After Midnight Live
posted on 5/2010 By:
After Midnight Live is an interesting peek into the formative years of one the U.S.’s finest traditional metal bands, Manilla Road. The album features a live set from 1979, recorded at a radio station in the band’s hometown of Wichita, Kansas. This recording showcases a very different band from the Manilla Road that would one day release such classics as Crystal Logic and Open the Gates and to which a young Norwegian drummer named Gylve Nagell (AKA Fenriz) would one day sell his soul.
Plainly put, the Manilla Road featured on After Midnight Live is not a metal band. At this point in its career Manilla Road’s sound has more in common with the hard rock and progressive rock of seventies contemporaries such as Rush, Blue Oyster Cult and UFO. The songs on this recording tend to deal with more personal and mundane matters, in contrast to the epic tales of swords, sorcery and horror that the band is known for. Mark “The Shark” Shelton’s riffs and solos are, at this point, still composed from the traditional blues-rock vocabulary. Vocally, Shelton’s trademark high, nasally voice is absent, in favor of much lower and throatier shout. Absent also are the soaring vocal melodies and anthemic choruses that made tracks like “Necropolis” and “Dreams of Eschaton” such classics.
Despite the dramatically different approach, there are some things on After Midnight Live that hint at what Manilla Road would become. For instance, the band displays a preference for longer song lengths and a willingness to break from the typical verse/chorus/verse structure (although the twelve-minute ballad “Life’s So Hard” is about eight minutes too long to my ears). Song titles like “Pentacle of Truth” and “Chromaphobia” suggest that the band seeks lyrical inspiration in more exotic places than the bottom of a beer bottle. Furthermore, while Shelton essentially sticks to the blues, his playing on the more rocking tracks possesses some of the fire and frenetic energy that characterizes his later work.
In the end, After Midnight Live is a document of a band that has yet to hit its creative stride. Even from a rock perspective, these songs do not make the grade. As a fan of the band, I enjoyed this glimpse into Manilla Road's early years, but I won't be revisiting this disc, and I doubt even the most rabid fan of the band would give it much beyond a couple of spins. Bottom Line: After Midnight Live is for completists only.
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