Formed in 1992, Manes began as a pioneering black metal outfit. In fact, for their early work, Manes are regarded as one of the most important acts in the history of the genre. They are certainly one of the very-very best. During their glorious extreme music era, Manes cursed the world with three lethal and highly influential demos — Maanens Natt, Ned I Stillheten, and Til Kongens Grav De Døde Vandrer — as well as a masterpiece of a debut album, Under Ein Blodraud Maane. These immortal efforts were the products of the genius of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tor-Helge “Cernunnus” Skei in combination with vocalist Sargatanas. In 2003, Skei unveiled Manes’ new direction, a shift in favor of an eclectic blend of styles, with the release of the unsurpassed Vilosophe, an experimental classic. According to many, including yours truly, Vilosophe stands as one of the greatest records ever made. Granted, the ingenuity and integrity present in both incarnations of the band cannot be emphasized enough. Although Skei has served as Manes’ sole constant member, this master of the experimental never fails to deliver surprises. Manes’ new EP, Pathei Mathos, represents a refreshing and outstanding addition to their catalogue.

Throughout the four-song Pathei Mathos, Skei has crafted thoroughly haunting, mesmerizing, and immersive atmospheres, a point he excels in like no other. After all, along with Sir Niklas Kvarforth and another upstanding gentleman, Mr. Skei is my most respected composer. Thanks to Skei, the impossibly dark yet ethereal nature of Pathei Mathos bears Manes’ special and indefinable, though distinctive, brand of magic. Skei makes phenomenal use of electronic elements. He handles synths and guitars, and Eivind Skaret Fjøseide does the same. As expected, their work in all regards on the EP is simply brilliant. Before going further, however, it feels necessary to note that reviewing Manes’ content always proves especially difficult because their music affects and infects its victims on such a profound level that all descriptors melt away. Skei drags audiences into the abyss and forces them to encounter the Unknown. Thus, we feel compelled to quote Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Indeed, true art tends to refuse analysis. Appealing to the heart, soul, and most deep-rooted fears, Manes’ flowing and hypnotic material is absurdly rewarding, wedding both constructive and destructive elements. It is music that you could and should listen to every day.

The EP’s opening track, “Submerged,” first launched as a single. It commences with a gentle yet gripping intro, which gives way to the gorgeous voice of Marita Hellem. We have heard Hellem’s guest vocals with Skei’s Lethe as well as her guest bass and synths in Brage Kråbøl’s Enevelde. Hellem also has a project called Martyra. On Pathei Mathos, she takes over for the first time in Manes. She steps in seemingly with great ease, providing the band with a new feeling. The seductive allure of her superb contributions suits the music perfectly. Hellem more than does justice to the lyrics of Manes’ stellar bassist Torstein Parelius. We love Parelius’ musicianship and texts. This gem of a creator actually doubles as a film producer — a fact worth mentioning, given Manes’ cinematic nature.

Incorporated within “Submerged,” we hear a man’s voice utter several spoken lines: “… We live in a society that says we should never feel any pain. We should never address it. We should never understand it. We should avoid pain at all costs. It’s almost the mantra of our society. But there’s been a lot of people who have dealt with pain their whole lives that say something different. They say: ‘I got to the point where I see beauty in the pain.’” Of course, these words are extremely relevant. One of the countless factors that separates Skei from the hordes of weaklings who have ruined the art world and entertainment industry is his ability to contemplate the horrors of existence.

“Fallen” sweeps in on an ominous, albeit graceful, note, and then Hellem’s commanding yet soothing vocals kick in again. On this number and elsewhere on the EP, they are nicely layered. The diaphanous, though abysmal, beauty of this composition keeps listeners firmly under its venomous spell. Despite its melancholy air, its strength and confidence will enliven you. Rune Hoemsnes’ drums truly shine, becoming more prominent slightly after the midpoint of the track and enhancing its effect. Hoemsnes is obviously a fantastic musician, whose journey with Manes began with Vilosophe, though he did part with the band for a time. “Fallen” ends on a bewitching outro.

The transition into “A Vessel for Change” may be smooth, but this offering takes us on a delightfully expected ride. This magnetic wonder boasts a unique energy that everyone just must experience. It captivates with gusts of emotion and maintains extraordinary momentum. Hellem delivers an absolutely remarkable performance, overwhelming us with her supernatural power. Her crystalline and angelic highs stand in lovely contrast to her full and sensual lows. While we assume that mainstream fame is not the goal of anyone within the legendary and noble Manes, who epitomize the very opposite of a sell-out band, it is impossible to listen to “A Vessel for Change” without thinking how easy it should be for Hellem to become a chart-topper, though I realize that corruption rather than talent often governs occurrences in the industry… “A Vessel for Change” closes with shimmering textures and softly patters out.

Beginning on a bold and anxiety-inducing note, the disturbingly dark and occasionally sparkling “End of the River” is a stellar track in every respect. Yet again, we are presented with a mini masterpiece that is unbelievably forceful, though delicate in the right places. In other words, it is violent in the most refined manner, cleansing in part and likewise punishing. Reminiscent of a noir film, it manages to summon images from deep within the subconscious with astounding effectiveness like a reel flashing before one’s eyes in anticipation of total doom. “End of the River” offers listeners the glorious feeling of being positioned ever so carefully in front of an oncoming train. Around the midpoint, a low male voice with a psychopathic quality briefly creeps in. At different moments, this varied song tightens and softens the hold of the vice in which it squeezes the listener’s emotions in a thoroughly riveting manner. The build before the soft conclusion is simply fabulous.

Pathei Mathos was forged from the void from 2023-2024. It was flawlessly produced, recorded, and mixed by the band at Skei’s Cernobyl Studio, Vindmill Studio, and Timebandit Studio. Of course, amazing mix deserves our hearty applause. However, we expect nothing less from Manes, whose albums are always mixed to perfection. Knut Prytz, whom some remember from Necrophagia and Wurdulak, likewise lent his expertise to Pathei Mathos at Magica Mastering. The EP’s cover was created by Paul McCarroll / Unhinged Art. Finally, we send our hails to Aftermath Music, the label of the Spellemann-winning Djevel, for unleashing Pathei Mathos. This Trondheim-based operation is in the business of bringing listeners true quality. They will therefore also be releasing Manes’ Slow Motion Death Sequence Remixed. Stay tuned for our review of that album as well. In the meantime, pre-order Pathei Mathos, or demonstrate that you have no musical taste.

Score: 5/5

(Order Pathei Mathos here.)