Released By: Shadow Kingdom Records
Release Date: February 19th, 2013
Genre: Heavy Metal
Mark “The Shark” Shelton – 12-string Acoustic Guitar, 6-string Electric Guitar, Lead & Backing Vocals
Bryan Hellroadie Patrick – Lead & Backing Vocals
Joshua Castillo – Electric Bass Guitar
Neudi – Drums
1. The Grey God Passes
2. Stand Your Ground
3. The Battle Of Bonchester Bridge
5. Do What Thou Will
6. Only The Brave
7. Hallowed Be Thy Grave
8. The Fountain
9. The Calling
10. Mysterium: (I. Sea Of Dreams – II. The Quest – III. Into The Unknown)
American heavy metal has its share of bands throughout the 80’s who kept things tight, vicious and interesting even as the mainstream began latching onto glam about midway through the decade. That being said, MANILLA ROAD have always been (and probably always will be) a left field act of sorts – notable to many for possessing a distinctive, muscular sonic identity, but hard to put in a box and thus difficult to market. From 1983’s Crystal Logic onwards, they’ve always had a place in metal canon…but what can they do, thirty some years later, to reclaim their throne against countless contemporary competitors?
Their answer to that inquiry has arrived in the form of Mysterium, their 16th LP in a long line of great albums…and probably the single best set of scorchers they’ve committed to sonic posterity since 1987’s Mystification, which marked the end of their classic period. Even the production hearkens back somewhat to those olden years, whilst Mark “The Shark” Shelton remains a vocal force of nature that made the ROAD so darned interesting to those jaded fellas coming off the NWOBHM parade back in the mid 80’s. They fact he can still pull off something with as much occultic, gleeful gallop as ‘Only The Brave’ is a testament to his skill and versatility as a singer, and just having him behind the mic at all gives this record a lot more bite than if some other band had attempted to write and perform these songs in the first place.
Highlights are the norm here rather than the exception, with my ears in particular leaning towards the cool yet layered ‘Hermitage’ and the strangely uplifting ‘The Fountain’, which sounds a bit out of time with its emphasized acoustics and uncanny, folkish harmonies. MANILLA ROAD aren’t normally ones for balladry, but the sheer novelty of the song is refreshing when it pops up in the second half. The last two tracks are quite the doozies also: you have the synth-laden instrumental ‘The Calling’, segueing from the fading sound of a crashing tide into the groovy epic 3-part closing title cut. And boy was it worth the wait getting there: some killer guitar histrionics pop up as early as two or three minutes in, and there’s this delicious bassline that underlies the whole thing, even when it rips and roars as it approaches the midway point. A great foundation for an even better song, perhaps the best they’ve done in years!
All of this being said, MANILLA ROAD were as much a staple in the 80’s metal world as MERCYFUL FATE, IRON MAIDEN, QUEENSRYCHE or any of the Big Four (or maybe Five). Years and years later, they kick ass even when they’re only coasting, but they certainly didn’t cut any corners on Mysterium: every song is pretty darn good, and the ones I mentioned specifically are downright exhilarating.
In conclusion: when you’ve been in the game as long as MANILLA ROAD have, merely staying alive is something to be admired in and of itself….but if they’re going to continue crafting albums as good as this one, I hope they stick around another century or two: two thumbs way, way up from me!
Written by Derek
Ratings Derek 9/10