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manilla bro'd - 78%

caspian, October 19th, 2017

Spiral's pretty cool but it basically strikes me as a proto Voyager. Bear in mind: I've only heard this and Voyager post-reforming, so perhaps it's an opinion to take with a rather large grain of salt! The kinda death metal riffing is there, but it's not quite as full, as huge and as potent as in Voyager. Honestly all up this seems like Manilla Road weren't entirely sure what to be doing on this album, as it's a bit all over the shop, a bit inconsistent- a decent album taken as a whole, but the sort of thing that would've made a killer EP if the dudes had ruthlessly culled some weaker tracks.

A few strong tracks but it's only really Shadows and particularly Born upon the Soil that've really left a big impression. Essentially, they're everything that's good about newer Manilla Road- I mean when you get down to it, they're basically everything that you could want in a metal tune. Ridiculously heavy, rather dark, full of massive riffs and thick with foreboding, ancient Malazan-ish kinda atmospheres, I can't praise the tunes enough. That death metal influence (is it death metal? It doesn't seem entirely correct calling it that, but I'm not sure how else you'd put it) lurks somewhere in the background, and it's great. Yeah, no other heavy metal band I've heard has made stuff that's quite as dissonant, quite as mean and nasty and crunchy as the chorus riff in Shadow, with Born Upon the Soil doing that kinda triumphant middle eastern thing a million death metal bands have tried at some point, and owning it better than any of them.

The rest, however- a bit more over the shop. Merchants of Death has some good, some really good riffs- again, using that very effective Manilla Road + death metal template, with a touch of particularly heavy doom in the verses, but that's somewhat nullifed by the fairly awkward "angry at the Iraq war" lyrics, and has a long- very long- and shitty bridge where little happens beyond some bad mellow noodling and some really average vocals. You can only wonder what would've happened if they'd taken the bridge out and instead set about to making the heaviest song in the world. Oh well. There's stuff like this throughout- a good but way overlong title track, a good but somewhat aimless instrumental that continues on from Born upon the Soil but with far less of the purpose and atmosphere (although the violin part is certainly cool).

I'm not hating too much mind. Parts of this are undeniably flawed but only Merchants of Death with it's godawful bridge has me reaching for the skip button; as for the most part the strengths of Manilla Road shine through the uneven songwriting- the excellently noodly bass playing, the busy, organic dumming, the top tier quality riffs, cheerfully all over the shop solos and if this and Voyager are anything to go on then Shelton is one of the few vocalists who was better in the 2000s than the 80s. It's not a classic, but definitely worth a look.