Manilla Road

Crystal Logic Manilla Road - Crystal Logic (Shadow Kingdom) 1983

1. Prologue (1:35)
2. Necropolis (3:10)
3. Crystal Logic (6:01)
4. Feeling Free Again (2:48)
5. The Riddle Master (4:41)
6. The Ram (3:46)
7. The Veils of Negative Existence (4:34)
8. Dreams of Eschaton / Epilogue (12:01)
9. Flaming Metal Systems (5:43)

I've been a heavy metal fan since I was a kid in the 1980's. Back in the 1980's I purchased all the Metal Massacre and U.S. Metal releases to check out the new bands. I discovered many, many bands that way. Manilla Road was on U.S. Metal Vol III, which I owned and loved, yet I never checked this band out beyond that one song. (That song is included here as a bonus track.) Somehow I just flat out missed this band until this CD came in the mail nearly thirty years after it was initially released. All I could think of while listening to this album was, "how in the heck did I miss out on this band" 

Manilla Road is an American heavy metal band formed in Wichita, Kansas, US by lead guitarist Mark 'the Shark' Shelton. Manilla Road play heavy metal with an almost doom-metal edge. Their sound is fairly unique, especially for the early 80's, but wouldn't be out of place with bands like Warlord and Cirith Ungol. I can certainly hear plenty of 1970's influences in their music, but there is the 1980's traditional heavy metal influences bleeding through everywhere that emerge as somewhat dark and doomy. The vocals are of the clean and somewhat nasally variety, the production is a bit rough, and the whole thing comes off as very underground. Fortunately this all works in the band's favor. The band knows how to write catchy melodies for sure. It didn't take but one or two listens to begin singing along with the choruses and banging along to the massive grooves. "Crystal Logic" is an album from the golden age of heavy metal that I unfortunately missed out on at the time. Now they have a large catalog of music that I intend to catch up on. 

The Deluge Manilla Road - The Deluge (Shadow Kingdom) 1986

1. Dementia (3:09)
2. Shadow in the Black (5:21)
3. Divine Victim (3:09)
4. Hammer of the Witches (2:41)
5. Morbid Tabernacle [instrumental] (1:52)
6. Isle of the Dead (2:53)
7. Taken by Storm (3:19)
8. The Deluge (8:13)
9. Friction in Mass (6:26)
10. Rest in Pieces [instrumental] (1:51)

On "The Deluge" Manilla Road continue to hone their heavy metal sound, with the same ominous vibe they've had since "Crystal Logic". It's impossible to compare them to any other band though there are hints of everything from Iron Maiden to Judas Priest to Mercyful Fate sewn into the fabric of their songs. However, the combination of Shark Shelton's guitar sound and galloping riffs, his unique vocals and the interplay of the rhythm section of Scott Parks and Randy Foxe give Manilla Road their distinctive sound. This interplay can be clearly heard in the epic title track and the thrashy "Shadow In The Black". Mark stretches his musical muscle with spicy guitar solos which are peppered throughout the album. No where is this more apparent than in the the two aforementioned tracks, as well as in the short outro instrumental "Rest in Pieces". Shelton's vocals are slightly more refined this time around, though he experiments with some harsher vocals to add spice to certain parts of songs. 

Despite Mark being a big reason for this band's unique sound, it's not just the guitar work and vocals. The drum-work ads a ton to the sound as well. Randy Foxe is fast and intricate without taking away from the overall flow of the songs. He also inserts some interesting keyboards here and there as well. In fact, "Morbid Tabernacle" is an eerie keyboard instrumental, straight out of a haunted house. The production is still raw and very much underground, which works in the band's favor. Had they gone for a more polished studio sound, some of their edge surely would have been lost. 

By this point in their career the trio have gelled and their chemistry is undeniable. As such, it's no wonder why the mastermind behind Manilla Road, Mark "the Shark" Shelton counts "The Deluge" as one of his personal favorites. 

Mystification Manilla Road - Mystification (Sentinel Steel) 1987

1.   Up From the Crypt (3:02)
2.   Children of the Night (6:54)
3.   Haunted Palace (4:22)
4.   Spirits of the Dead (4:24)
5.   Valley of Unrest (3:40)
6.   Mystification (5:35)
7.   Masque of the Red Death (5:21)
8.   Death by the Hammer (3:45)
9.   Dragon Star (5:55)
10. The Asylum [instrumental] (4:53)

Manilla Road's "Mystification" finds the band drawing on the influence of poet Edgar Allen Poe. Muscially the band encompassing multiple metal styles ranging from the classic metal they are known for to US power metal, speed metal and even touching on thrash. Of course in 1987 thrash and speed metal had all but taken over the traditional heavy metal scene, either that or it was the scads of poofy-haired pop metal bands. Manilla Road took inspiration from the former. Personally I prefer when Mark Shelton slows it down a bit. Songs like "Mystification" and the haunting "Sprits of the Dead" embody everything I liked about early Manilla Road, specifically that slower, darker, epic, almost atmospheric sound that was heard on "Crystal Logic". This aura is aided by Shelton's unique and charismatic vocals. He may not be a technically great singer, but with heavy metal it's not always about that. Rather it's about heart and charisma and Mark seems to deliver that in bucket loads. 

Unfortunately that slower atmosphere isn't present for much of this album, replaced by aggression and speed. Being a big fan of speed metal and thrash, those aren't bad traits to have. I will admit, however, that I was thrown for a loop at first expecting that sound only to get knocked over by some pedal-to-the-medal speed. Album opener "Up from the Crypt cannot be described as anything but full-throttle thrash metal. Follow-up tracks "Children of the Night" and "Haunted Palace" slow the pace slightly, but are still upbeat and retain the machine gun riffing. Where Manilla Road really maintains their identity is on the melodic vocal lines which seem to float on top of the sonic barrage beneath it. 

Though my first thought was one of slight disappointment that the album featured more speed, it didn't take but a few listens to become immensely intrigued. As with every Manilla Road album I have purchased thus far, I found myself wanting to listen to this one over and over again. 

Courts of Chaos Manilla Road - The Courts of Chaos (Iron Glory) 1990

1. Road to Chaos [instrumental] (4:44)
2. Dig Me No Grave (4:21)
3. D.O.A. (7:01)
4. Into the Courts of Chaos (5:23)
5. From Beyond (5:04)
6. A Touch of Madness (7:02)
7. (Vlad) The Impaler (3:27)
8. The Prophecy (7:00)
9. The Books of Skelos (8:09)
    The Book of the Ancients
    The Book of Shadows
    The Book of Skulls
10. Far Side of the Sun [live] (5:56)

"The Courts of Chaos" was to be the band's swansong as guitarist Mark Shelton was set to record his first solo album. Of course that did not happen. Instead the record company released his solo album "Circus Maximus" with the Manilla Road name on the front cover and Manilla Road would reunite in 2001, with Mark as the only original member. As such, "The Courts of Chaos" is considered to be the final album prior to the disintegration of the "classic" Manilla Road lineup.

History aside, "The Courts of Chaos" is a true heavy metal masterpiece. The songs are mostly epic length tracks with each possessing a distinctive nuance; mostly a darker, almost eerie sound with the combination of the keyboards, those buzzy guitar tones and a mix of melodic and more aggressive, almost thrash-style vocals.. The album opens with a keyboard driven instrumental before giving way to the guitar heavy "Dig Me No Grave". This song is easily one of the most memorable on the album with it's almost thrash-metal riffing and sing-along chorus. The album also features a brilliant and heavy cover of Bloodrock's morbid song "D.O.A.". Had I not known better, I never would have guessed this to be a cover. Manilla Road simply made the song their own. The title track is simply enthralling with the mix of heavy guitars and lush keys. The album ends with a pair of synth-addled, fantasy, metal epic tracks, "The Prophecy" and "The Book of Skelos" are also quite heavy and memorable. In reality, the entire album from beginning to end is solid with each song being as important as the one that preceded it. Considering the band was in disarray during the recording and writing of this album, it's a wonder that the album has such a passionate and emotive tone. 

The bonus track, a live version of "Far Side of the Sun" originally appeared on the "Roadkill" live album. 

Mysterium Manilla Road - Mysterium (Shadow King) 2013

1. The Grey God Passes (4:05)
2. Stand Your Ground (2:57)
3. The Battle of Bonchester Bridge (4:29)
4. Hermitage (6:02)
5. Do What Thou Will (4:09)
6. Only the Brave (3:37)
7. Hallowed Be Thy Grave (4:37)
8. The Fountain (4:28)
9. The Calling (4:00) (instrumental)
10. Mysterium (11:21)
...I. Sea of Dreams
...II. The Quest
...III. Into the Unknown

"Mysterium" is the 16th full-length studio album by US heavy metal act Manilla Road. The album was released on CD through Shadow Kingdom Records in February 2013 and on vinyl on High Roller Records. 

As might be expected from Manilla Road, the music is dark, traditional heavy metal. There are influences from the early NWOBHM movement as well as plenty of US power metal influences and a hint of doom as well. However, there are some oddities mixed in as well. For example, "The Fountain" is a folky, acoustic, ballad. As well, the atmospheric instrumental "The Calling" is quite different from the rest of the tracks but it does act as a dark intro to the epic 11:21 minutes long closing title track. The lion's share of the album is driven by Mark "Shark" Shelton's unique guitar sound and riffs.  Vocalist Bryan Patrick sings with a mostly mid-range, clean vocal style and though he has a unique voice, I find it incredible that his vocals don't sound all that different from original vocalist Mark Shelton. Though I didn't dig deep into the lyrics of this album, "Mysterium" is said to be about explorer Ludwig von Leichardt's last sail from the coast of Australia in 1848, after which he disappeared without trace.                               

It took a few more listens to really appreciate this album. "Mysterium" is actually the first post-reunion record that I checked out, thus my only comparison is their classic early material. While it may not be quite of the same caliber, it's also not too far off. A few times through the CD player and I couldn't get it out of the CD player. 

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