Last January, I asked the genial Chris Franklin of the essential Raised on Rock radio show to pick an album that I'd missed from the previous year. He suggested the Fans of the Dark debut, which was a peach of an album, so I was eager to repeat that question this year. I'll be listening to a couple of albums that he's suggested, one rock and one metal, this month and here's the former. It's not an immense surprise to find that Manic Sinners are released through Frontiers, but they're putting a lot of good music out nowadays and you can hear plenty of it on Chris's show.
The band is based in Romania, though Toni Dijmarescu lives in Germany, and they're a trio with an immense amount of experience. Adrian Igrișan plays drums and keyboards here for the most part, though he's best known as the current lead singer and guitarist for heavy metal band Cargo, who have been rocking Timișoara since 1985. Dijmarescu is a session musician best known for multiple releases by Reșița Rocks and Călin Pop. That leaves Ovidiu Anton on lead vocals, who's newer but would have represented Romania in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016, had their TV company's debs prompted them to withdraw.
Manic Sinners play a form of hard rock that's obviously rooted in the eighties but with a variety of influences from across the spectrum. The first one that leapt out at me was Whitesnake, because they're here in Anton's vocals and Dijmarescu's guitars, but Europe sprang to mind quickly too and there's often some Dio in Anton's phrasing. It's definitely a commercial sound and, while there are softer songs like Anastasia and Carousel, there are moments where they move closer to the heavy metal border. That's mostly through the guitars of Dijmarescu but surely the heaviest song here is Nobody Moves, in large part because Igrișan contributes a much heavier bass.
I liked the album on a first listen but it didn't knock me out, even though there are a string of good tracks to open things up. However, the more I listened, the better it got. Drifters Union and King of the Badlands aren't just good openers, they're excellent openers, and Under the Gun and Nobody Moves keep growing on me too, to the point where they're clear highlights. Most importantly, the album runs a generous fifty-five minutes but none of the dozen songs here let the side down. Not all are highlights but none are filler and that's impressive on a debut album this long.
Also impressive is how that statement holds true even on the softer songs. Anastasia is a ballad in the style of Europe; Carousel isn't but it's still softer and still more melodic than what's around it; and Crimson Queen is a brief but tasty guitar piece. Even A Million Miles, which starts with a woah and brings it back during the chorus, is solid, though it's almost the epitome of something that I'd expect Chris to like more than me. It's almost textbook melodic rock, the guitars keeping back but always being ready to nudge things forward with a riff, the beat politely urgent, the vocals soaked in soulful vocal fry. There isn't an original bone in its body, but it does what it does well.
And so, while I liked this from my first time through, I like it more with each listen and I'm a few in right now. There's nothing here to challenge the listener. There's little that's particularly original, though songs like Under the Gun and Nobody Moves add some more unusual elements that would never feel right on material that's content with being traditional. The former boasts a delightfully prowling intro and the latter, after another neat intro, includes some fascinating backing vocals in a folky choral style. Mostly, it's just melodic hard rock done right.
So, thanks, Chris once more for picking out another strong one for me. Now I'm looking forward to the other one all the more.