Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

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.