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Tales of the macabre from a true metal original. - 100%

Empyreal, October 31st, 2018
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, Sentinel Steel Records (Remastered)

Mark Shelton passed away on July 27 this year, leaving behind a legacy of weird, underground and utterly original music. Mystification was never my choice album from these guys when I first got into them, but true to the nature of the Road, I found a new appreciation for it as I went through a lot of their old albums in the wake of Shelton's passing. This, it turns out, is one of their all-time high points as a band, a classic of manic guitars, diabolical choruses and horror-movie energy perfect for the Halloween season – a lot of these songs, after all, are based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

The first song “Up from the Crypt” is a pretty good representation of what you'll get here, with its gravelly, dirty guitar tone, the shredding riffs that sound like Shelton was just wrecking his fucking guitar and the intoned, badass lyrics about a grisly creature rising out of a dank crypt. It's just pure ugly steel. Warts and all, no frills or polish, it's metal as fuck.

Further tracks just keep it going, with the classic kind of direct and pugilistic writing one expected from the 80s metal style, no bullshit about any of them. “Children of the Night” is an expansive, galloping mini-epic, “Valley of Unrest” is a hammering thrasher and songs like the title track and “Spirits of the Dead” show off the melodic, mystical epic side of the band, albeit in more condensed form than some of their earlier works' long noodling epics. “Masque of the Red Death” is perhaps the one where everything the album's going for comes together in one tour-de-force, a pounding, arcane epic. It's this kind of consistency and conciseness that makes this album such a choice work. It's the band sounding wholly possessed of their confidence and assuredness, at the peak of their sound. I didn't used to “get” this album because it lacked the kind of long, weird epics I enjoyed from the band. But instead it has that quality spread out through all its songs in some way, in a more condensed form, and it's goddamn beautiful.

That execution also means a sonic craftsmanship to make things sound like the aural representation of a horror film. The gritty, dirt-covered guitar sound is like rock from a tomb lifted from the Earth, and Shelton's vocals are a powerful but warbling narration fitting of a pulpy early horror movie. Even the rhythm section, with Scott Park's groovy, almost surf rock-ish bass crawl and Randy Foxe's complex drumming forming an idiosyncratic groove, adds to the frenetic feel like the climax of one of the ghastly tales the Road is weaving. It all syncs up with the lyrics, so the sound feels complete and thought-out. Funny enough, the production here was badly botched by a shitty studio, sounding more lo-fi and muddy than I believe the band intended, so at least part of this is accidental. Sometimes great art happens that way.

It's hard to write about the somewhat esoteric qualities of Manilla Road that make them such a cult hit, but I suppose it's the same as for anything so cult. The musical quality and consistency, the sound of a band that never compromises to the “mainstream,” is part of it. But there's also the feeling of belonging, of “getting it” and knowing you cracked the code and understand the music.

That's not a reason why this is a great album, but there's just such an obtuseness to Manilla Road at first, with Shelton's chaotic guitars, his weird vocals and obscure lyricism. There was never any studio magic or attempts to clean them up for the mainstream. No pandering or attempts to change a thing about themselves. Maybe that was just a factor of the times, of these dudes just living in rural America with no market for themselves, but the unique sonic qualities ended up enduring the test of time due to Shelton's exceptional writing skills. And people who enjoy heavy metal riffcraft and the barbaric, nerdy glee of the style often find that Manilla Road's sound opens up for them eventually. Here's hoping people keep enjoying Manilla Road for a long time to come and that their fanbase keeps growing and growing from here. Happy Halloween.

"His life-long dream... was to mystify." - 97%

Ghoulhound, June 28th, 2014

(To avoid any possible confusion) I will be reviewing the 2000 re-issue of the album done by Sentinel Steel featuring the track listing that begins with "Up From the Crypt" and ends with the instrumental "The Asylum". Manilla Road really hit home with a lot of metalheads with the releases Crystal Logic, Open the Gates and The Deluge; released in 1983, 1985 and 1986 respectively. By 1986, their vibrant, epic sound that was crafted through these albums was in stark contrast to the strained, speed-over-everything attitude held by many mid-80's heavy metal bands.

Now Manilla Road isn't a band that refuses to take cues from their contemporaries. Crystal Logic saw Manilla Road infuse a lot of elements from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement into the album's sound. Even some tinges of proto-doom metal (that the likes of Black Sabbath and Pentagram were playing) saw its way through on tracks like "The Veils of Negative Existence". All those influences collided with Manilla Road's own psychedelic, trudging voice in a beautiful way that really deviated them from the crowd. Open the Gates and The Deluge saw the Crystal Logic sound evolve into what Manilla Road truly wanted it to be: epic.

The NWOBHM and proto-doom influences were certainly present on these releases, but Manilla Road's own sound fought its way through and stayed dominant on these two releases. People like the trio of Crystal Logic/Open the Gates/The Deluge because you can hear the sound progress from album to album to album. Manilla Road's sound wasn't static, it was a moving and breathing thing. It was full of life and people liked that. So, after venturing out on the albums Open the Gates and The Deluge and finding a sound that fit them... Manilla Road took a step back and looked at the heavy metal scene. Thrash and speed metal were obviously dominant. Of course, there was still a market for Manilla Road's music, but the public's interest was definitely vested in thrash and speed metal at that time. Maybe Manilla Road felt they could reach a larger audience if they too incorporated these "thrash" influences into their colossal croon... Well, for what every reason, 1987 saw the thrash/speed influenced Mystification.

I know many Manilla Road fans that will say they lost interest in the band after The Deluge, citing the move to a more riff-centered, thrashy sound alienated them. I also know many fans that worship Manilla Road's late 80's output as some of the best slabs of thrash influenced epic heavy metal they have ever heard. To an extent, I agree with the latter bunch of fans. Manilla Road really outdoes themselves here. For one, the production is spot-on. The bass is so vibrant and shares so much chemistry with the guitar leads and the drums. The album starts off by firing on all-cylinders with one of those "triple threat" openings you would see on an album like The Years of Decay or Kill 'Em All. One thing Manilla Road more often than not has trouble with is pacing an album. Luckily, pacing is one of the many things Mystification manages to get perfect. Now if there is one thing you can always count on Manilla Road to deliver, it is some really spectacular soloing courtesy of Mark Shelton. So, how awesome are the solos here? Answer: the best they've practically ever been. Mark Shelton holds back NOTHING when it comes to these solos. Every one of his solos here are bubbling with life and ferocity.

As I stated in my review of the 2008 Manilla Road album Voyager, on the outside it seems that there isn't anything too special about Mark Shelton's soloing. Yet, his "Honest Joe", no gimmicks approach to soloing appears so clever against the epic, swirling backdrop of songs like "Up From the Crypt" or "Spirits of the Dead". Also, the production here really helps to sell the band's fresh, thrash-influenced sound. When Mark begins to solo, it's like his guitar is elevated to a whole other level. This leaves the bass and drums to re-iterate any neat riffs, melodies or ideas (that the guitar was forging before-hand) in a crystal-clear soundscape. It's a really great effect that the production handles flawlessly. Mystification is, at its core, a guitar driven album.

Some songs like "Spirits of the Dead" and "Dragon Star" open with a wonderful quieter section that usually features an awesome bass counter melody against a dynamic lead guitar that builds up to a climax. These quieter sections work well in contrast to the barrage of thrash and speed going on. While other songs here simply exist to kick your ass. "Valley of the Unrest" is a good example of the shorter, punchier Manilla Road present on the album. It's simple and effective Manilla Road that I really can't really complain about. While almost all the songs here deserve some sort praise in the lyrical department, I have to give props to the title track "Mystification" for featuring some of the most memorable and haunting lyrics.

"Morbid tales unfold,
that leave thee terrified.
Poetry of old...
to keep thee mystified"

Awesome, awesome stuff. I even derived the title of this review from the song's lyrics. Also, there is also this one guitar riff in the middle section of "Mystification" that just elevates the song to Manilla Road-epic status. I mean, it's honestly one of the best guitar riffs I've ever heard Manilla Road put out. If you're thinking about buying this album but you're still kinda on edge... Check this song out, it'll win you over. Two other songs here also deserve the title of Manilla Road-epics: "Masque of the Red Death" and "Death By the Hammer". They are total Manilla Road-epics, featuring grandiose choruses and more fantastic riff-work. There's a reason why these three songs are still staples of Manilla Road's live set.

While I did thoroughly enjoy this album and its thrash tendencies, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the album's closing moments. You would think an album like this would make sure to go out with a bang... right? Well, to close the album we have "Dragon Star". With "Dragon Star", it seems as though Manilla Road felt they were obliged to create an epic to off-set the thrashing they just gave us. "Dragon Star" just doesn't really go anywhere. It's definitely one of my least favorite tracks on the album because it feels forced (as opposed to most of the tracks flowing flawlessly) and it just doesn't uphold the same level of quality laced through some of the other songs. Now let's talk about the bonus track. "The Asylum" is an instrumental piece. It doesn't have that much substance to it and seems kinda out of place on the album. Yet, because it is a bonus track, I don't really hold it against the album and it is fairly neat to hear something that previously went unreleased. So, if you feel that Manilla Road lost you after The Deluge, please try to pick up Mystification again. It's just as mystifying and epic as the trio of Crystal Logic/Open the Gates/The Deluge were.

We don’t need no stinking raven… - 95%

Acrobat, August 28th, 2013

I’ll start with what is quite a bold statement: your average metal band is really not suited to writing songs inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s works, simply because they’re not well-equipped enough to do his works justice. A deft touch is required alongside your iron-hammered riffing, I think, and a certain strangeness, too. Certainly, Manilla Road have these qualities in spades and I think we’ve all established, love ‘em or hate ‘em, that they’re not your standard metal band. Your average metal band is not really capable of doing lyrical or musical justice to Poe’s work; they’re much more likely to produce something that comes across like a cheese dream rather than a genuine vision of terror. See, Poe always sought to make horror ‘not of the charnel house, but of the mind’ – of course, you need those charnel aspects but you have to use them wisely – and regular metal band might just go a bit overboard and end up with something that’s strictly abattoir material what with all its blood, blood, blood and bits of sick.

Surely it takes a special band to capture the aura of the work of gothic horror’s sickly king and a dry re-telling simply won’t do. With this one needs a special voice; not overly dramatic, not too showy but with enough grit and darkness to take the listener through those tales of gore and terror in the night. Mark Shelton was, without doubt, the man for this job. Shark’s voice has always had a slightly decrepit quality to it; not harsh, per se, but harsh enough to carry a certain moribund atmosphere to it. See, I think a death metal vocalist or – on the other hand – a squeaky clean power metal vocalist would be too much. Of the other vocalists I’ve heard ‘do Poe’ Crimson Glory’s Midnight definitely works well and that’s because he too was a very a unique vocalist. Indeed, one might easily feel that Midnight had a lot in common with Poe’s protagonists; strange, probably mad and definitely known to indulge heavily in a cask or two of Amontillado. But still, Shark works brilliantly here because he’s ‘gothic’ but not in a cartoonish or overly animated manner (I mean he’s not exactly Messiah Marcolin, is he?). He’s macabre in a way that’s not-the-usual and as such his voice works perfectly with for this album’s subject matter. Similarly, the choice of material Manilla Road cover here is superb – as no one really wants to hear another regurgitated retelling of ‘The Raven’ nor do we really want to hear a ‘Feeling Free Again’-styled number about Lady Ligeia (“Hey baby! You’re blacker than the raven wings of midnight!”). So instead we get non-clichéd choices presented in a unique and masterful manner. Even when Shark and the boys delve into non-Poe related stuff it’s tastefully done. For instance, we get a nods to Robert E. Howard and, Poe’s legitimate heir, H.P. Lovecraft, in ‘Children of the Night’ and his most famous creation, Cthulhu (who’d rear his ugly head again on Out of the Abyss).

Special praise must be given to Shark’s guitar work on this album as it is a piece of pure expressionism. It strikes me as quite Hendrix-y in a non-obvious way, as when Hendrix was singing about a machine gun he’d make his guitar sound like one. Likewise, when Shark’s howling about corpses that kill and other gothic madness he’ll make his guitar sound positively ghastly. Listen to how he uses his whammy bar here, it’s truly incredible… those low dive-bombed notes sound like hollow groans from the family vault! See, most guitarists use their whammy bars purely for showboating and tricks; whereas Shark really integrates it in the song. Take ‘Masque of the Red Death’, for instance, wherein the solo acts as part of the plot – it’s placed at such a pivotal point of the song that it acts as the grand reveal of horror. Likewise the clean passages on this album are strangely psychedelic in nature. Take the guitar sound on the title-track for example and the eerie phased-out sound sounds like something from a 1960s psychedelic record (albeit with a bit more distortion). On a more corporeal note, it’s pretty incredible that Shark managed to surpass his work on Open the Gates and The Deluge, too. I mean, those are fantastic albums, guitar-wise, but this might just be even better. Of course, the supporting cast contribute to the success of this album (hell, Mr Foxe is certainly capable of stealing the show, just check that opening fill on ‘Up from the Crypt’). Scott Parks puts in the performance of his career, too; understated and tasteful his basslines act as the tell-tale heart of these songs. I definitely think that they’re noteworthy, although, I can understand why he doesn’t get as much praise what with Foxe’s wild drumming and Shark’s equally crazed soloing. Nonetheless, his performance is sterling and it really ties the trio together.

As the 1980s went on more and more thrash crept into Manilla Road’s sound, which really reached its peak on the Out of the Abyss album. Whereas OotA spent a fair bit of time peddling some Metallica-esque riffs the material on Mystification was quite unlike any other thrash on the market. Still, Mystification is part of Manilla Road’s thrash-inspired period and that’s to say that at its heart it’s still an epic metal album, which no amount of thrashing rage can hide. Take the opener, ‘Up from the Crypt’, which is supposedly a Slayer inspired number; it’s thrashy, sure, but it’s not really like any thrash I’ve heard. I think at this point, Manilla Road were definitely inspired by thrash’s tempos and energy but they were too set in their ways to write typical thrash riffs. I think the fact that the band existed geographically outside of any major metal scene helped them develop this unique sound. After all, this is Wichita, not LA! A comparison that springs to mind would be to Helstar’s Nosferatu; which, again, is a sort of ‘outsider’ thrash album. Still, outside of the off-kilter vocals, horror themes and technically demanding performances these two albums aren’t really all that alike. If you want a quick reference point, though, I’d call this “gloomy, gothic quasi-thrash heavy metal”, which doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Ha!

It can be seen that Poe and 1980s Manilla Road have a lot in common, really. I mean both were woefully underappreciated in their own time and first ‘rediscovered’ outside of their native America (Poe in France and MR in Greece and Germany). Neither won particular favour with the critics, either, as Poe’s work was much maligned in his own lifetime and MR were called “the world’s ugliest band” by Kerrang magazine. Indeed, Manilla Road’s output was, until fairly recently, something of a ‘forgotten lore’ in heavy metal.... and yes, I am taking the piss here, but it’s no surprise that this band in particular have made the most successful musical adaptation of Poe’s work. The Alan Parsons Project’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination is certainly another excellent adaptation that I strongly recommend and I suspect that that particular album was an inspiration on Mystification. Still, Alan Parsons ain’t got owt on Shark and the boys.

To Keep Thee Mystified - 87%

Nightmare_Reality, September 28th, 2012

Talk about being productive. Mark Shelton and the rest of his musical entourage continued to hammer out one awesome album after another, year after year. After releasing another terrific release in "The Deluge," it would come time to hit the grind once again, and the result was Manilla Road's six full-length "Mystification," an epic record that carried on where the previous full-length left off. To be honest, there isn't much of a difference as far as the overall sound is concerned between this album and "The Deluge," as both boast thrashy riffs that make the bulk of the rhythms which serve as the ideal backdrop for Shelton's constantly improving vocals and every fantasy-riddle theme that he could conjure up.

Once the first song bursts through the speakers (or whatever you use to listen to your music) there's a huge sense of deja vu, as "Haunted Palace" kicks off with basic chords and intense drumming that reminds one of the opening song from "The Deluge," "Dementia" which has an almost exact same sound. The similarities do not stop there, though, as "Spirits of the Dead" blends clean passages and thrashy riffs perfectly to create a very memorable song (Something that this band doesn't lack whatsoever). The title track is another stellar song that takes the listener on a fun ride that starts with the oh-so familiar clean guitar passage and Shelton's instantly recognizable, nasally vocals that are very pleasant sounding on the ears, before it escalates into some thrashier riffs and solos galore. "Valley of Unrest," "Masque of Red Death," and "Death By the Hammer" are all songs that could easily be described as thrash songs, but of course with the signature Manilla Road flavor, which makes the songs much more multi-dimensional as opposed to just another thrashy song.

To keep things simple, this album is almost "The Deluge" part II with different lyrical themes and different riffs, but the same spirit and structuring are present. I don't mean this in a negative way, because these guys could have kept releasing material that was just a re-hash of what they did before and I probably would still love it. But all of these songs are worth listening to, and some of them I would consider Manilla Road classics. If you're a fan of "The Deluge," or any of the band's earlier metal records, then "Mystification" is a record that should find no problem joining your collection, as this is epic thrashing metal in top form.

"Spirits of the Dead"
"Masque of Red Death"

Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.

A worthy tribute to the Spirits of the Dead - 93%

Jophelerx, April 26th, 2012

Mystification is sort of the other side of the coin to which 1985's Open the Gates belongs; while Open the Gates was more or less power metal with some slight thrash metal influence, Mystification is more or less thrash metal with a small amount of power metal influence, the logical progression from 1986's The Deluge, which was equal parts power and thrash. Of course, this is no ordinary thrash album; this is thrash Maniila Road style, and as such is nothing short of spectacular. Shelton shows such an incredible ability to adapt to any metal genre, I wouldn't be surprised if he were able to pull off a mind-blowing grindcore album, or something of equal unlikelihood. Personally, I don't listen to thrash terribly often; I might spin an album here and there, but very rarely unless it has significant power or speed influence. However, in the case of Mystification, I find myself returning again and again, playing it at least as often as other MR classics such as Crystal Logic, The Deluge, and Voyager. The difference between this and other thrash albums is that Manilla Road dumps a few shakers of epic on their thrash, as they do with every style they play. I'm not sure if epic thrash has been done before or since, but if it has, I definitely want to hear it if it's anything like this - which is nothing short of incredible.

In addition to its other perks, Mystification has an absolutely terrific production; crisp, heavy, up-front and smooth. While Crystal Logic's production worked well with the material, and those on Open the Gates and The Deluge were far from lacking, this was definitely the best MR production in 1987, and would remain so for 15 years, until 2002's Spiral Castle. The guitar tone is sharp yet full and smooth, one of the things that perhaps sets this apart from many other thrash albums, and Shelton's vocals are in top form. Clean and warm most of the time, yet crisp and aggressive when needed; he actually sounds more melodic here than he did on The Deluge. I have to say this is quite possibly his best vocal performance, aside from Crystal Logic. The riffs here are definitely thrash, with the occasional touch of power, but in many cases the melodic vocal lines are what make the songwriting so refreshingly unique; in some cases the incredibly epic, atmospheric melodies should by all reason be at odds with the aggression of the riffs; and yet somehow they provide a perfect counter to that aggression; and that is a testament to Shelton's incredible songwriting ability; he structures the riffs and melodies in such a way that everything fits and flows perfectly, organizing them perfectly like pieces of a puzzle. A particularly good example of this is "Masque of the Red Death" which launches from an in-your-face, aggressive verse to a warm, imaginative chorus seamlessly, despite the riffs still being thrash. It's impossible to truly do its magic justice with words; just listen for yourself.

Of course, there are softer, clean sections here, which include the opening of "Spirits of the Dead", the majority of the title track, and the song "Dragon Star". These are easily as good as the heavier sections, though, especially "Mystification", which may well be the best song MR have ever done - a title I don't bestow lightly by any means. Overall, the songs largely fall under two categories; those that focus more on aggression, and those that focus more on epic atmosphere; both (save "Dragon Star") have strong elements of both, but at the same time, they each lean towards a certain direction. "Up from the Crypt", "Haunted Palace", "Valley of Unrest", "Death by the Hammer", and "The Asylum" fall into the former category, the best of which is definitely "Death by the Hammer", which retains the most atmosphere while still focusing on speed and force. It is very fast and thrashy throughout, and yet aesthetically it almost feels like power metal; somehow Shelton manages to combine the best elements of both. The others feel the most like traditional thrash, although they're still significantly different, especially in the chorus of "Haunted Palace", where, much like in "Masque of the Red Death", there is seamless transition from aggressive verse to epic chorus, when Shelton chimes in with the charming, strangely enunciated "Haunteeeeeeed....Palaaaaaceeeee!!!!!"

The rest of the songs - "Children of the Night", "Spirits of the Dead", "Mystification", "Masque of the Red Death", and "Dragon Star" - focus more on atmosphere. All of these are absolutely killer, with the exception of "Dragon Star", which is merely good. "Children of the Night" is perhaps the only song with strong musical elements of power metal, rather than merely the aesthetic, although it's still squarely in the thrash camp. That and "Mystification" are certainly the best songs on the album, with "Masque of the Red Death" mere centimeters behind, all three managing to transport me effortlessly to another world of wild fantasy and dreams; something MR have always had a penchant for. Overall, there's not a bad song here - although "The Asylum" is merely decent, as it lacks Shelton's epic vocals - and for the most part, it remains consistently excellent, probably the band's most consistent album barring "The Deluge". If you like thrash, power, epic metal, or are a fan of Manilla Road, I highly recommend this top-notch 1987 offering from the epic metal giants.

I’m mystified - 90%

whensunburnsred, August 28th, 2010

Incredible, just incredible. Seriously, how many good albums can somebody release and still go unnoticed for 30 years? Isn’t there a Guinness record or something? Because in this sense, Manilla Road is the band that takes the cake. But don’t understand this as mere fanboyism. I don’t think all of their albums are great, but they have plenty of formidable albums in their catalogue. For example I’m not fond of The Circus Maximus or Mark of the Beast, but I find fantastic the present album, Crystal Logic, Open the Gates, The Deluge and their 2000s releases in general, which makes around 7 very good albums + those which I haven’t heard much and I cannot express an opinion about.

Manilla Road’s particular epic heavy metal is very characteristic, and sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Even if you’ve already heard some of this band’s material, you’ll find that their sound has always evolved from one album to another, experimenting with other genres like thrash – which pleases a thrash maniac like myself – or completely different stuff like The Circus Maximus (I think it was supposed to be another project, and not really another Manilla Road album), making them one of the most versatile bands I’ve ever heard.

So what does this album offer to the listener? Well, plenty of things. We have harsh/aggressive songs, like the thrashy opener “Up from the crypt” – is not completely thrash, just the main riff - that suddenly explodes with a powerful riff and catches you by surprise – especially if you haven’t heard the harsher Manilla Road – and which is one the fastest song of the album. Then you get more epic like songs, – not exactly epic, but I will be more specific afterwards – these being the title track and “Dragon star”. Finally, we get a third type of song which is standard heavy metal with Manilla Road’s special touch – yes, that basically implies that is not standard heavy metal, but helps me to classify songs and explain it in a simpler way. Of course there are songs that are a hybrid of these 3 types. After all, most songs have a touch of “epic” up to some degree.

So far too many “yes, but no” sentences, and these will be clarified in due time, but first I’d like to describe the overall sound. The guitar tone is very fuzzy and quite distorted, which is one of the key points of Manilla Road’s sound. This peculiar tone also makes the guitars sound rather weak – you won’t do the “Toxik waltz” with this, but is not the point either – but you’ll like it because it works to perfection and somehow fits the music. This creates the perfect environment for Mark’s nasal thin voice, and makes it easier for the bass to get an important role in the music. The drum tone is also weak and thin, and stays in the background letting the rest to drive the whole thing. If you combine all these elements you get a music style that can attract your attention and keep you caught in its web, but also works as background music when you get to long instrumental passages, like the one in “Valley of the unrest”. There’s an additional effect in the production that accentuates and creates the “Manilla Road Aura”, and I haven’t mentioned yet: the echoed sounds. There’s a high sensation of echo and distance in both guitars and vocals. The effect on the former is that they stay in the background, in the dark, creating an atmosphere; like an orchestra to some degree. The effect on latter results in mesmerizing hypnotic vocal lines that will fascinate the listener. Whenever the title track is on play you will be able to imagine a stage, with the band in the dark, and Mark Shelton in front with a spotlight focussing him.

I find some of the song writing to be outstanding, with a very particular way of doing things. First of all, the choice of the elements mentioned in the previous paragraph already states that this guy isn’t acting randomly, he obviously has a plan, and believe me, he knows what he’s doing. He uses his best and catchiest riffs for the instrumental parts and whenever he has to sing he takes those to the background and catches your attention with some singing or an excellent solo. Metaphorically speaking, he has built a slide, and the only thing he has to do now is get on top and let himself go. An example of this practice is “Masque of the red death”. It starts with a chaotic like riff – very Manilla Road styled riff – and while the vocal lines progress you get an extra couple of different riffs to accompany, but nothing outstanding. Then, when the singing stops, is when the riff artillery shows up; the one beginning in 2:44 is possibly the best riff Manilla Road has in this album, and using it the way he does keeps your attention along the complete song. Maybe this is not a universal formula for Manilla Road, not even for the complete album, but I realized it, and I think that if I’m right and the compositional purpose is what I say, then “The Shark” is by no means mystified, and who he really is, is the baron he sings about. In addition to his plotting evil genius, the man really knows how to play guitar. You get excellent colourful solos that sound fantastic in contrast with the music in the background. In addition, the special guitar tone makes these sound in a unique way. For example the distant sounding solo in “Children of the night” is so good… That very same solo wouldn’t be so good if the guitar tone was something common.

Regarding the singing – which is very important in Manilla Road’s music – I have to say that it’s not for everyone. Mark’s voice is very nasal, as I said before, and doesn’t seem to have good qualities to dwell neither high nor low frequencies. His singing style doesn’t help much either, let’s say he is not the most gifted singer and he certainly could take some lessons to improve. This lack is noticed especially when he has to sing the highest notes, where he should try to sing “rounder” rather than struggle to hit the note and open his mouth as much as he can. It’s a voice to love or hate. I like it myself, but it certainly makes it harder to get into Manilla Road. Which leads me to my next point; how accessible is this album? I think it’s not that easy to get into this one. It takes some time to digest it and I think there are better places to start from. But it grows on you, and this is a quality that I love in albums. Fates Warning’s Spectre Within and Blind Guardian’s A Night at the Opera were also albums that really didn’t get my attention from the beginning, but after several spins I found myself loving those albums and now are included in my favourite list, together with this one. So don’t expect to dig it from the very beginning and be patient.

After explaining all of the above, I can move to the next point – which can be interpreted as the first one as well – and redefine epic, and “standard heavy metal with Manilla Road’s special touch”. In the case of epic - and this definition stands valid only for this album – the best definition would be (mysterious + mystic + hypnotic)/length. Exactly, the definition of epic here isn’t proportional to the length, but to the amount of those 3 elements on every moment. The latter term I mentioned can be understood by trying to get an idea of the overall sound described before, and imagine what standard is for Manilla Road – it’s kind of mission impossible, but I’ve done my best.

Highlights are the title track, “Dragon star”, “Masque of the red death” and “Up from the crypt”, in this order from best to “less best” – I cannot say worse, or less good without being unjust to the other songs, sorry for that. The rest of the songs are also very good, but I find these to be the most remarkable ones. For example, the title track is one of the most hypnotic and catchy songs I’ve ever heard. Those initial guitar notes and the chorus just get stuck in your mind and won’t go for weeks. You will find yourself singing “a lesson from the baron” or “to keep thee mystifiiiiiiiiiiied” without even thinking of it, it will just prompt and you’ll think to yourself: “It’s time for some Mystification”. “Dragon star” is another “epic” slow song (one could say this is a Manilla Road ballad), in the vein of the intro part of “Dreams of eschaton”. The difference is that the former doesn’t get harsh in any moment. Although some people might find it a bit boring, I love it because it is such a good representative of this album… It has all over the song this magic atmosphere that makes the music so unique. Moreover, I would say that this song is a good proof of how different Manilla Road is in relation to other heavy metal bands. The other two songs are good representative of Manilla Road’s more aggressive songs; harsher riffs and vocals, and a more active and present drumming.

The re-release comes with a new cover, but those collectors that anxiously look for original covers have no reasons to worry about; the back of the booklet is the old cover art, so you can exchange it and use ye olde time cover.

Summing up, this is a great album and if you liked “Open the Gates” or “The Deluge” this one is mandatory for you. If you are a beginner and haven’t listened to any Manilla Road, you should wait before getting into this one and start with Crystal Logic.

Powerful and Haunting - 100%

smulleady1122, July 26th, 2007

It is hard to criticize this album, when you have always had it there for you. It's kind of hard to pick out bad things when you listen to an album as stunning
as this. The songs are simply amazing, the vocals are nasally, yet razor sharp, as always. The drumming is ruthless and progressive and daring. The guitar
tone is perfect for a power trio, and the solos are pure shred genius. But to people who have never heard Manilla Road before, it certainly is classic power metal with a nice rough thrashy edge to it. Powerfulness surrounds tracks like Up From The Crypt and Haunted Palace. Foxe adds in some amazing progressive drumming in random parts to push the force of the music even further, and Mark Shelton dares to solo without a overdubbed rhythm guitar just to prove he doesn't need it. The Proof that Mark is a guitar god lays in the beginning of the track "Children Of The Night", he makes his guitar shriek so high that it makes shivers down my spine. But true haunting surrounds tracks like Mystification and Spirits Of The Dead, with the lyrics being grim and morbid. Combine all that with the harsh vocals (Yet also fairly high much like somebody who is truly scared), then you got a powerful and haunting masterpiece

It is very hard to ever go wrong when listening to Manilla Road. Even in 1987, with 5 fantastic albums down the road, they were always ever so progressing
and ever so majestic in their journey in the underground US Epic metal scene.That is what makes this album, and basically every Manilla road album, so powerful. But what makes this specific album so haunting is the realization that nobody could stop them, not now, not this far into their career. Classic US metal bands such as Cirith Ungol and Solitude Aeturnus cower
in fear of the mighty machine of Mark Shelton and the powerhouse that is Manilla Road. I can not think of one american metal band that comes close to demolishing the mighty Manilla road. I stand by saying Manilla Road is the best American band ever. Personally, I think every Manilla Road album should get a perfect rating, that's how much I love them. You really should pick up this album, or really any other Manilla Road album (*cough*DELUGE*cough* My first Manilla Road album), and be dazzled by the unholy and epic machine that IS Manilla Road.

Best tracks: All of them.

Decent US power metal - 76%

UltraBoris, June 2nd, 2004

This is a pretty damn good band, though it, along with some of the other "uber-kvlt" US power metal bands (Omen, for example), comes up short when compared to some of the legends of the genre. I always hear band X, Y, or Z being compared favourably to Iron Maiden, but really the only band that can really pull that feat is maybe Aria, and even they're not BETTER per se, just almost as good.

Well, this is almost as good as Aria. This is far more American-sounding, though not as overtly ballsy as, say, Jag Panzer's first album (now THAT compares favourably to most NWOBHM). This is more epic, sounding more like Diamond Head than Iron Maiden, or maybe even, for a more recent comparison, Lord Weird Slough Feg.

Guitar tone is pretty unusual - along with the vocals, they combine to create a strange, slightly nasal, halfway to Cirith Ungol sensation. Not at all unpleasant, really: something quite memorable in the world if identical buzzsaws and squeaky clean Judas Priest clones. The bass is audible most of the time, and the vocalist is close enough to speaking English to pass. No high notes to be heard here, just some bizarro pronounciation (haunTEEEEED! PalAAAAAACE!! - rhyme that last syllable with "loss").

So is it good? Yeah, it's not too bad. Worth a listen every once in a while; certainly not worth throwing away. It starts off better than it finishes, with highlights being the title track, the fast opener Up From the Crypt and the epic, semi-ballad Spirits of the Dead. Though Death by the Hammer (track 7) is also very good, the last two tracks, Dragon Star and the Asylum, kinda lose me. The Asylum is a long outro piece, from what I can tell, as is the last few minutes of Dragon Star.

At times this album almost - almost! - comes close to being brilliant, in that "To the Devil His Due" (Diamond Head) sense, but it just never quite makes that leap... maaaybe the title track, sounding a bit like Children of the Sea (okay, not really, but the general effect is the same, with just about EVERY power metal band having a song or four that starts off with a similar clean electric riff and then exploding into a louder chorus). The other songs are a bit more mortal, though still quite enjoyable. Overall, not the immensely uber-kvlt classic that it is made out to be, but still pretty well done.

Classic - 94%

Znarglaxe, November 12th, 2003

There are a lost of good old heavy metal bands with a lot of good old heavy metal albums that are good old crap. People will say they like a band a lot and do so because of the age. Yet everytime they listen to it, they cringe a bit. They cringe at the utter crappiness of the band or album. Face it, some bands just ARENT good, regardless of how primitive the recording tactics were and whatnot, some bands just cannot be forgiven the shittiness of what they were/are. And most of these bands, while hailed as greatness, have a problem with the late 80s/transition albums. That little period of time where music began to change. They had a lot of trouble adjusting to new technology and whatnot, and therefore the album sounds even shittier than other albums did in the past. Manilla Road, though, captured it perfectly.

This album, while not necessarily perfection among music or even metal, is a great addition to any metal collection. Every bit of the essence of heavy metal is contained in this album. From the fast as hell heavy metal anthems, to the midpaced songs that we always hear people playing in their cars on their way to wherever, to the slow songs that you just listen to and zone out to. This album has all of these areas covered. The guitars are very NWOBHMish even though this band is from the USA, without the crappy low quality taint that most early NWOBHM bands were cursed with. They are of the perfect tone for what they do. The bass works in excellently with the guitars and drums, and the drums are what one expects from a group that puts out quality material. Even the vocals are wonderful. A good old heavy metal voice for good old heavy metal. All parts combine together almost flawlessly to create this masterpiece.

This Album is a MUST OWN for heavy metal fans.