without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
If someone were to listen to Manilla Road's pre-2000 output, they would more than likely notice that there was a constant changing in the band's sound, yet Shelton always retained a signature style that immediately let the listener know that they were in for a Manilla Road album. This listener might also notice that the changes in sounds came in pairs. The first two records clung to a proto-metal sound, while "Crystal Logic" and "Open the Gates" would go on to become masterpieces of the heavy metal genre, and the latter two albums "The Deluge" and "Mystification" would inject a healthy amount of thrash into the epic sound. Enter the band's seventh studio album and once again, there is an obvious shift in sound. "Out of the Abyss" is easily the darkest output for the band to date, conjuring up wicked sounds similar to groups like Iron Cross, Satan's Host, Metal Church, etc.
There are a couple of reasons why "Out of the Abyss" has a much darker edge to the sound, but the main reason is once again, the absolute genius of Mark Shelton. Whether he's using sinister sounding and mysterious clean guitar sections ("Return of the Old Ones") or a much more insane vocal style with gruesome lyrics ("Whitechapel"), the music is undoubtedly more evil than it's been before. It would be a stretch to say that the Shark's vocals improved, but they definitely take on different forms throughout these nine tracks. The man sounds fucking deranged on the opener "Whitechapel" as his vocals perfectly convey the insanity of the man who the song is about (Jack the Ripper). "Rites of Blood" is another track that follows the precedent set by the album-opener, as the palm-muted riffs, catchy basslines and vocals all contribute to a more diabolical sound. Songs like "Black Cauldron" and "Midnight Meat Train" have a similar thrashing vibe to them that songs on the previous records have, and it wouldn't be much of a shock to see fans of tunes like "Masque of Red Death" and "Divine Victim" thoroughly enjoy these tracks.
Of course, Manilla Road is a heavy metal band, and what kind of album would "Out of the Abyss" be without some epic songs that hearken back to the days of "Dreams of Eschaton" and "The Ninth Wave?" "War in Heaven" features the familiar clean guitar passages that serve as the perfect backdrop for Shelton's vocals that sing of battles between deities, before the song eventually turns into a distortion-laden one filled with incredible solos and faster riffs. The album closer "Helicon" is a stellar track to say the least, and one of my all-time favorite Manilla Road songs. Mark has one of his best vocal performances on this song, and every other part of the music followed suit to deliver a heavy metal classic. While I don't enjoy "Out of the Abyss" as much as the few albums before it, this record is still an enjoyable listen with some decent to amazing songs, that would only add to the band's legacy as one of America's premier metal bands.
"War in Heaven"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
As I've stated in previous MR reviews, Manilla Road had been getting progressively heavier since their 1980 debut, Invasion. With 1987's Mystification, we saw an increase in thrash influence; it could still more or less be called power/thrash, but the thrash was definitely more prominent, and there were a couple of songs, such as "Valley of Unrest" and "Death by the Hammer", where the power influence was all but absent. 1988's Out of the Abyss is even heavier still, probably the most aggressive MR album to date. This is the culmination of the progressively increasing aggression; after this album, the thrash influence would be drawn back a bit.
As the most aggressive MR album, Out of the Abyss is almost pure thrash. You still get very slight hints of heavy/power/speed metal throughout, particularly speed; it would probably be safe to say the album is epic speed/thrash, as, despite the aggression, this is definitely still MR, and it just wouldn't be MR without a big dose of epic. However, there's definitely some pronounced differences here from previous albums; the guitars are razor sharp, excellent for speed/thrash, and Shark's vocal tone is equally sharp, raspy, and gravelly, sounding like nothing more than an enraged serial killer (which, incidentally, is perfect for "Whitechapel"). He does have a few more melodic lines, as well as some excellent high-pitched shrieks - examples of both can be found in "War in Heaven".
The main problem here is the songwriting; the previous four MR were all killers, complete top-tier stuff; this is not. That's not to say that this album is complete garbage; there are some good ideas throughout, and some absolutely fantastic songs, but also several songs that are sub-par, and just not up to the lofty standard MR have created for themselves by releasing so much golden material. In light of all of their albums 1983-present, it beats out only 2001's mediocre Atlantis Rising, and is almost on par with 2005's Gates of Fire. Either Shelton is not good at combing epic ideas with speed/thrash metal, or he was just running out of steam here after producing so many masterpieces. Either way, the album is decent, but not great.
As I mentioned already, this is their most aggressive album, and also their darkest (well, one could make an argument for Voyager, but it's certainly their darkest as of 1988). The subject matter takes a similar turn, progressing from Mystification's haunted houses and Poe stories to serial killers and ancient Lovecraftian nightmares. "Whitechapel", for example, is from the perspective of Jack the Ripper, telling the story of his previous kills and preparing for his next one. The lyrics and music of this one are both quite good, although it's a tad overlong. "Return of the Old Ones" is another winner, this time from the perspective of someone awaiting the return of the dreaded Cthulu (of the Lovecraftian mythos). This is probably the best song on the album, creating a truly frightening, abyssal atmosphere, managing to combine nasty thrash riffs with chilling atmospheric sections, and Shelton's performance is equally good.
"War in Heaven" is the final winner of the album, this time about a subject the listener should be more familiar with: Valhalla. The atmospheric opening section is one of the absolute best things Shelton has written, and it's scary how good his performance is. The song gets thrashier as it progresses, but it's still quite good, and we finally hear an increase in Shark's range, as he does some pretty impressive shrieks. The other songs range from decent to mediocre, and are pretty much completely aggressive, with the exception of the intro to "Helicon", which is pretty boring. "Black Cauldron", "Out of the Abyss" and "Midnight Meat Train" are equally mediocre, while "Rites of Blood" and "Slaughterhouse" aren't bad, and indeed are pretty good at some points, just inconsistent, with some repetitive thrash riffs that tend to lose me.
Overall, OoTA creates an atmosphere just as good as that of any MR album, as seen on "War in Heaven" and "Return of the Old Ones", it just doesn't live up to that gloriously dark atmosphere on most of its tracks, which are banal, if slightly decent, thrash. Give this album a listen, definitely, just don't be surprised that not all of the songs are killer, and that it doesn't stand up to classics like The Deluge or Crystal Logic
What’s this, a thrash album from the heavy metal underground band Manilla Road? The other surprise is that the music is uncommonly technical. Now, Manilla Road have never played simple music, but the guys in the band really outdo themselves here, delivering some blazingly fast solos and complex rhythm arrangements unlike anything we’ve heard from them before.
If Crystal Logic - probably the band’s most famous album - were to be described as upbeat, Out of the Abyss is the complete opposite. Take some Sabbat or Possessed and mix it with a little bit of Iced Earth’s Burnt Offerings and the lyrics from some random black metal album. The end product is one evil sounding, angry motherfucker of an album, with HP Lovecraft inspired lyrics about blood, sacrifice and agonizing death.
What doesn’t come as a surprise though is that Out of the Abyss is as poorly produced as just about every other Manilla Road album. The mixing is good and brings out the bass very nicely; it’s the sound quality and the sound of the instruments that bugs me. The sound is too flat and lacking warmth. I think though, that the band probably intended it to be this way, and I know for a fact that the ears get used to it – at least mine did.
As an album, I’d go as far as saying Out of the Abyss is a masterpiece, or very close to it. It has all the pieces in place; varied and consistent songwriting with great and fast songs such as ‘Whitechapel’ and ‘Out of the Abyss’, more atmospheric pieces like ‘Rites of Blood’ and ‘Return of the Old Ones’, and mandatory epics such as ‘War in Heaven’ and ‘Helicon’. Every song is a highlight but ‘War in Heaven’ and ‘Helicon’ are two masterpieces, deserving of a spot on a future Manilla Road ‘Best of’ compilation.
I wouldn’t recommend Out of the Abyss to someone wanting to get into Manilla Road, because even though this is great music, it’s just not a good representation of the band’s sound. The band has never done something like this, before or after. Call it a little detour or experiment if you wish. If you truly wish to get into the band, check out Crystal Logic or The Deluge. If you’re just looking for good thrash, you won’t get disappointed though as there are neck-breaking riffs and solid rhythms in abundance.
Manilla Road’s problem throughout the years has always been the inaccessibility of their music, attracting a dedicated, but small audience. Out of the Abyss is no exception, which is the only real weakness to be found. This is one of the most consistent, intense and well played Manilla Road albums – a must have for fans of the band.
There is something damn cool about this band that I can't quite explain. I don't think they are one of my favourite bands as such, and yet I can see that they should be hailed and respected in a way that so few other bands ought. This has nothing to do with the fact that they play "true metal" or whatever...though they certainly do a good job of that. No, perhaps it's because they have been around for so long, gained so little recognition even in the underground, and refuse to give in. Sure, they took somewhat of a lengthy hiatus in the 90s..but they would appear to be back now, heavier than ever, modern yet still definitely themselves...bowing to no one...doing what they truly believe. That's a rather cliché sounding speech though, and it's also another review.
Manilla road seems to have begun their musical endeavours as early as 1979 or thereabouts. They released two very rare albums titled "Invasion" and "Metal", which actually leaned heavily towards psychedelic rock with some Judas Priest touches. Their breakthrough album, which many people seem to mistakenly consider their first, "Crystal Logic", is a heavy metal fury...rocking, catchy, with the right amount of aggression and some slow pounding numbers here and there as well. Seven years after that 1981 (?) recording and almost as many albums later, Manilla Road hurl "Out of the Abyss" onto the world. I'm guessing some fans were a bit put off by this album, as it's actually very heavy...sounding like thrash metal much of the time. I guess that thrash in 1988 was really the thing to play and many bands seemed to be going for a chunkier, faster approach at this point in time. But Manilla Road weren't just bandwagon jumpers. They'd been getting progressively heavier for a while and I guess this was just the peak of intensity for them, a natural progression. "Whitechapel" starts out the CD with a weird, scaling riff played at a frenzied speed, before the rest of the band kicks in. This is as intense as the fastest Slayer material, at least for a while. The song prances and thrashes through a series of riffs and more midpaced sections but remains "thrash til death" more or less throughout. It's one of the highlights of the album, although perhaps it is a little longer than it needs to be. Lyrics about Jack the Ripper are certainly nothing new in metal either, but the band seems to have done their research. They are obviously devotees of obscure horror literature as well as the cult "Weird Tales" writers of the 1930s and 1940s, of which Lovecraft is the closest to a modern household name. Anyway, many of the other tracks are just as intense as the album opener. "The Midnight Meat Train", is another example (inspired by a rather nifty Clive barker story, lyrically). However, a Manilla Road album would not be complete without some slower, darker tracks, and there are a few of them here. 'Return of the Old Ones" is my favourite...the vocal melody and overall menacing feel of the song are really great. "Helicon", is also a great closer, with it's more melodic, jam based approach. Mark uses his more melodic voice throughout these slower tracks. He has a strange voice; very distinctive and almost nasal sounding at times, but somehow he still manages to sound really appealing in a way I can't quite describe. He also hurls out some pretty brutal snarly vocals through the majority of this album, not to mention some wicked high pitched screams.
I am of the firm belief that more people need to discover this band and how great they can be. Essentially, this is the band's heaviest work, although 2000's "Atlantis Rising" is probably just as intense in its own right..and "Out of the Abyss" should win over most fans of the more extreme forms of metal. Thrash played by a more melodic band, that doesn't sound at all like Helstar...if that makes any sense at all. Highest recommendation.