing the boundaries of their sound and the world of metal in general, but on Mannequins, the outfit abandon all pretense of metal entirely and deliver something quite unexpected, definitely a little out there, but no less of a success than anyone would expect.
Mannequins is album number five for the Greek ensemble, but more importantly, it marks their ten-year anniversary of being a band. Whereas most would celebrate that milestone with a special tour, maybe a reissue of some older material, Hail Spirit Noir choose…a different path. One that, I think, if you had been randomly asked on the street how they would celebrate this birthday, you would never have been able to come up with: write a sci-fi story reminiscent of classic 80s horror movies and then compose a soundtrack to that story that only utilizes synthesizers and retro production techniques. Without a single guitar, drum kit or anything even remotely resembling the psychedelic black metal they are well-known for, Mannequins sees the band venture into some truly poppy territory, if you can call songs that soundtrack alien abductions, hellish disco clubs, gruesome, gory murders and other classic movie tropes “pop songs.” It’s almost like the kind of music you would expect to soundtrack a season of Stranger Things, or maybe if The Lion’s Daughter just used synthesizers and nothing else. That’s a pretty oversimplified explanation of what’s going on here, but hey, I’m a simple man.
Honesty time: while everyone on staff seemed to be really high off last year’s Eden in Reverse, I…never actually got around to listening to it. Truly I have nothing against the idea of it, I bear no ill will or prejudice against Hail Spirit Noir, I just never found the time to get around to it. I promise that I will fix that, and soon, but that means that Mannequins is actually my introduction to Hail Spirit Noir, such as it is. I am aware that this is far from their normal sound, and so is the band, and it’s important to note that we have to compare apples to apples. Mannequins deserves to stand on its own merits, and it certainly has a lot of merits going for it. Just in time for, as my beloved calls it, Spooky Season, the album is dripping with creepy melodies, dark tones and plenty of samples that evoke classic slasher era films, but it should also be noted that these are also tunes that are going to make you want to get up and dance your butt off. “Against Your Will, My Blade” is grounded by fast beats and a bouncing rhythm that plays off the pulsing synths and Theremin melodies that set the unsettling tone, but somehow it still carries the kind of energy that puts a smile on my face and gets my toes tapping. “The Monsters Came From the Sky” and the title track both make excellent use of classic-sounding arpeggiated synth bass lines and just the right amount of cheesy, goofy samples and tones. Mannequins is an album that is a labor of love, a celebration of what Hail Spirit Noir can do, a way to mark a special occasion, and something different that the band has always wanted to do, all at once. One listen is all it takes for you to feel just how much fun they had while making it, and for a band that comes off as straight-faced and artistic as Hail Spirit Noir, them showing their fun side makes it all the more enjoyable.
If you’re at all worried, fear not. Mannequins does not represent a permanent change in Hail Spirit Noir’s sound, and that’s coming from the band themselves. It also completes their delving into the sound of the 80s that began several albums ago, so the real question is where they have yet to go. Consider me sold: maybe Mannequins is not the norm when it comes to their music, but it certainly shows off just how much they are capable of creating, and creating well. Quite a happy birthday for them indeed.