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Pieces of Mind - 90%

AsPredatorToPrey, January 22nd, 2013

Something that always intrigued me about The Deluge was its subject matter. The most obvious story on display is the fall of Atlantis, but given the lyrical ambiguity of “Dementia,” “Friction In Mass,” and the title track itself, I felt there was an underlying story like the character was being deluged by insanity, his mind plagued by specters of ancient gods and sunken cities the way innocent characters were tormented in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, an author from whom Manilla Road have often taken inspiration.

“Shadow In the Black” is my favorite song on The Deluge and contains everything I like about Manilla Road. I don't think it's ever been well-documented just how powerful this song is! From the delicate intro, through the fury of the main body and every unrestrained solo attack, the rising and falling is structured so well that every time Mark Shelton rips into a new lead the song feels like it's revealing further layers of secrets. A wise old man sets the serene opening, holding the final word of the final refrain until his voice folds into itself like a vulture choking on its own spite. Then the heavy riff kicks in like the rotor of a mythical Atlantean aircraft whose pilot is so excited at the new possibility of flight that he's compelled to fly a little too close to the sun like that one kid over in Plato‘s land. It appears this anachronistic contraption even comes equipped with a machine gun that unleashes solos like strafing runs. Don’t get too comfortable because it’ll come back around after the chorus. When the first harsh vocals appear, the wise old man has become a mad sorceror. You can’t help but hang on his every word because not only are the lyrics so engaging, but the very tone of his voice demands that you listen. Several minutes of headbanging and air-guitar bliss follow then the superb ending begins when the rhythm guitar reprises the chorus riff while the lead takes a violent low bend, similar to the effect Shelton uses in the chorus to symbolize the crack of lightning. Once he hits that howling note that starts the final speeding solo, he unleashes the banished shadow in the fawking black and all bets are off, brothers. All bets are off! If you've been sitting down the whole time you’ve been listening to this song then you can't not get up and headbang for this. It practically grabs you by the head and thrashes you to and fro like a long-overdue exorcism. Mark the Shark starts a feeding frenzy by channeling the dirty elements of Uli Jon Roth’s and Ritchie Blackmore‘s styles to just shred them strings like they done him wrong. The fury he throws at every note is more intense than even Yngwie's incendiary ascensions on “Far Beyond the Sun.” Yes, rock really is the strength of the soul and this song is proof. Good for infinite replays.

The bass intro of “Divine Victim” lets you take a breath, just one, before breaking into a fast march. The song is a good example of how Shelton’s voice has grown more confident with each album. From the debut, it was obvious he had a unique voice, but it seemed like he either didn’t know how to make the best use of it or he was too self-conscious about letting it go to the bizarre realms it was destined to go. I think that changed on Open the Gates and it was all uphill from there. I often compare him to Lemmy, but with less gruttle, more melody and flair to spare. Every vocal character he possesses is on display without hesitation including the angry Siamese cat screaming "Burn them all" in "Hammer of the Witches," a simple chorus reflecting the narrow minds of the persecutors in the lyrics. Then there’s the howling hawk in the early part of "Isle of the Dead" while the sparse drumming echoes like thunder off the surrounding cliffs.

You’ll hear similarities in the music throughout the album which I like when it’s part of a larger story as it is on The Deluge and not just the band running out of ideas. The mellow section from the middle of “Dementia” fittingly returns during the spoken-word section of “Friction In Mass,” the title and lyrics of which could refer to the character's impending psychotic break as well as to the impending fall of Atlantis. Being the second-to-last song of the album and the final song with lyrics, it’s like the character’s frantic attempt to hold on to his last bastion of sanity which he fears will lie resting in pieces on the ocean floor. Turns out he's right. Shelton uses every quirk of his voice to dramatize the spoken-word section and follows it up with his high vibrato vocal that seems to imply that the character is now quite mad and proud of it.

If you like Manilla Road’s ‘80s contemporaries like Candlemass and Fates Warning then you need to listen to this album if you haven’t already. It has conceptual lyrics and heavy melodic riffs mixed with moments of both doom and speed, plus astounding cover art that, if turned into a stage set for this tour, could have rivaled Iron Maiden‘s World Slavery stage set as I imagine an animatronic Poseidon razing Atlantis while also knocking over the amplifiers, the drum set and nearly falling on the first few rows of the crowd at some point. The Deluge is an album I recommend to any fan of classic metal, power metal or the esoteric metalheads who'll listen to any genre as long as there's a strong concept. You'll find all that here.