Written by: Chris Martin
Pictures Source: Manilla Road Facebook
The metal world lost one of its biggest unsung heroes this past Friday. Mark “The Shark” Shelton was one of that rare breed of people that hold such a deep love and passion for the music he made with his band Manilla Road that he didn’t care about fame and fortune. He was so dedicated to his art that he did it until the time of his tragic, and untimely, passing the day after performing at the Open Air Festival in Germany. He was 61 years old.
That’s the basic Obituary from me for Shelton. I’m not going to claim to be the biggest fan ever or even that knowledgeable about the man or the band. There are a couple albums I’ve never even listened to (I’m rectifying that as we speak.) I never got to see them live, wasn’t friends with Mark on Facebook, and chances are pretty good that I haven’t even clicked “Like” on their Facebook page (just checked, and fixed that too.) In my 46 years of life, and the depth of love I have for music, in particular, Heavy Metal, I believe that buying the music, supporting the bands, and that sort of thing trumps social media. I know, social media is a big way for bands to get out there, but I spend such little time on it, I don’t always think about, “Who haven’t I liked yet?”
My love for Manilla Road started out when I first heard Crystal Logic. Something about the album clicked with me from the first note. This to me is their definitive album. This is when their sound become intrinsically Manilla Road. The first couple of albums were more proto-metal, space rock melding Hawkwind, Thin Lizzy, and Judas Priest. While elements of their early albums, Metal in particular, remained throughout their sound, Crystal Logic became the blueprint for not only them but so many other bands that have been influenced by Mark Shelton’s genius. Not only did he have a unique voice vocally, he also had a unique voice and vision for the guitar. Not everything they did was perhaps perfect, and it was never cool to like them really, but who gives a fuck? Manilla Road was a band that you either got or you didn’t. And I don’t think Mark or anyone else associated with the band ever cared about pleasing everyone. It was about pleasing their core audience. Pleasing those that “got it.”
As the news was announced I saw such an outpouring of love and condolences for Mark. People that knew him, even briefly, remarked how gracious of a human being he was, how we were always there for the fans, willing to spend time talking to them no matter what. He also proudly carried the flag for Heavy Metal his whole life, even during his hiatus from the band. His passion alone, his drive and love of Metal allots him a place in the hierarchy of the greats we’ve lost already like Ronnie James Dio and Lemmy, both names synonymous with this genre of music, held in the highest regards by the masses because both became legends and icons to not just the Metal world, but society as a whole. Shelton deserves to be mentioned in that same breath. To have spent the better part of 40 years creating this incredible music and entertaining fans worldwide, that is a testament to this man. He gave such hope to the hopeless. For every band slogging it out in their basement, playing to a handful of people in local dives, Mark Shelton proved that it should never be viewed in a negative light. Playing for one person or one million didn’t seem to matter. As long as you gave your all for the fans, that was the only thing that was important. The handful of interviews and pieces I’ve read about him over the years showed that he was as humble as he was influential. Mark Shelton and Manilla Road are one of the big reasons I as a writer try to shine a light on bands that may not be in the limelight, some that might not be the most polished or the most technically proficient, because music is as much about the feeling- what it invokes in the musician and the listener, and that symbiotic joining of the two through the songs, as it is for the notes played.
I understand why the household names get talked about in the news media when they pass. Those that have achieved that level deserve that praise and recognition (most of the time.) But these hidden figures of the scene deserve it too. They are the very backbone of Metal, they are the ones that don’t lose sight of what got them to play in the first place: the love of Metal. I will lament the rest of my life having never gotten the chance to see them perform, meet the man, and thank him for his gift to us. Think about this a moment: If you watch the heart-wrenching video from his bandmates on the Facebook page, you will see that he literally gave his life to give those out in the crowd the show they wanted. Even in the process of feeling like garbage, leading to the heart attack that eventually claimed his life, his only consideration was giving the fans a show to remember. Sadly, it will be remembered as much as being the last as it will be for being an excellent show. That is a Heavy Metal Warrior. That is someone that deserves to be hailed and praised. That is Mark “The Shark” Shelton. Rest In Peace Metal Warrior. Thank you for remaining true to yourself, the fans, and Metal.