Push my cosmic engine into overdrive…
Idle Hands! Oh, what a discovery. I’ve been into metal and its wondrous adventures for more than 15 years now and I must admit that feelings of pure, unfiltered excitement and deep emotional impact have become a true rarity these days. Not that I feel burnt out or anything but after hearing tons and tons of albums of various genres it’s a lot tougher to find music that not only sticks out from the crowd, but also hits the right spots when it comes to personal preference.
Idle Hands are the first band this year to achieve just that. It’s like they read my mind, dissected my innermost heart and directly responded to my very own musical cravings with the release of Mana (and their debut EP Don’t Waste Your Time last year, but that’s a different review). Kitsch? Probably, but that’s what this record does to me.
You know, I’ve always been a big, big fan of post-punk bands from the 80s. Drop an ounce of new wave or even quality synth-pop onto that dish and I’ll be all over it. At the same time, I consider myself a supporter of the more guitar-driven side of gothic metal with an emphasis on strong riffs and rather despise so called goth acts who sorely rely on drop-d/single-note nu-metal/groove chugging to have their (run-of-the-mill) singer presented in an edgeless, sterile production job (a stylistic pitfall that had its spotlight years in the earlier 2000s).
Even my own music-writing tends to search for the sweet spot between these two genres – it’s not for me to judge my success in that matter – but Idle Hands are perfectly capable of striking the perfect balance. Before things become too sugary or too depressive, there’ll be a sweet banger of a heavy riff to dry your teary eyes or a guitar solo to kick you into air-guitar mode just in time, in case you already went your way and are about to put your head into a noose to end your miserable life.
It’s this mixture of grandeur and sheer depression that works so well for me. So yeah, some of the lyrics are a tad corny and remind me of teenage angst and first-love affairs but damn, many of Franco’s words are just bone-dry, stone-cold truth and some part deep inside me resonates with what he says and makes me think and FEEL about what I should or could do differently.
Of course it’s not only the words themselves that have an effect on me, it’s HOW they are delivered and Gabe Franco has a very effective way of expression. Most of the time, this young man is not at all a typical heavy metal singer (at least not entirely) but a smashing evolution of the more progressive-side of 80s pop. Every time he kicks into a higher register, my mind’s eye channels a modern version of Tears for Fears’ very own Roland Orzabal and – holy shit – it just works like a charm. The inclusion of a few perfectly placed howls, grunts (imagine a more lightweight, cleaner version of Tom G. Warrior) and desperate screams further enhance the variety of emotions presented.
While the songs themselves might be rather short and could remind one of typical radio format at first sight, the structures within them are very tastefully arranged and deliver exactly what needs to be done for the respective tracks to be a success. The balancing act of supplying catchy and almost instantly accessible music with incredible hooks, while showcasing a massive talent for flashy guitar acrobatics and a tight group-performance with each member firing on all cylinders when necessary, is seemingly achieved with ease. While the clean guitar parts feel a lot like they have a connection to the early Sisters of Mercy catalogue, the distortion channel boasts soaring classic metal lead guitar tones and crunchy rhythms hovering seamlessly between classic rock and 80s metal glory with the transitions from style to style never feeling forced, thanks to the previously mentioned clever arrangements.
Drench all of this in a foggy sauce of godly reverb and you’re set for an amazing ride through the 80s, but with a present-day production quality all-around, without cutting down on guitar gain and bass audibility. Despite the band’s stylistic choices, the drums are never dialed back to cookie-cutter pop/rock-standards, which is fairly common in the domain of the group’s prime influences. Punchy, thick bass-hits and a snappy snare sound (nicely felt within passages of pounding double-bass runs and even some sleek blast-beats!) will always make sure that this piece of art is firmly placed inside the metal realm.
At any rate, my hat is off to the young gentlemen of Idle Hands. Mana is their very first (!) album and here’s hope that these guys will be able to keep their momentum and release more music on a similar level (I can’t say I’m expecting a “higher standard”, because this record will be fucking hard to top). Apparently they’re touring the world right now and if they are capable of channeling their stellar album performances onto the stage, fans should definitely take the opportunity to see and support them. I’m sure it will be worth it.
Now I’m gonna sit back and listen to the whole thing again because it really is just THAT good and most likely my personal album of the year. Excuse me for ending this review here, I’ll have to re-evaluate certain life aspects and hunt down one of the currently sold-out Mana-vinyls.
“On and on, you live but you don’t feel,
let the current take you where it will.
You want to speak but have no words to say
if we are equal why aren’t we the same?”
Highlights: Don’t Waste Your Time, Jackie, Give Me to the Night, Mana (and the rest…)