JACK MANIAK - Maniaktivity
A few years ago, I used to think that synthwave was a rather niche genre, but especially French artists like Carpenter Brut and Perturbator gave it a certain mainstream appeal, because who knew that combining cheesy Eighties synth music with a certain metal attitude would be just what the audiences were longing for?
Three years ago, Jack Maniak released his first instrumental synthwave album Code 403, and he was not hiding that he was certainly influenced by aforementioned pioneers. It is also not a secret that Jean-Philippe Ouamer, the creative force behind Jack Maniak, is a drummer in two metal bands: Idensity, who play progressive melodic death metal, and Område who are more into avantgarde metal. To bridge the gap between his different outlets, he decided to ask the singers of his other two bands to provide vocals, making this his first Jack Maniak foray into non-instrumental music.
My first impression was one of shock, I have to confess. Especially Idensity’s Lionel Nardari’s very melodic voice gives the music a downright Eighties pop feeling, but then that is one aspect Jack Maniak has been aiming for. But he is smart enough to add to this gritty synthesizers and pummelling beats that make for a pleasantly claustrophobic atmosphere, as if we were trapped in a retro-futurist nightmare world of Blade Runner.
The five songs somehow follow a pattern. The opener A Simple Boy starts as a nice and melodic pop song, but at nearly seven minutes running time, you can of course expect more to happen. The middle part for instance is rather dark with distorted vocals, and its final part is an extended instrumental part for those who also like it in a more instrumental way. The following Reptilian Brain begins with a simple techno beat and a spoken word voice before the melodic vocals join in. This is a shorter song with a driving rhythm that makes it instantly likeable. The Mirror is a softer piece that is more melancholic, but also less edgy, and while it is still good enough, it is frankly the weakest moment on this extended play. Things heat up again with the title track, where Område’s Krys Denhez takes over vocal duties, and his harsher voice adds variety. The EP ends with another longer track. The Enemy Within is six and a half minutes long, and it shows again that Jack Maniak seems to have the best of times when he can indulge himself. There are cheesy Eighties parts, later on a horror episode that recalls Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Jean-Philippe Ouamer is a drummer by trade, and it shows, because he is programming some really sick beats, but he’s also quite gifted at crafting fat synth chord carpets. Just look at the crazy colouring of the cover artwork, and you are teleported into this strange episode in the mid-Eighties where hair styles were outrageous and make-up probably radioactive. Also, Maniaktivity is a concept album, telling a story begun on its instrumental predecessor. Fans of synthwave with a metallic edge should be delighted, and I prophesy that Jack Maniak won’t have to hide behind the gigantic shadows of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator for much longer. Maybe the makers of Stranger Things should ask him to write the soundtrack for their upcoming season. It would make the show definitely even more watchable.