MANGINI – Invisible Signs (2023) *HQ*
We didn’t see it coming. After many years, drummer Mike Mangini parted ways with Dream Theater a few days ago as Mike Portnoy returned to the band, and at the same time Mike announced his new solo album ”Invisible Signs”, released today November 11.
The line up of his own band MANGINI is impressive; Firewind guitarist Gus G. on lead guitar, Ivan Keller (Jelusick, ex-Fireball) on guitar, Tony Dickinson (Daniele Liverani, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) on bass, and ex-Evanescence guitarist Jen Majura on lead vocals.
But we didn’t see coming is ”Invisible Signs” – we expected a prog, metal, fusion piece of work – and what MANGINI delivers here is mainstream, very commercial hard rock with songs rarely over the 3-minute mark, catchy, groovy, infectious.
Also unexpected – and we know Mangini is a multi-talented musician – is seeing that Mike has written roughly all of the music himself despite really only excelling at percussion. He even wrote the guitar solos. He play keyboards on the album too, and add some electronics.
With opening track Freak of Nature you certainly get a taste for what the album has in store but it isn’t the strongest from the album, which is filled with tracks with much more distinct riffs and catchier choruses.
One motif you will find throughout is Freak of Nature and most other songs do not feature the drums as the vanguard of the song structure. So if you come to hear Mangini let loose, you’ll hear it but you’ll have to wait mostly during the solo section or the occasional chorus. And that work great for the ‘song format’ on display here.
With the title track, Mangini delivers much more of what you can expect throughout the album with a killer riff played by Ivan Keller. While Gus G. also appears on the album as well, he is primarily only playing the solos.
It isn’t clear exactly when and where this was recorded but like many albums nowadays I’m assuming it was pieced together in several locations. Regardless, the album sounds killer. The mix is excellent with enough room for each instrument to be heard including some subtleties of keyboards and midis played by Mangini himself.
That keyboard work really shows itself in the first minute of the next song Habit to Change and this is also where the vocals go from good to addictive. With the concise nature of each song, most clocking in at about 3 minutes flat, it’s captivating how efficient Mangini has made every track, especially given his background of participating in music that’s been accused of bloviating on occasion.
On Not Drowning, one standout aspect is Mangini’s rapid use of the snare during the verse, an unorthodox way to bring the drums to the forefront while not stealing the spotlight. It actually reminds of the outro to Dream Theater’s Answering the Call which easily became one of my favorite Dream Theater songs upon its release.
Deep Inside really begins to showcase Jen Majura on the vocals. However the vocalist is rarely over the top on the album. Though, with this song, we hear Majura really let loose some moody and almost theatrical vocal work.
Saying Sorry is catchy as hell and upon first listen I’ve been hearing the chorus constantly in my head. It’s a pretty simple track, but as happens with the entire CD, it’s enjoyable, it’s memorable, and let’s face it, it just plain rocks at times.
So Alive is one of those moments and damn it, the song is not even three minutes long and that’s enough for being a kick ass tune. Yes, I really do like most of the album but So Alive is definitely the high point.
The followup is another rocker with odd subject matter. Glamorous Shades, from what I can tell, is about… sunglasses. A shocker, I know. While I meant that sarcastically, I am truly shocked that this track has one of the most Dream Theater-esque moments hearing the tradeoff between Mangini and Gus G – and it’s quite awesome.
The memorable riffs keep piling up along with more examples of how excellent the mix is. In this instance, Its Noise showcases the bass of Tony Dickinson. Dickinson being heard loud and clear is not an exception for Invisible Signs.
This is just one where it really stands out whereas the next song, Let Me Shine stands out because it has a slight 80s feel to it, almost to the point of feeling like it may be left over from another project in the infancy of Mike’s career. Even if that’s the case, its inclusion here is still welcome and shows a bit of diversity.
Seek and Find has a bit of an epic feel to it thanks in no small part to an excellent drum intro. Additionally, I detect more hints of the ’80s with a bit of synth as well as a sense of finale. I was surprised to find this was not, in fact, the last track and furthermore it doesn’t come close to breaking 3 minutes in length so we can hardly call it an epic. The chorus itself has a bit of a monumental feel.
Rounding out the album is Black Box which gives us a bit of an electronic sounding intro. Marching towards its unusual length of closer to four minutes (when you round up), I was afraid the album would end on low note but approaching the chorus you find another memorable melody to add to your arsenal of earworms.
I really didn’t want to “go there” in this review but I can’t help but notice some similarities between Mangini’s CD and the first album released by a previous former drummer of Dream Theater. Specifically, the title of “former” and the fact that both projects are heavy.
The similarities stop there though. Mangini has the hooks, the riffs, the melodies, and even the lyrics as strange as some may be. Mangini also has a ton of goodwill. While Portnoy’s return has had an overall positive reaction, it seems just as many people at the very least feel bad for Mangini and even some sadness.
Mangini surprises with a solo debut album going for straight modern sounding hard rockers, accessible songs. ”Invisible Signs” is short, effective heavy rock album, a joy to listen to.
If you’re in the mood for heavy riffs, catchy tunes, a range of interesting to eyebrow raising lyrics, with a degree of prog thrown in, then you’ll dig this. So dig in because Mangini is writing a new chapter in his career and it’s very entertaining.
01 – Freak Of Nature
02 – Invisible Signs
03 – Habit to Change
04 – Not Drowning
05 – Deep Inside
06 – Saying Sorry
07 – So Alive
08 – Glamorous Shades
09 – Its Noise
10 – Let Me Shine
11 – Seek and Find
12 – Black Box
Jen Majura (Evanescence, ex-Equilibrium) – Vocals, Guitars
Gus G. (Firewind, ex-Mystic Prophecy) – Guitars
Ivan Keller (Jelusick, ex-Fireball) – Guitars
Tony Dickinson (Daniele Liverani, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) – Bass
Mike Mangini (ex-Dream Theater, ex-Annihilator) – Drums, Keyboards