Halloween is over for another year, but the horror continues, at least for a little while…
Perhaps not surprisingly, based on on their name, Them began life as a King Diamond tribute, and their first album, 2016’s Sweet Hollow, exhibited that influence decidedly. An homage bordering upon outright carbon copy, Sweet Hollow was rife with the power / trad / thrash riffing, LaRocque-ian leads, octave-spanning melodies, and classic horror themes that define King Diamond’s career. Though it was well within the shadow of the King, it was performed capably and certainly with appropriate reverence, and at the end of the day, the skill with which it was delivered compensated for its borrowed identity.
Most immediately notably, Fossor has scaled back the use of his falsetto, keeping more to his chest voice, and even at times utilizing the tough-guy thrash bark that harks back to his work in unsung NYC outfit Coldsteel. The falsettos are still present — and still well done when they appear — but they’re fewer and farther between now than before, as the band steps away from Diamond’s signature style. Alongside Fossor finding a more distinctive voice, the remainder of Them has increased the technicality of their riffing, as well, and the whole of Manor feels like the band is stretching its wings on every front, growing into itself.
Of course, some aspects remain: Manor Of The Seven Gables is another conceptual album, replete with dialogue to push the storyline — I’m unclear on the ins and outs of the plot, but I can certainly ascertain that it’s a macabre one in the vein of Victorian horror stories, with a young lady taken too soon, a nefarious villain and his cackling henchman, the titular creepy house, and so forth.
After the instrumental opener “Residuum,” “Circuitous” starts off on a high note (ahem), a rollicking rocker with an instantly hooky chorus, but from there, Manor Of The Seven Gables is a mixed bag, and that inconsistency ultimately proves its undoing. “Witchfinder” is another fun trad-thrash burner, but ballad “Ravna” drags on well past its welcome, overlong and underdeveloped. Most of Manor glides by in a middle-tier rut, neither terrible nor stellar, barely memorable at all — there’s far worse metal to hear, but there’s better, for sure.
In leaving their cover-band roots, Them has certainly made some steps forward towards their own identity, but they aren’t quite there yet. They’re in their awkward adolescent, stepping out from beneath the wings of those that spawned them, but not quite on solid footing yet, not entirely there. Manor Of The Seven Gables isn’t a complete failure, but it’s not a rousing success, and it’s one that all but the most die-hard classic horror and trad metal junkies can safely overlook.