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Forgive Us Our Trespasses - 69%

Agalsed, November 8th, 2019

Context is a funny thing. I don’t know how I would have felt about Manilla Road’s (henceforth known as MR) debut album, Invasion, in 1980 when it was released. MR has always struck me as a singular band, and in 1980, I imagine they struck listeners in a similar way. However, given the context of the rest of the band’s formidable discography, it is hard for me to hear some of the merits I undoubtedly would have heard back in the day because MR did so much of what they do on Invasion much better on later albums.

Invasion sounds a bit like a band who has big things in mind but isn’t quite sure how to achieve them. The music here is a far cry from the MR that the world would come to know once they started releasing classic albums in their classic sound. While MR’s production has always been gritty, I’d describe this album as more amateurish, with weirdly shifting volume levels and too much separation among the instruments. Mark’s vocals are also a little samey here as he worked out how to fit his unique voice into the band. They also randomly burst your eardrums as they become louder and quieter. The guys went a little overboard on the atmospherics here, often having what feel like interminable stretches of bleeps and bloops as intros or outros of songs that are totally unnecessary. I appreciate some atmosphere, but only when it serves a purpose, and the atmospheric touches feel very perfunctory here. The riffs trend more toward standard heavy metal, though even on this early album they are uniquely Shelton-esque—they’re just not as good as the stuff he came up with later by a long-shot. He was clearly a creative guitarist right from the beginning, he just hadn’t funneled his creativity into very impactful (read: good) riffs yet.

While I would argue nothing on this album is actually essential, there are a couple of fun moments, including the straight ahead rager, “Street Jammer” (Later covered—and done better—by Slough Feg), the yearning “Centurian War Games,” and certain parts of the lengthy “The Empire” that seem to predict the direction MR would go on the classic Mark of the Beast. Overall, is this an essential MR release? In terms of quality, absolutely not. As a historical document of a band who would go on to be added to the heavy metal pantheon? Definitely. If you’re curious where MR came from before they were deified, here is the beginning of their creation story.