Mandrake - Mary Celeste
Doomy Gothic Metal
13 songs (58:58)
Release year: 2007
Mandrake, Grau
Reviewed by Goat

Despite only making a significant splash in the Gothic Metal scene with 2005’s The Balance Of Blue, Mandrake has actually been in existence since 1995, with four albums to its credit. The band being signed to a division of respected German label Prophecy certainly implies that you’re not going to find the next Within Temptation here, and a listen to latest album Mary Celeste confirms that there’s a depth to this band beyond the usual, sadly becoming rather stereotypical, Gothic Metal offering.

This isn’t immediately apparent though, as the opening title track racks the catchiness level right up, with bouncy disco beats making this highly danceable. Once you’ve gotten past the band’s inevitably lovely vocalist Birgit Lau and her even more lovely voice however, you realise that the backing music is actually rather complex. Keyboards are less obvious than you’d think, a mixture of subtle electronics and more usual symphonic parts, but the interestingly fuzzy guitars go beyond mere downtuning and take on a distinctly Doomy, if not Black Metal, aspect. The drumming is especially remarkable in that the aforementioned disco beats appear to be acoustic rather than slathered on top of the existing pattern. Most impressive of all, the track is over six and a half minutes long and doesn’t outstay its welcome at all, a guitar solo and perfectly judged narration enhancing the flow considerably, and it’s rather a shame that the band chose to fade the song out rather than keep it going longer.

Fortunately, following track Crystals Of Forgiveness proves the band’s skill at songwriting with what is sure to become a live anthem, and one which doesn’t wimp out on the Metal aspects at all. It’s the sudden change in pace with Fragile that really impresses, however, a sombre piano introduction exploding into epic beauty with a song that sounds like early Lacuna Coil mixed with My Dying Bride, swelling keyboards and a standout performance from Birgit going straight for the heart. Many bands try throughout their careers to achieve this larger-than-life sound and fail – Mandrake make it look easy.

More narration (sampled, at a guess) popping up here and there helps to give a feeling of uniformity and even hints at a concept behind the album. A slight Folksy feel to the melodies on Forgiven is spoiled a little by guitarist Lutz De Putter’s male vocals, which are just a little too deep to fit in (although thankfully not the growls that many bands seem to think stops them from being tagged as sell-outs) but the song’s soaring chorus soon erases that memory. The male vocals pop up again on Masquerade (and several other places) but they can’t stop it from being another excellent song that would be at the top of every music chart everywhere if justice were done.

There’s not a poor song to be found the length and breadth of Mary Celeste, from the proggy leanings of Moments (Touched By Time) that’s reminiscent of fantastic Swedes The Provenance to the piano-driven finale of Paralyzed. Being fair, the album could have been trimmed a little to make for an absolutely perfect listen, as things can seem slightly repetitive towards the last few songs if you’ve been listening to it for a while, but there’s no dip in quality whatsoever making it impossible to determine which songs should go.

This is an outstanding album that deserves to win the band much fame after such a long time in the game. Being emotional without melodrama, epic without cheese, and catchy without shallowness, Mandrake will itch your Gothic Metal ache whilst avoiding that genre’s clichés. Plus, with those experimental aspects of its sound to build on, the band has a promising future, leaving even the most jaded Metalhead barely anything to complain about. Definitely recommended.

Killing Songs :
Mary Celeste, Fragile, Forgiven, Masquerade, Moments (Touched By Time), Paralyzed
Goat quoted 84 / 100
Other albums by Mandrake that we have reviewed:
Mandrake - Innocence Weakness reviewed by Goat and quoted 69 / 100
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