The Mandrake
Burning Horizon at the End of Dawn

The bad/good/bad M.O of Crash Music again confuses me with this, a solid melodic death/black metal album hot on the heels of the god-awful Single Bullet Theory album. I know melodic death metal died eons ago, but its ghost often rises with a quality appearance and Colorado’s The Mandrake is one such example.

Not bereft of flaws (shoddy drumming, some sloppy guitars, virtually no bass), The Mandrake still manage to deliver some damn cool riffs in fine Scandinavian fashion, but gloss it with a slightly heavier sheen, especially the deep guttural vocals of James Ryan Taron who gives the band its US aura. While certainly not quite on par skillwise with their European peers (Arch Enemy, In Flames, At the Gates), The Mandrake should be commended for giving a damn good showing and at least trying to bring a little character and guts to the genre.

Less black metal than their synth laced debut Dying Sentiment, the Mandrake are now infused with the expected twin guitar harmonies, and the tracks that fill this album are all rock solid numbers with plenty of depth and layers that require several listens (I might add, listens that also expose the bands flaws also). The production is average, it could use more polish to expose the guitars of Ron Ardilla and Kelley Tussey, but as it stands, its slightly edgier sound adds to their character, rather than lump them in with mere Dissection clones.

Starting with the cliched but suitably mood building piano opening of “Disharmonize the Heavens,” a track which initially starts of with slightly shaky off-key harmonies but soon picks up the quality, as the band seem to find themselves with a pretty impressive slower segment and solo to flesh out the song’s galloping pace. Granted, The Mandrake do tend to lock into a couple of riffs and hammer them into the ground for tracks duration (“Renounce the Sun,” “At The End of Dawn”), but generally the riffs they do use are pretty impressive and never seem redundant or mundan. With fairly long, deep songs The Mandrake sometimes fall into a few cliche traps with acoustics and forced atmospherics (“The Horizon,” “Bringer of Dreams: A Fallen Angel”), but still a manage to kick out rip roaring riffs that should satisfy all melodic black/death metal fans.

“Deadside of Eden” is the albums flagship tune that delivers six-minutes of competent, melody infused savagery, while keeping some individual and varied character for its duration. The album closing trifecta of “At The End of Dawn,” “Sentence of Three” and “Inherit” all tread solid if uninspiring material, that’s awash with Scandinavian influence and glazed with a US sensibility and vernacular that’s not quite as polished as their European peers but when you consider that Enforsaken is the only recognizable band carrying the US flag for melodic death metal, you feel The Mandrake might make a little noise given the right circumstances and continued improvement. Still, they do need to tighten up and refine their overall delivery to even sniff the sheer elegance of the European scene, but songwriting wise there’s potential.

I’m not sure why the piecemeal bonus track “Night of Day” is advertised as a bonus track as it flows directly with the rest of the album with the same production and aesthetic the rest of the album does, it doesn’t appear to be rare a demo and isn’t a cover-so why says it’s a bonus track? The Mandrake have some work to do, but there’s tons of potential here, especially for a US Band playing a pretty non US sounding style with such confidence. I’ll be keeping my eye on this lot.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
August 24th, 2004

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