MANTICORA – The Black Circus Part 1: Letters

MANTICORA - The Black Circus Part 1: Letters


Locomotive Records
Release date: September 12, 2006

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Have you ever wanted to run away and join a traveling circus? Modern fiction makes it sound like it’s a fun, romantic adventure where you get to meet lots of interesting people and eat lots of cotton candy as you travel about the countryside, seeing things and places you’ve never seen before. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

According to the Heavy Metal band Manticora and their new album The Black Circus Part I: Letters, the circus life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it can be hazardous to your health.

The Black Circus Part I: Letters is a concept album that sees a bored young man in 1896 New England run away and join a gypsy-run traveling circus, in hopes of injecting excitement into his life. Each song on the album is presented as a letter the man is writing to a friend, and over the course of the album’s running time, listeners share in the man’s experiences… things start off well, but get more dark and disturbing as time progresses. The man senses something ominous is going on behind the scenes of this carnival; he’d like to leave, but finds himself powerless to do so. The album’s story is a good one, and it’s presented well, and with a surprising amount of subtlety and ambiguousness.

Like many stories, The Black Circus Part I: Letters takes a bit of time to set things up, but once all the elements and characters are in place, you’re free to start getting into to the story. The mood and atmosphere in the album are very good, and do succeed in making things seem more vivid — there are spoken-word narrative tracks that help the story move along, and the periodic clever usage of simple “carnival” style instruments will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up as the story twists its way through some dark territory. Once you strap yourself in for this carousel ride, you’ll have no choice but to stay with it for the duration. You may not like where things are going, but you still want to see what happens next.

As your musical coordinators in this three-ring circus of depravity, Manticora tries to make the journey as melodically heavy as they can … and they succeed! The Dark Circus Part I: Letters is a pretty heavy and fast-moving album: the riffs and solos from guitarists Kristian Larsen and Martin Arendal are forceful and plentiful, always keeping things as head-banging as possible. Some songs also make good use of keyboards and classical instrumentation, with often chilling results. The vocals of lead singer Lars F. Larsen are strong and impassioned, which really adds a lot to the album. Check out the song “Freakshow,” where Larsen really makes you feel the anguish of some abused circus freaks. Nice work.

The Black Circus Part I: Letters ends on a bit of cliffhanger, with the main character being given an offer he finds really hard to refuse. Will he slip over to the dark side? Since Manticora is working on Part II, this story isn’t over yet. It’ll be interesting to see how things turn out.

The Black Circus Part I: Letters is one of those albums that grows on you over time — you find yourself hearing new things (and enjoying it a little more) each time you listen to it. Manticora did a good job with this album, overall… check it out.


  • Gary McLean

    Gary was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of the small Ontario, Canada town of Sault Ste. Marie, right on the border of Michigan, USA. When it comes to Metal and Hard Rock, Gary likes quite a few different bands, from stalwarts like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, to newer, hard-hitting groups such as Primal Fear, Hammerfall, and Paragon. Other favorites include the likes of Nightwish, Running Wild, Therion, Accept, Stratovarius, Dream Evil, Helloween, Rammstein, Dirty Looks, Crimson Glory, Tristania, and Gamma Ray. He thinks AC/DC deserves a paragraph all their own though.

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