Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Manilla Road: Spiral Castle

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I keep a list of bands that I want to check out some day.  It is a list that I keep somewhat updated.  Bands I have not heard but have generally heard good things about.  I keep this list in mind in case I should ever happen to run across one of these bands randomly in a store, even though the chances are not great in Nebraska.

Well Manilla Road is one of the bands at the top of that list.  I have always wanted to check them out but their stuff is sometimes hard to come across.  In fact I have never seen a Manilla Road album in a store.  This one was actually a late Christmas gift from my wife.  She bought this for me from Hell's Headbangers on vinyl, she picked it out off of a list of about six or seven albums I was interested in.  So now I have finally heard Manilla Road.

So I am a little late to the game on Manilla Road.  And I definitely apologize for missing out on a great, highly underrated band for so long.  They have been around for a long time releasing their first full-length album in 1980 and have been part of the same general scene as Omen, Trouble, and Cirith Ungol in the early days, epic heavy metal from the United States.

The cover of this album is pretty much the ultimate in 1980's cheesy metal cliches.  It is definitely Conan-esque.  It is not even a particularly good piece of art.  Surprising then that this album is from 2002.  But the art is fairly standard for Manilla Road, a band belonging to the swords and sorcery theme of heavy metal as much as any other.

Manilla Road's sound is very much rooted in early American heavy metal, with some doom and even the occasional thrash and death influence.  Apparently the band has changed their sound a little bit over the years, going full-on thrash metal for a few albums at one point.  Most of the thrash influences have been stripped away on this one but the doom can still be heard, particularly on tracks like "Merchants of Death".  If I had to use one over-used word to describe the music of Manilla Road, it would be epic.  The album feels like it is telling the story of some fantasy realm involving magic and barbarians, just like the album cover.

The music does sometimes meander a little bit.  Particularly late in the album when the band seemingly starts to do a full-on jazz improvisational section.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible vocals of Mark Shelton.  Shelton has long been considered one of the greatest American heavy metal vocalists.  It is easy to see why.  He utilizes a variety of vocal styles throughout this album, from coarse singing, to something of a falsetto wail.  He sounds terrific, which is rare for someone who has been doing it as long as he has.

I will definitely be checking out more Manilla Road and this is the year to do it as many of their albums will be reissued this year.

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