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A well hidden diamond in the rough - 98%

Empyreal, April 3rd, 2007

Manilla Road is obviously one of the most influential bands in metal. They've existed for a long 25 years or so, putting out obscure and weirdly cool heavy metal in the underground ever since, and even spawned a new subgenre of metal populated by bands like Ironsword, Battleroar, Assedium and Cauldron Born. Manilla Road is characterized by the nasal tenor of Mark 'the Shark' Shelton, their long-winded solos, and the fact that their cover art is usually pretty crappy, in a charming, old school kind of way. Their music is practically the opposite of accessibility and catchiness, and you probably won't fall in love with it at first listen, what with the vocals of Mark Shelton, the loopy, weird guitar solos that really go nowhere, and the big, chunky doom-ish riffs that never stop rolling out. It took me a while to really love Manilla Road, too, but now that I realize what the hype is about, the above description of their sound seems at home to me, not odd or inaccessible in the least. Once you get into Manilla Road, there's really no turning back, as you will love this infectious style of metal like no other.

Now, onto the subject of this review, 'Spiral Castle.' It's the band's umpteenth album, and it seems to be their most misunderstood yet, with people calling it 'too odd' and 'not very good.' Well I don't agree, as this is one of the best heavy metal albums I've ever heard. From the doomy chords of the short intro "Gateway to the Sphere" leading into the monstrous 8 minute title track, this is a unique album. The title track is a good one, and the first song I had ever heard by the band. It's got huge, hard-hitting riffs with one of Mark Shelton's best vocal preformances, plus a very interesting growling chorus done by Hellroadie, the band's second vocalist at the time. This song is just epic all the way through, never becoming tiresome or dull in the least. It's impossible to go into depth about every song here, because they're all equally cool, from the sludgy, meandering solos in "Shadow", featuring an impressive vocal preformance from Shelton and more excellent soloing.

The same can be said for every song here, really, especially the monolithic epic "Merchants of Death" and the middle eastern tinged "Born Upon the Soul." The guitar solos here are spectacular, and Mark Shelton's prowess as a musician is clearly not limited to the vocal realm. They're all winding, epic guitar mastery that never even touches the 'masturbation' or 'pointlessness' realm, and all of them are equally spectacular. There are also these cool acoustic passages stuck into ''Seven Trumpets" and "Merchants of Death", accenting their epic overtones greatly.

There is one clinker, and it's...a bonus track. "Throne of Lies" is a rather inconsistant and choppy song, with monotonous riffs and a seemingly uninspired vocal preformance. It's good that this wasn't on the album, as it is miles behind the quality of the material presented here. I wonder why they recorded it, it's odd to see a Manilla Road song of such mediocre quality. Just experimentation that failed, I suppose.

I can't find much wrong with this stuff, as this album is just an extremely masterful and cohesive outing from one of metal's best kept secrets. Mark Shelton and his crew are incredible musicians, and I hope Manilla Road lasts for a damn long time. It's a shame, because this band will stay unnoticed and neglected by the majority of music-listeners everywhere while the latest shit-trend gets worshipped left and right. Manilla Road will never gain the respect they deserve, and...maybe that's not so bad? The best gems are well hidden, and it's especially true in Manilla Road's case. Highly, highly recommended.