Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

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

Privacy Policy

The highpoint of mid-period Manilla Road - 97%

failsafeman, March 1st, 2008

If you have yet to hear a Manilla Road album, refer to the first paragraph of my review for Open the Gates. Otherwise, read on.

Manilla Road’s long career can be divided up into three more-or-less distinct periods. The first three albums, Invasion through Crystal Logic, constitute the first of these; this period is typified by an NWOBHM and 70s rock sound, and less aggression than would come later. Shelton also harmonized his vocals with multi-tracking occasionally; this would disappear almost entirely after Crystal Logic. The second period begins with Open the Gates and ends with the band’s breakup following The Courts of Chaos, and is defined by thrash influence, which steadily grew just as the older influences dwindled; Manilla Road’s sound grew correspondingly darker. Shelton also started using his harsher vocal style more and more often as the decade wore on. Another defining trait is drummer Randy “Thrasher” Foxe, who pounds his way through the second half of the 80s in his manic, muscular style. Finally we have the third period, which begins with the band’s reformation for Atlantis Rising and continues until the present day. Aside from a generally more modern feel (in the drumming style and production especially), their latest sound strikes me as an amalgamation of the first two periods; the thrash influence, though still noticeable, is far less prevalent than on The Courts of Chaos, and some definitely dated-sounding riffs and melodies (the good kind of dated) crop up now and then. New for the band on these albums are backing vocals, courtesy of Brian “Hellroadie” Patrick; the upcoming Voyager is apparently an exception, as he was out of the band at the time of its recording, but he’s back now. Also, there’s something that can only be described as a slight touch of death metal that occasionally pops up here and there in the vocal and riffing style. Of course Manilla Road’s periods have plenty of other traits that could be pointed out and discussed, but I’ve kept this list to some of the simpler and more obvious ones. When discussing a genre as complex and convoluted as metal, a degree of simplification is often very helpful in understanding it, as long as you’re careful not to go too far. Anyway, as the title of the review states, The Deluge is the pinnacle of Manilla Road’s middle period.

This album differs from and improves upon the previous album, Open the Gates, in a number of ways. Immediately obvious, even before you hear it, is that for the first time Manilla Road actually managed to get an album cover that is both professional and coherent! A pissed-off Poseidon is rising out of the waves to smash Atlantis, and I can genuinely say I like it for its own sake. Drink it in, folks; this is a rare treat indeed. The next and more significant difference is that there are no weak songs on The Deluge, and there are two main reasons behind that. First, Manilla Road really mastered writing short, catchy numbers in their new thrash-influenced style; while the two short tracks on the previous album were failures, on this one there are more of them and they’re all very good. Second, here again Manilla Road put an “intermission” in the middle of the album, as on the last two; however, instead of the corny-but-fun “Feeling Free Again” or the derivative and boring “Heavy Metal to the World”, they wisely opt for a short keyboard instrumental piece. It manages to be both relaxing and entertaining while it lasts, which isn’t long. A final important difference between this album and the previous is that the thrash influence is better incorporated. What I mean by that is, there are fewer riffs on this album that I can point to as definitely thrash, but there are also fewer that I can point to as definitely not thrash. This serves to make the album much more consistent and coherent than Open the Gates was, and thus more successful when viewed as a whole. In this respect The Deluge is closer to Crystal Logic, where the songs flow into one another wonderfully (with the exception of one awkward transition, which I’ll get to later).

The album kicks off with “Dementia”, which does away with the intros of the previous albums and gets things going right away with a furious riff assault. In my opinion it’s not quite as strong or memorable as the second half of “Metalstorm” from Open the Gates, but it’s certainly not bad by any means. The demented laughing is a very cool touch, I must add. It speaks loads to this album’s quality that a song like this is one of the weaker ones, and its only real failing is not being as fantastic and legendary as the rest. “Shadows in the Black” is one of “the rest”. It starts off with a soft melodic intro, like “Astronomica” did on the last album; this one goes for the same effect, and even manages to achieve comparably excellent results with it (all the more amazing considering how amazing “Astronomica” is). Everything is just exactly where it ought to be, from the atmospheric intro to the fist-pumping, incantation-like chorus.

“Divine Victim” is the first of the album’s short, catchy numbers I mentioned earlier; it’s straight to the point, and has hooks big enough to land a whale. From the perspective of the album’s pacing, it was very smart to put this one after the dense “Shadows in the Black”. Following it is “Hammer of the Witches”, another of these types, and I’d say the best. It’s the shortest and the catchiest, and I dare you not to sing along with the chilling chant of “BURN THEM ALL!” Considering Manilla Road’s penchant for writing long, drawn-out numbers, I was very surprised to find these to be so concise; they say exactly what they need to, repeat their handful of vocal melodies and riffs just enough times to satisfy but not enough to bore, hit you with a guitar solo, and BAM, that’s it. They provide a very welcome counterpoint to the more lengthy pieces, and I’d say even make them more enjoyable by throwing them into relief. While it was this short, catchy type of song that was missing from the previous album, it is ironically the longer, epic type that is missing from the next; both albums suffer as a result, but The Deluge has the best of both worlds.

Now it’s time for the intermission with “Morbid Tabernacle”, a short, evil-sounding keyboard intermission courtesy of Randy “Thrasher” Foxe, which does some generic atmospheric organ things. It reminds me somewhat of a King Diamond intro, minus the narration; it’s not much to speak of by itself, but when viewed in the context of the album it’s a fine break from the fury of ”Hammer of the Witches”, and allows for a bit of a breather in the middle (and trust me, you’ll need it). Next up is the last of the short catchy songs with “Isle of the Dead”, a great ditty about a tropical island with a gate to hell on it, which is populated by undead and apparently where blasphemous sailors go. Only Manilla Road comes up with this stuff and can make it work, folks. In the verses, the alternation between the clean singing and snarling is great, and the short singsong chorus is cool too, but that bridge vocal melody (“Black gate to Niflheim, the bells of Hell still chime!”) is just fantastic and the best part of the song. I’d rank this song a bit above “Divine Victim” but a tad below “Hammer of the Witches” in quality, but all three are excellent. Now, “Taken by Storm” is pretty short too, but unfortunately this one suffers a bit from placement; it’s short like the previous three songs, but rather than catchy it’s dense, even by Manilla Road’s standards. For the longest time my attention just tended to wander during the second half, but now after many subsequent close listens, I can definitely say that this is a damn fine song. Be warned, though, that this song has a tendency to fall through the cracks if you’re not careful (somewhat like “The Ram” from Crystal Logic, though for different reasons). Highlights are the furious riffwork and Shelton’s screeching, which capture the fury of the storm quite well, and serve as a foreshadowing of the title track. As far as I can tell, the lyrics are also a lead-up to what happens in “The Deluge”, but as with most Manilla Road songs, the lyrics are hard to decipher. However, “the Tyrant King opens the Eye” definitely seems to refer to the Eye of the Sea, which when opened brings on Poseidon’s wrath and the destruction of Atlantis in the next song.

And so finally we come to “The Deluge”, which is both the title track and requisite Manilla Road album epic rolled into one; to say my expectations were a bit high would be like saying Jerry Fogle plays the guitar pretty well. Luckily, all expectations are met and then some; this song is just a behemoth, and the best one on the album. More than that, even; it’s definitely a contender for best Manilla Road song ever. It’s split up into three parts, consisting of an intro, the body of the song, and an outro. The first part, “The Eye of the Sea”, is a great softer bit with clean guitar and gentle vocals, which lasts about a minute until Shelton belts out the title; the aggression of the song is then unleashed, along with one of the best guitar solos to ever spring from his fingers and some particularly inspired drumwork courtesy of Foxe (who is even better than usual throughout the whole song, I might add). After it’s done, “The Drowned Lands” opens with a great pounding riff, which leads into the phenomenal verses that are topped by some of Shelton’s best soaring vocals. The second riff of this section especially is just so sinister and perfect; it’s one of the greatest Manilla Road has ever written. I can’t stress enough how well this song captures the various moods the lyrics convey, from the fury of the sea to the grandeur of Atlantis (“where pyramids first rose and sank to their graves!”). The whole thing, particularly the solos, also has a profoundly sad undertone that mourns the destruction of Atlantis’s beauty. In the second guitar solo that comes after the verses this is most apparent, and you can effortlessly picture the spires and pyramids of Atlantis toppling and being swallowed by the waves. Finally comes the third section, “Engulfed Cathedral”, which is a clean guitar part with understated percussion, accompanied by the relaxing sound of waves. The ocean returns to tranquility, with nothing to suggest Atlantis was ever there. The instruments drop out, and Shelton utters “after me, the deluge”, and all we hear are the waves and the cathedral’s bell tolling down in the depths. The atmosphere is so powerful and complex that every time I listen to “The Deluge” I always have to stop the album for a few minutes after the song is over and just reflect on the sheer greatness of it all.

Last of the actual songs is “Friction in Mass”, which is a pretty aggressive piece, and unfortunately also fairly uneven. It’s definitely not bad, and in certain places here and there I’d even call it great, especially some of the soaring vocal melodies; however, after the previous leviathan of a track, this one comes off a bit anticlimactic with some parts that are markedly less inspired. The spoken-word section stands out as the worst offender; though it gets pretty cool near the end, there’s still a good 30 seconds there where it’s just plain boring and unnecessary. Luckily immediately afterwards there’s a cool duet between the lead guitar and vocal melody, which is one of the best parts of the song, and partially makes up for the previous bit. I can’t help but wonder if another, better song shouldn’t have traded places with this one; it wouldn’t be as much of a letdown if it were in the middle somewhere and not right after the best track of the album. Still, though, it’s not at all a failure, and some parts are quite excellent.

Ending the album is a short instrumental, which basically consists of (at least) three guitars going nuts and soloing simultaneously for almost two minutes; it’s pretty damn awesome. Also, it ends The Deluge the same way the previous two albums ended, with multi-tracked solos fading out. A weird robot voice says a couple words after that, but if you can understand what they are then you’ve got better ears than I do. Anyway, despite the small criticisms I’ve leveled against it so as not to be too one-sided, The Deluge is a very strong album, and even the weakest songs on here (“Dementia” and “Friction in Mass”) are still very good. The short, catchy songs are all excellent, and “Shadows in the Black” is great too, but the one that propels the album above the others is definitely the title track.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed after years of listening to Manilla Road is that there seems to be some coherent, private mythology they’re referring to in the lyrics. Beyond the obvious liberal mixing of all sorts of myth and legend, there are some repeated references to certain things which seem like they ought to be understood without necessitating explanation, as if it were Avalon or Mjolnir or something every respectable heavy metal fan ought to know about. The one in particular that’s been bugging me is “The Well” they’re always referring to. It would seem to be either Mimir’s Well of Knowledge or the Well of Wyrd, both from Norse mythology, but where one makes sense the other doesn’t, and vice versa. It would seem to be the former that is mentioned in the title track from Crystal Logic, as the ignorant persecutors will “never drink from The Well.” In “The Fires of Mars” on Open the Gates, however, it seems to be the Well of Wyrd; this Well is the one that waters Yggdrasil’s roots, and demons poisoning it would seem to be in line with the forces of evil that try to kill the tree in Norse mythology. On “Friction in Mass” from this album, we seem to be back to the Well of Knowledge, as drinking from it brings knowledge of ancient things; but the “Knights of The Well” referred to in “Taken by Storm” are anybody’s guess. Of course all that is assuming I’m actually right about what wells the songs are referring to; they’re never actually mentioned by name, though the traits described seem to indicate I’m right. There are many more mentions of “The Well” and other such ambiguous things across Manilla Road’s albums, and I could go on for pages about the quirks of the band’s lyrics, but by the time I finished no one would be reading (except for perhaps mythology geeks like me). Another neat thing about the lyrics is they often make references to other Manilla Road songs; for example, “Friction in Mass” mentions “The Fires of Mars”, which is of course a song on Open the Gates, and other such references abound. Check “Children of the Night” from their next album for a song that references both The Well and “The Ninth Wave”.

Manilla Road’s religious inclinations have always been murky, as well. On Crystal Logic, for example, they’re clearly anti-Satan and pro-god, but is it the Christian god they refer to? On the same album they definitely portray Odin in a positive light, and last I checked, Odin and Jesus don’t get along too well. Then we come to The Deluge, where we have some definite anti-Christian sentiments. “Divine Victim” seems to be about Joan of Arc, but the song mentions she is “another victim of Christianity”, which certainly seems to point towards a negative view of the religion (or what Christians have done with it, anyway). Direct references aside, Manilla Road definitely do not seem to espouse Christian ideals; though their message is definitely a positive one (on the earlier albums more obviously than on later ones), it revolves around a return to traditional pagan ways rather than anything biblical. Not to say that Mark Shelton actually worships Odin or anything; I’m certain it’s a metaphor, rather than meant to be taken literally. Just as Satan is often used by black metal as a symbol of free thought and rebellion against authority, Odin and mythology in general are metaphors for a return to non-Christian ideals of strength, honor, and independence, rather than the meekness of Christian sheep or modern materialism and avarice. The fall of Atlantis’s glory is brought on by man’s short-sighted greed, and its majestic beauty sinks beneath the waves, never to rise again…well, at least until 2001’s Atlantis Rising.