The Art of Manipulation is Ward XVI’s inaugural album, which is actually a 12-track concept album detailing the story of a female psychopath locked away in a high-security asylum. Interesting, right?
The album begins with the noise of tape rolling and what sounds like an extremely sinister psychologist, something Kubrick could have dreamed up himself. Imagine if, when Alex DeLarge (from Clockwork Orange) returned to the world defenceless after treatment, he decided to retrain as a therapist. That’s the levels of sinister we’re talking here. There’s a foreboding sense around Ward XVI. We hear the voice of a female respond to this character, who sounds completely unphased by his demeanour and challenges his practices. If you’ve ever seen Th Quiet One's movie – you’ll instantly get a sense of what this album is all about.
Take My Hand then features a music box like riff and wouldn’t be out of place on an In This Moment album. This transforms into a fast-paced metal track by the end; this transformation possibly representing the duality of the female character? It’s very much a ‘welcome to the show’ type feel - not unlike a female fronted Avatar and at only two minutes long, it’s a brief introduction.
Track three, The Art of Manipulation, and the title track of the album has a beautifully disjointed ambience, with the guitars almost relaxing in their tranquillity. This lull quickly changes into a heavy power-riff led song and there’s a spooky haunted house feel courtesy of a well utilised Theremin. You can almost imagine the ghosts waltzing with one another in the slower parts of the track. The guitars emphasise the lyric “I only asked you to dance with me” perfectly and the whole song has a Harley Quinn vibe to it.
A brief interlude follows, giving us more insight into the female protagonist’s state of mind and it makes you wish that you could watch instead of listen to the album. The Flight is a head banger from the get-go and has a surprise Gabba sample of No Limits which works really well with the metal guitars leading into a sexy Synster Gates style solo and again brings in the use of a wind-up music box, coining images of jewellery boxes and ballerinas. Similar to Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride – except way more metal.
Crystal Ball begins like a French musette, roll up, roll up – the circus has well and truly come to town. If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of a xylophone which sounds like the bones of the skeletons rattling in the closet of the protagonist. It’s the highlight of the album and sounds like something Alice Cooper would entirely appreciate.
Hold me is the token ballad on the album, where we get to know the more vulnerable side of our patient. Echoey guitars provide the setup and have a tinge of sadness throughout. They are reminiscent of the glimmers of sunlight rippling through the cell the singer, Psychoberrie, alludes to being caged in. The solo acts as an escapist release, and you can almost hear her rattling the cages through its power.
Interlude 2 provides a clear indication as to why the album is titled The Art of Manipulation and moves on swiftly to the next track, Blackened Heart. Probably the most radio-friendly track on the album which confidently stands alone from the concept with a pop-punk edge.
Run For Your Lives begins sirens a-blare and allows for the bassist, Beardy McStumble, to have a moment in the spotlight. The guitars have a slight Megadeth tinge and some hardcore backup vocals make an appearance for the first time on the album. It again reverts back to a jaunty musette – like jesters in the court yard constantly playing with the listener's attention.
Adrenochromania is a death march of a song. To save you a bit of time Googling, Adrenochrome is the oxidation of adrenaline and is said to have psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects – which is played out by Ward XVI through the twisting vocals and ever churning guitar work – almost giving the sensation that the room is spinning. It also has some nice whispering backup vocals, perhaps signifying voices in our patient’s head?
Cry of the Siren is instantly reminiscent of Motionless In White with the electronic beats used. (Particularly Not My Type: Dead As Fuck 2). There’s a good pace about this song, and the use of the ringing church bell catches your attention. Definitely one of the heavier songs on the album, but one of my favourites.
Toy box sees us go back to the courtyard with the accordion intro and is akin to Roma music, with its oom-pah beat which gradually speeds up and wouldn’t have been out of place on the soundtrack to American Horror Story: Freakshow.
Interlude 3 lets us know that we’ve got a killer on our hands and then the album continues to blast straight into Inner Demon wherein we get to hear some more of those hardcore male vocals, which provide a really nice depth and contrast to the single female vocal line. The lyrics tell us how our protagonist indeed became a killer and how her demons have her now. Honest, she did try to keep it all inside for as long as possible!
The last track leads us down the corridor to the dreaded Ward XVI we were told about in the Introduction. Leading us in with a fragile vulnerability, it quickly changes up into metal song with chugging twin guitars describing the gory torture and scandalous ethical practices of the ward, wherein you’re left to die alone. The song then reverts to its original state where our patient sings her final swan song before assumedly suffering the inevitable fate of the ward and indeed being left to die alone.
Sixteen tracks is a lot of work to listen to (twelve if you take out the Intro’s and Interludes) and adds to the feeling of incarceration. Overall, it’s an extremely visual listening experience and If you see these guys playing a date near you, please do attend as I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to see this album play out live on stage.