Manikin Parade - Vangough
Source : http://www.progarchives.com/album.asp?id=22592
Being familiar with American prog upstart Clay Withrow's previous album Dissonance Rising, it was with high expectations that I entered into the month-long journey of reviewing this album. Long nights with lyrics and headphones, warm blankets, hot herbal tea, and a low-wattage bare bulb... It's been an adventure, for sure.
I don't know any other way to put this: buy this record. Every once in a while, a genre will produce a record that stands tall and proud in a sea of copycats and wannabes. Progressive metal has taken many shapes over the years, with quite a few standard-breaking gems. A.C.T's Last Epic comes to mind, with its schizophrenically bouncy, driven music and vocals painting a disturbing backdrop as contrast to the dark, cynical lyrics. Evergrey's Recreation Day, or Monday Morning Apocalypse. Dream Theater's Images and Words. Pain Of Salvation's Remedy Lane. Some set the standard, others break it to pieces. Add to that list: Manikin Parade.
It doesn't take long to begin to see this album's genius. Break out your best headphones, your old $4000 hi-fi you built piece by piece in the 70's, your car radio. This album is a treat to the ears, and it would be a shame to miss out experiencing everything this album offers. Like so precious few albums, great love and care was put into the production, from beginning to end. After time negotiating with The Flower Kings' Roine Stolt, Withrow finally decided upon Sterling Winfield (Pantera, Damageplan, Hellyeah) to mix the record, with Brandon Lopez, the drummer on the most recent Becoming The Archetype, filling in on percussion.
The end result is a spectacular treat to the ears. I can't stress enough how incredible this record sounds on capable audio equipment, something the majority of albums just don't do. Considering the complexity and depth of the music contained within, the beautiful production acts as a tool to serve the music, and nothing less would've been satisfactory.
The music is initially challenging in its own way. The dense layering throughout may remind some of The Flower Kings, Devin Townsend, or even Andrew WK in terms of the amount of musical elements presented, but it knows exactly when to clear the forest away and reveal something beautiful and delicate, powerful and moving. Seemingly all over the place, multiple listens find the highly-varied pieces falling into position, the hidden and subtle recurring themes revealing themselves with every new listen.
This album takes some time to fully appreciate. However, once that hurdle is cleared, a beautiful gem is revealed to the listener. The album is a non-stop roller-coaster of melodic joy, harmonic pleasure, driving, sometimes manic energy, with a sense of rhythm and flow that many established bands could certainly learn from. Even amidst the most shocking of transitions, the sense of continued groove never dies down from start to finish. The music is never overdone or out of place, yet often quite sophisticated and clever. While each instrument stands out as very well-written and well-played, it is their interactions with each other that truly drive this monster of a record. Have I mentioned that you're left wanting more? Despite a hefty 75-minute running time, nothing stagnates, and no riff, melody, or theme overstays its welcome, a common pratfall in our beloved progressive rock genre.
This versatility continues in the vocals and lyrics, with Withrow himself putting his shape-shifting, highly capable voice to use. Seemingly possessing an infinite number of voices for any need, you'll at times recall shades of some of the greats. The lyrics are well-written and just as multi-colored as the music, subtle changing styles and presentation to evoke different emotions like fear, betrayal, confidence, and naivety. Without spoiling the concept, it brilliantly takes a different approach than many, incorporating a dark, sometimes satirical metaphor that allows it to discuss some very serious and difficult topics without an air of pretention.
With many, many focused listens under my belt, I say with confidence that this album receives my highest honors. Manikin Parade is a true masterpiece of the genre, a standout record that will surely be recognized for exactly what it is, its head held high next to our other precious progressive rock records as a modern-day classic, a beautiful anomaly. Five stars.