Prison of Mirrors – Manning the Galleys
Release: LP, 2012 (Self-Released)
Genre: Post-Black Metal
Sonic Brethren: Altar of Plagues, Nachtmystium, Tombs
I definitely took a gamble on this album. Upon first seeing Manning the Galleys while lost in the black hole that is Bandcamp I was immediately discouraged by their pasted-on album text and the fact that they don’t have a Metal Archives page. But seeing as it’s a project from Seattle I figured it was worth a shot to support a local. And was it ever.
Despite the cover art and the band name taken from a Xasthur track, the music doesn’t make you want to lay in a cold bath while opening your veins. Sure, it has plenty of gloomy moments and melancholic melodies, but when the songs get going they’re surprisingly upbeat. The quick staccato beats are a bit easier listen to than Tombs and used much more sparingly, while two guitars play thick, layered tremolo riffs that form the backbone for the higher-tempo parts of the album.
Like many of the one-man projects I write about, the production is very clearly a home setup with a drum machine. But I’ve begun to take a shine to this approach. It’s doing what the fuck you want with what you have at your disposal, just like the originators from the early 90s. Sure, the man behind the music needs to seriously get this recording mastered — doubling your computer’s volume for a recording isn’t fun when you later forget how loud you had to turn it — but for what it is, it works.
The album weaves between a few different musical variations. There’s an acoustic passage here, a blasting psychadelic anthem there and a somber dirge thrown in for good measure before you really start to pick up on what Manning the Galleys is doing. “Horn of Winter” is a Pelican-esque acoustic jam that escalates into a scathing doom anthem that thankfully gives you some time to recover before moving on to the album’s final track. And that closer is an opus. Combining the best of the previous songs, it’s a veritable hurricane. The swirling chaos eventually fades, but only then do you realize you are but in the eye of the storm — about to be thrown right back in again. It finally comes to an end, giving you a few minutes in acoustic reverie as you reflect on the destruction that just passed you by. It really encompasses what Post-Black Metal is all about; deriving inspiration from the original genre and keeping it in mind while exploring other influences and playing with more progressive song structures.
While I’m not really sure what an abandoned, foggy house has to do with galleys or why there’s a track about a mythical horn from Westoros, I suddenly wonder why such things even matter. I realize that in a genre so obsessed with following a dogma and defined look, Prison of Mirrors adhere to the only part that matters. Keep your image, I’ll gladly take music like this over it any day.
Final Thoughts: A shining example of the common Bandcamp solo project. This is evolved Black Metal at its very best.