Release DetailsLABEL Shadow Kingdom Records
RELEASED ON 2/19/2013
this album should land itself a cushy spot towards the uppermost reaches of the band’s extensive catalog
As is the case, I would imagine, with most of you, I spend time with people who have little to no knowledge of any music outside of the pop world. To my friends and acquaintances in the real world, I’m “the metal guy,” popping up at social events in a comfy Napalm Death shirt or my trusty King Diamond hoodie. And so it happens that, periodically, an adventurous soul will engage me in one inevitable conversation, sometimes phrased more politely (and sometimes not), but either way boiling down to: “How can you listen to that stupid/cheesy/ugly/loud/screaming $&#!?”
When the question is presented politely, the answer I give is usually some variation upon this: Though there are exceptions and some are borderline embarrassing, for the most part, I prefer music that is as unconcerned with mass appeal madness as music can be. Generally speaking, no one makes extreme metal with the express purposes of great fame or wealth. Sure, those who play any music want to be popular in some capacity because the ultimate goal is to at least make a comfortable living as a creator of music – only the most misanthropic of basement black metal miscreants would argue that they don’t seek at least some of the validation that comes with people embracing their work. But it’s a smaller, more personal validation, and in the end, in the underground and below, metal musicians make metal because they love metal.
A shorter, albeit less explanatory, form of that answer would be, “Because of bands like Manilla Road.”
For the entire duration of my life (not to make you feel old, Shark), Manilla Road has flown the flag of true heavy metal, all whilst being largely ignored by anyone outside the underground. I’m sure that the flag-waving has been anything but a highly lucrative career choice for Mark Shelton and friends, and their decades-old status as kings of the underground leaves them with a fan base that numbers but a fraction of that of many lesser bands. But, most importantly, there’s no denying the rabidity of the Manilla Road fans, and so the Road goes on, ever forward, doing what they do for those who love metal because they themselves love metal. And God bless ‘em for it.
Mysterium is Manilla Road’s sixteenth album in thirty-five years, and it stands among their finest since their 1980s glory days, largely because, of their post-reformation discs, it’s the one that most feels like Crystal Logic, The Deluge, and the like. Gone entirely are the death-ish growls of the previous few, and only a few of the thrashier bits that characterized some later-day records are held over. And, though it still revels in that specific Manilla rawness, Mysterium thankfully rectifies the production stumbles of 2010’s Playground Of The Damned, which lost power through a mix that tucked much of Shelton’s guitar beneath an uncomfortably brittle drum sound. Complaints about Playground’s production led Shelton to seek outside help for the mix on Mysterium, and it paid off. It’s true that four ears are better than two, and Mysterium sounds the way a Manilla Road record should sound. The drums are live and punchy, but not clicky and dry; the guitars have been returned to their rightful place as the instrumental focus of the tracks.
More important than anything, however, is that Mysterium also brings its share of killer Manilla Road songs, particularly those that open and close, bookending and conveniently propping up a few slightly lesser entries towards the album’s midsection. (I’m looking at you, “Hermitage” and “Do What Thou Will.”) From the opening drum fill of “The Grey God Passes,” it’s evident that Manilla Road is back, bringing the epic, fist-in-the-air heavy metal that is virtually synonymous with their name. Concert crowds singing along to that track’s “Battle is nigh / raise up your EYYYYEEES!...” refrain is virtually guaranteed, and further suitably anthemic moments arise in “Stand Your Ground” (“Defenders of the clans / onward we ride, hellbound...”) and “Only To The Brave” (“Wielding death by the hammer / glory comes only to the brave...”). The eleven-and-a-half minute title track ends the album on its most epic note, exactly the type of multi-part, guitar-driven, deftly layered song that Road fans love and crave.
Also of note: One of Mysterium’s standouts is also its least metallic. “The Fountain” is a great lilting, acoustic number, all 12-string guitars in 6/8 time with harmonized vocals and lyrics that effectively sum up the band’s longevity, the fountain of youth a metaphor for the power of heavy metal.
I’ll never give up my beliefs
Carry the torch ‘til my life turns to dust
Never let go of my dreams
No, I’ll never let go of my dreams
Still I believe...
Manilla Road remains both one of metal’s standard-bearers and one of its best-kept secrets, and only time will tell if Mysterium will grow their fan base or just appease the ardent followers they already have. If you’re new to the band, you can start here or with Crystal Logic or Open The Gates. And for those already traveling this Road, this album should land itself a cushy spot towards the uppermost reaches of the band’s extensive catalog. Thirty-five years and counting, and still making classic heavy metal... Great fame and fortune or none at all, that’s something to be damn proud of. Another one well done, Shark. Keep ‘em coming forever.
Playground Of The Damned
8/9/2011 Manilla Road
The Deluge (Reissue)
4/19/2011 Manilla Road
After Midnight Live
4/27/2010 Manilla Road