Manilla Road - Invasion reissue
2012 Shadow Kingdom Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
One thing about this prolonged metal revival, the longer its stays in favor, the deeper old league pundits and resurrectionists are digging to bring the obscure into the limelight. Recent excavations into the catalogs of seventies and eighties-based cult acts such as Iron Claw, Poobah and Pagan Altar come to mind. Now you can add the equally inconspicuous Manilla Road to the welcome back committee's list.
The Kansas-based Manilla Road was never a huge name in metal, namely due to their momentary aural collapse in 1987 with the poorly-received original cut of Mystification. Nonetheless, Mark "The Shark" Shelton and a revamped lineup following Manilla Road's first two albums managed to stir up a quiet frenzy in the underground with Open the Gates, Crystal Logic, The Deluge and The Courts of Chaos. Shelton pulled the plug on the entire endeavor the first time in 1992 after recording what was essentially a solo record forced into submission under the Manilla Road moniker, The Circus Maximus.
The band returns to action this year with a new album, Mysterium, but the sometimes power prog, sometimes thrash band has been trolling about since 2001 after Mark Shelton decided to make a go of it again. The band's more recent outings Atlantis Rising, Spiral Castle, Gates of Fire and Voyager have opted more for a classic metal sound. We can assume that trend will continue on Mysterium now that Shadow Kingdom Records sends the original trio's 1980 debut Invasion back for a second examination.
The thing that sticks out the most with Invasion is the veneer that gleams through its primitiveness. Despite the sharp acoustic overture "Centurian War Games" that feels like a pulp novel interpreted by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on downtime, Invasion is a crunky, often mucky affair. Nevertheless, it's well worth sitting down with for its historical perspective, much less its electric ear candy courtesy of Mark Shelton.
The stylish and bombastic closing number "The Empire" legitimizes Invasion as an American cousin to the NWOBHM. With a dash or two of Rush, sprinkles of Uriah Heep and Hawkwind and the faintest touches of ELP, "The Empire" is a sprawling, solo happy epic birthed at the dawn of heavy metal. The song, along with the rest of Invasion, also represents a rekindled global love affair with Robert E. Howard and his bloodthirsty Cimmerian bad boy.
It's a wonder "The Empire," much the less the tapping opener "The Dream Goes On" was only discovered by the deepest of genre purists. Mark Shelton shreds his frets on both tracks like he was feeling right now and in his prime, to paraphrase the lyrics of "The Dream Goes On." With hung over acid washes to his mincing solos and quick-ticked riffs, Invasion feels just like that in its beginning and endgame phases. Not many had heard Manilla Road's booming proclamation, but now's a good a time as any to listen up.
"Cat and Mouse" may remind some of a downplayed homage to Black Sabbath on its intro and primary riffs, yet if you study this track deeper, you'll hear early Judas Priest on the primary riff structure more than you will Sabbath. Then the translucent reverb in the solo sequences preluding the choruses of "Cat and Mouse" is enough to wonder if Jane's Addiction tripped over this album in their own formative days.
The hokey "Street Jammer" is nowhere near the adrenaline rush it purports itself to be in title, yet "Far Side of the Sun" before it basks in the balmy oddities of Krautrock and Uriah Heep at the latter's most experimental. Written in post-Space Race times when the United States was suffering its lowest morale, "Far Side of the Sun" attempts to present a portal of escapism through grinding rawk riffs after the extensive psychedelics in the first section. Again you'll hear some Priest factoring into "Far Side of the Sun," (and "The Empire," of course) especially as former bassist Scott Park bobs along as if devouring a tasty groove cast by Ian Hill from the opposite end of the Atlantic. There's a wallowing, burping feedback to the cut that prevents it from being as spectacular as it was written, yet once again Mark Shelton pulls out his mojo to keep "Far Side of the Sun" from spilling too far from its axis.
If you've never heard Manilla Road before, it's a no-brainer that Invasion is where you should start. Manilla Road was directly influenced by the British prog and early metal gods and in turn, they gave back a pretty nifty salute from the midwest. Invasion fell on mostly deaf ears in its time, but now a return visit reveals there was a lot more going on in the founding father stages of this genre outside of Saxon, Judas Priest and Tygers of Pan Tang.