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M-Opus - At the Mercy of Manannán CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.78 | 18 ratings

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3 stars M-Opus tackles the concept of "retro-prog" in a rather unique way. Each of their previous two albums have been "set" in a year in progressive rock's history, to pretty decent results. Their new album, At the Mercy of Manannán, is setting itself up to fill some big shoes, as this one is using the year 1972 as its framing device. The span of 1971-1973 was (to me, at least) the absolute apex of the genre. Big names like Yes, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, and Jethro Tull were all putting out their best work. (King Crimson peaked a bit later, in the mid '70s.) 1972 alone saw the release of all-time classics such as Thick as a Brick, Close to the Edge, Pawn Hearts, and Per un amico. (And the debut of seminal Irish prog(-ish)-rockers Horslips, if we want to narrow the lens to M-Opus's homeland.)

Manannán is an Irish sea deity, and the ruler and guardian of the Otherwold, the Celtic conception of where their gods lived. I'm not particularly well-versed in Celtic mythology, but that alone sounds like it should be able to at least match the lofty concepts of many classic prog albums.

"Setting Off" is an appropriately-titled intro to this record. Lush synths and clean guitar underpin warm, gentle vocals and whistling. Moreso than any classic prog act, this piece has a lot in common with Berlin-era Bowie, but it's enjoyable.

The first proper song is "Riverflow", and this absolutely sounds like it was ripped straight out of 1972. Tight organ and guitar lines work together well, and Mellotron adds a lovely richness to everything. The vocalist reminds me more of Neal Morse than would be ideal, but his voice suits the music well enough. In its second half, this song's guitar tones belie when it was recorded, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. That modern-sounding distortion, however brief, adds a nice bit of contrast.

A watery bassline emerges to kick off "Whirlpool", and the guitar line is fittingly askew and panicked. The band portrays tension and anxiety expertly through the instrumentation. The guitars and drums again present brief flashes of modern styles and tones, but these serve to make this piece more unique.

"To the Other Side", the album's longest song, has a gentle opening. Acoustic guitars and light synths set an idyllic scene. Mellotron eventually comes to add a slight undercurrent of tension as the track picks up steam. I'm especially fond of the hand percussion here, though I'm less fond of the guitar line that sounds like it's taken directly from "Close to the Edge". For as much as this band roots itself in a specific year, they're good at not sounding derivative.

Moving into this song's second half, a plodding, lightly-distorted organ line and more haunting Mellotron shift the mood suddenly, but not jarringly. The song ends on a passage that puts the bass forward, and I like that a lot, even though the vocal melody feels a bit forced.

A relatively heavy guitar-and-organ line fades in for "Na Bruídaí", and it turns into a surprisingly catchy groove. I also like that this song is sung in the Irish language. (I have an interest in language revitalization, so it's refreshing to hear Irish in a context like this.) This composition reminds me a lot of prog-adjacent hard rock acts like Uriah Heep or Ian Gillan-era Deep Purple. A few minutes in, the mood turns from rocking to brooding, with an array of keyboards building an otherworldly atmosphere. The rhythm gets weird in the song's second half, and I like the surprising twists this composition takes. This is probably my favorite cut on the album for its internal diversity and ambition.

"Valley of Elah" immediately reminds me of ELP's "In the Beginning," with its acoustic guitar and hand percussion. The vocal performance is also vaguely familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Steely Dan, maybe? The big "Sha-la-la" chorus is on the cheesy and overblown side of things, but it's not bad. The brief guitar solo is great, at least, channeling a lot of David Gilmour's early work. The closing minute does a great job of building and resolving the built-up tension.

"Scaling Novas" is a slower piece that puts acoustic guitar and vocals in the spotlight. Much like the preceding cut, things really pick up in the last minute (even moreso here), and I like that rather sudden contrast in intensity.

At the Mercy of Manannán ends with "Carnivale". It's a dark, somewhat wonky instrumental. The band plays around with meter and rhythm a lot, and competing musical ideas are layered skillfully atop one another. This is one of the album's more modern-sounding moments, but it's also among my favorites.

M-Opus's new album certainly does a good job at channeling 1972. Much of the album does sound like it could be some long-lost release from that year, but other parts are more spiritually 1972. This willingness to innovate, rather than slavishly adhering to 50-year-old sounds, is a great strength for this band. At the Mercy of Manannán isn't anything groundbreaking?by the band's own aims, it can't be?but it's a pretty solid release.

Review originally posted here:

TheEliteExtremophile | 3/5 |


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