Hail Spirit Noir continue to defy expectations and walk their own path with a delightfully evil synthwave album that’s impressive and entertaining.
Hail Spirit Noir are a band that has eluded discrete classification for a long time. One thing that’s been kind of clear from their inception, however, is that they have been doing their own thing since the beginning. Hell, even before that. With most of the members of the band being part of acts such as Transcending Bizarre?, these musicians have always carved out a niche for themselves and then fully owned it. HSN have always been cooler than they get credit for. I came online with the band with their 2016 release, Mayhem In Blue, and I have been locked in ever since, revisiting their older work and some work of their previous bands along the way. In preparation for this review, I went back through their entire catalog, even knowing that Mannequins is intended to be a one-off synthwave sidestep. I wanted to refresh myself on their journey so far to see where and how this diversion would fit into their musical lexicon. Let’s just say, after last year’s Eden In Reverse, if we didn’t see this musical approach on their horizon, we weren’t paying attention.
The concept of the album seems to be a simple one: in 1986, mannequins come to life because of extraterrestrial influence and start killing people. Fun, right? The album as a whole is a soundtrack to a story penned by guitarist Theoharis and is intended to be a full stylistic departure that celebrates the band’s tenth year of existence. While the style is 100% different, the music doesn’t seem out of step with the band’s sonic vocabulary. It’s also wild as hell and a great time. Opening with news snippets that set the tone, time, and place, I was immediately sucked back into a (stylized) memory of those years of neon, shoulder pads, and decadent murders. It takes until the third track before we get those signature vocals in the title track, and it’s entirely worth the wait. There’s an eerie undertone with a sly, playful grin that is reminiscent of the slasher movies from the era, that are intended to titillate and thrill all while getting a sly wink signifying that it’s all in good fun.
While many instrumental or mostly instrumental albums claim to be a soundtrack to some unpublished work of fiction, Mannequins takes this approach to a much more literal degree by including recurring themes that are weaved throughout. Having these bounce in and out helps sell this experience a lot more than I was anticipating, with these themes feeling much like characters appearing from time to time to carry the narrative forward. There are ways to make your music memorable and this is an effective way to do so. Clever hooks, recognizable melodies, and familiar progressions gave me plenty to hold onto during this ride.
The only other track with vocals is the deliriously violent “Enter Disco Inferno”, which is as violently descriptive as it is catchy. It also hearkens back to the title track and leads into “Mannequins II”, which is a brief homage to its namesake. While there are some standout songs here, I do believe that this is truly one of those albums that is better when digested all at once. Listening to it in chunks would feel more like watching snippets of a movie and that, frankly, is something that I just can’t do without getting somewhat irritated. The mood shifts throughout the runtime of the album and feels thematically true to the movies from which this record drew inspiration. The final third is the most intense, with conflict and catharsis being the chief emotions and a very familiar credits theme that feels ripped from the silver screen. All in all, this couldn’t arrive at a better time of year. If you’re up for a nostalgic, spooky romp that knows how to have fun, put this on, dim the lights, and turn on the fog machine.
Hail Spirit Noir have crafted an interesting and incredibly competent, lightly industrial synth-wave soundtrack that feels as authentic as it is charming. Perhaps they won’t go the full Ulver route, but frankly, if the output was as quality as this, there’d be no reason not to.