Lili Refrain – Mana: Album Review

Lili Refrain explores and experiments with ominous textures on Mana.

Release Date:  21sth April 2022

Label: Subsound Records

Formats: CD / digital / vinyl

We were totally blown away by the premiere of Mami Wata by Lili Refrain last month. So much so that a dip into the dark waters inhabited by Lili Refrain on Mana seemed inevitable. An album that she’s called “my most ritual in some ways” the nine pieces certainly live up to the billing.

Using very few guitars, Lili Refrain has not only taken a hike from herself from her comfort zone but also created an intense atmosphere that focuses on oppressive arrangements and vocal techniques. “Spontaneous” is probably her best description of creating the record that became MANA. “I felt the need to experiment,” she adds and the need is fulfilled in a rolling soundtrack that from the widescreen to the tribal and pagan.

The hanging chords and choral vocals of Ki immediately induce a feeling of anticipation on the opening prelude that bleeds into Kokyu. Despite the reminder that we could be on a Mike Oldfield cycle of exploring ethnicity, we’re never far from a hint of something that’s on the edge of hysteria and sanity while managing to retain a faint grip. That tribal vibe kicks in with a vengeance on Eikyou whose increasing build serves as another prelude to the brooding and haunting power of Ichor and Sangoma. Less is more with its reluctance to shift beyond the ominous drone heightens the expectancy that something is about to implode.

Dark incantations are balanced with operatic vocals and whispers of strange spells as the journey through Mana becomes ever so more daunting and ominous; claustrophobic and disorientating, it leads into a sequence where the ambience intensifies with an increasing confidence and triumphant march. The drone and thunder on Ahi Tapu might hint at Viking assaults or the battle surges of Alexander The Great – the soundtrack to accompany invasion. Some thumping electronic pulses accompany the latter part of the piece as it reaches an inevitable climax.

The way is paved for a lengthier arrangement on Travellers that picks up on a similar to its predecessor. The electronics are much more uptempo and invoke a dance vibe as another spell is cast on what seems like the the recurring theme of “a witch, a witch,” (or maybe not). The production is upscaled and there’s even a heavy and dramatic guitar part as the intensity climbs in a Prog/Post Metal vein. Powerful stuff. Ending on a haunting note with Earthling – more otherworldly than something grounded and of this Earth and back to the stripped back arrangements of earlier.

Mana emerges at the other end as an undeniably thrilling experience. Progessive, inventive, powerful and quite like nothing you’d had the pleasure of before.

Watch the official video for Mami Wata from the album here:

Lili Refrain online: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp / Twitter

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