Album review: MANILLA ROAD – Mysterium

ZYX Music – Out Now.

Good promotion, or lack of it, can make the difference between life and death for most bands, especially at times like these when the music market has become over-saturated with hundreds, if not thousands, of Metal outfits of all styles and persuasions.

It is in such a hostile environment, and literally under the radar of most social media, that Mark “the Shark” Shelton and his colleagues continue to stubbornly forge their classic blend of Epic Metal – a process that began thirty six years ago and which continues to produce top results, as suggested by the ten compositions featured on the band’s seventeenth studio album entitled “Mysterium”.

While line up changes are the stuff of nightmares for most bands, for Manilla Road it has pretty much become a natural process over the years. The additions of bassist Joshua Castillo and drummer Neudi have offered “Mysterium” boundless amounts of energy and on many occasions led to themes of technical dexterity that were unheard in the band’s more recent efforts.

This, of course, should not alarm the band’s old-school fans as both these elements do not work against, but rather complement the band’s classic-sounding riffs, as well as Shelton’s trademark vocals – vocals which sound better and better with each passing year.

“The Grey God Passes” is a pretty decent mid-tempo riff oriented tune but I would personally have not offered it the opening slot on the album, as I do not think that it has the stature needed for such a task. Luckily “Stand Your Ground” offers enough attitude and power to balance things out and by the time the beautiful harmonic tunes of the five minute epic “The Battle Of Bonchester Bridge” are performed, I am hooked to a point of no return.

Simple in structure, but with a very memorable vocal line in its refrain, “Hermitage” paves the way towards “Do What Thou Will” – a song that truly showcases Neudi’s skills behind the drum kit. Do you like your riffs to be old-school and your solos flamboyant? “Only The Brave” provides both in abundance, while “Hallowed Be Thy Grave” operates on a more restrained level, with Shelton taking the lead in terms of melodic output. Interestingly enough, the last part of the album contains the most impressive material on offer.

“The Fountain” is a beautifully crafted acoustic guitar theme with a positive message, the four-minute instrumental composition “The Calling” features some of the darkest themes ever recorded for a Manilla Road album, while the eleven minute “Mysterium” contains enough groove, energy and passion to put it on a par with the band’s best compositions to date.

Mark “the Shark” Shelton has been around long enough to know that there is no money to be made in the music business for a band that plays 80s style Epic Metal and it is perhaps this very realisation that has enabled him to continue pursuing his musical vision without any unnecessary considerations and with the energy that is normally to be found in people half his age.

“Mysterium” may not be the most polished album as far as production is concerned, but it offers bucket loads of emotion, passion and integrity – the latter clearly lacking in many Metal albums nowadays. This is music and honesty going hand in hand, as the Gods of Metal always intended!   **** (4.0/5.0)

John Stefanis

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