Image @ Ebony Tears 2004
Image © Rayann Elzein 2007
Manda Ophuis Interview (2008)
In Control (2007)
p>(03 March 2008) Dutch rock four-piece Nemesea arrived on the scene in 2004, with this, their debut release entitled Mana (Ebony Tears (Holland), 2004). The album's title refers to the meaning of magical powers, given by the Gods and proves to be an early indication of the talented band's musical capabilities and ideas. The album that would follow this, In Control is sweeping with electronics and a more 'commercial' feel to it's sound, whereas Mana alternatively presents the listener with a raw, heavy metal assault tinged with a symphonic and at times Gothic edge, and is indeed similar to the early After Forever.
The band are fronted by the delightful Manda Ophius, whose soaring soprano vocals match the aggressive tapestry of fierce guitar riffs, drumming heavy on double bass and thick, driving bass work. Stirring strings courtesy of keyboardist Beto Booijink add extra layers to the mix, and help Nemesea to conjure a powerful, imaginative world of sound. An ideal musical comparison to suggest would be that of early Epica and After Forever, both vocally, and in terms of song-structures.
Cleverly titled opener "Nemesis" serves as a dramatic introduction to the album, through a mix of hushed whispers, ethnic instrumentation and rising Gregorian choirs that are soon joined by urgent string work and pummeling drums. It's an early indication of the tone of the album, one rich in atmosphere yet with a fierce metal intensity constantly present. Following track "Threefold Law" literally flies into action with shrill choir chants and thrashing riffs, before calming to allow us a first taste of Manda's flowing vocals via a hypnotic, mid-paced verse. Her voice is strong, and highly diverse. She certainly isn't afraid to experiment, softly gliding through an uplifting chorus before returning to a more strained, harsher tone for a second verse punctuated effectively by surging string samples.
"Empress" again grabs you from the start with alarming keyboards and gritty guitar work that lurches underneath Manda's commanding presence, whose serene voice contrasts superbly with the dark, foreboding instrumentation. Bassist Sonny Onderwater gets a chance to show off his skills with a bridge featuring a steady bass line and dissonant, effect-laden vocals joined by a disturbing male growl that is almost out of place, yet somehow fits. A brief respite from the album's chaotic beginnings arrives in the opening to 6 minute "Angel In The Dark". Featuring the moving pairing of delicate piano notes and heartbroken vocals courtesy of Manda, she breathes lyrics of a torn, lonely soul with plenty of emotion. The song moves into metal territory after the peace is shattered via a crunching riff and atmospheric keyboards, before shifting time signatures and varied vocal work form an impressive progressive metal composition that successfully portrays the best of the band.
The centerpiece of the album comes in the shape of four-part epic "Mortalitas". Over twelve minutes in length, it's broken apart into four smaller tracks that make up the whole, though each flows smoothly into the leaving the breaks hardly noticeable. One that opens with the chiming of bells and a voiceover spouting words of life and death. Admittedly, it's not the most gripping of scene-settings as his melodramatic tone feels more comical than commanding, yet this is forgotten the moment swirling keyboards and huge drum work increases the pace tenfold, locking the song into a fierce groove as layered vocals duel with male growls. The mood calms, as part two invites mournful Gregorian choir work that drifts in the distance, both highly emotive and well placed.
Shattering drums arrive out of nowhere and open the penultimate part in the album's heaviest moment. Shredding guitar mimic melodies of the opening section and battles with keyboard solos in an instrumental that starts impressively, yet drags a little towards the end. Manda's breathy vocals are immersed with touching whispers and subtle piano for the final part, a passage instilled with that rising, 'conclusive' feel every epic needs, ending abruptly after a rising crescendo of instrumentation closes with vocals that hang in the air.
The raw production is perhaps a touch muddy and cluttered at times, yet enhances the dark, foreboding and constantly heavy sound of the album as Mana proves to be a debut that impresses. A tightly woven mix of songs that portray Manda to be a more than capable, confident vocalist and shows the remaining members as able to create well-written songs of crushing yet melodic symphonic metal, draped in haunting, gothic atmospheres. A promising start that would pave the way for a follow-up that sounded, suprisingly, little like the music to be found within Mana.--Jim Hall in Derby, England and Russ Elliot in New York