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Manilla Road – The Blessed Curse

Published:

Last Updated on 01:43 AM by Giorgos Tsekas

Genre: Heavy Metal / Epic Metal
Country: U.S.A.
Label: Golden Core Records
Year: 2015

The gods of light never betrayed him. The oath of eternal loyalty and honor that Mark Shelton swore back then was not forgotten. Silently observing his every step, in the end they vindicated him for his dedication, endurance and might over the years. The blessed curse that was given to him to recite ancient stories, forgotten by gods and men, plated with the divine music of Manilla Road, will follow him forever. The road is long and not paved with rose petals. But stubbornness and pride does not leave room for failure.

Manilla Road counts hopefully 38 years since their inception. Slowly but steadily they managed to create a huge myth around their name. Ideally starting with the obscure heavy prog / proto metal of their first albums, which properly prepared the ground for the totalitarian epic metal holocaust of the 1983 – 1990 period, which forever secured them their position in the pantheon of the metal music. The vindication came with the start of the new millennium. Now in the year of 2015 the lords of epic metal enjoy universal acceptance. We’re no longer talking about ‘underground’ here. Their name can be found in many great festivals around the world. What Mr. Shelton didn’t manage to achieve in the 80s he did so in the recent years. Re-releases, plenty of new material and tons of live shows justifies this. The band passes its second youth and Mark is reaping the fruits that were sown many years ago.

The material composed by Manilla Road in the recent years is a controversial subject among fans. Surely the brilliant creative verve of the burning youth no longer exists. This does not mean that the compositions are devoid of inspiration and power. To be more specific, ‘The Blessed Curse’ consists of exceptional quality, nonconformist, slow-moving, emotional, ‘old geezer’ epic metal.

The main lyrical theme of their 17th album rotates around the first high-level civilization, the Sumerians and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Let me note here that Mark Shelton is what you might call a bookworm. He spends a lot of time reading and studying and it is a fact that from the beginning of Manilla he presented some of the best lyrics ever written by a metal band. The style that follows the structure of the songs, though faithful to the original spirit of the golden age, is mainly based on the style of their latest works. We are talking about music that is interspersed with heavy riffs, plenty of psychedelic influences from their first period and acoustic parts which give an extra dose of melancholy in the songs.

The first part of the album begins with the namesake mid-tempo track. The production is once more dark and claustrophobic. Generally I’m not fond of this muddy approach to the production sound but in the case of Manilla Road it seems right for some reason. It brings out an evil cult mood that matches the character of the music. Second song ‘Truth In The Ash’ enters with a completely ‘in your face’ riff. Along with the first they are both good compositions but without anything special. The full of character and passion guitar solos of Mark is what gives substance to the songs by raising the level. Things change with ‘Tomes Of Clay’. The wonderful oriental introduction gives way to one of the most beautiful songs of Manilla. With vocals and acoustic guitar by the chief, wonderful leads and melodies that enchants the listener. Just close your eyes and you will be transferred to Mesopotamia of 3000 BC. This is pure magic. In ‘The Dead Still Speak’ they’re switching back on vocals with Hellroadie. It is a very strong track with devastating introductory riff and robust pace. After that ‘Falling’ returns in more melancholic ways, having a mystical aura that surrounds it, reminding the ‘Mark Of The Beast’ era. One of the best tracks of the album is ‘Kings Of Invention’ which has some Open The Gates / The Deluge flavor to it. Thus closes the streak of the great tracks of the album. The following three, ‘Reign Of Dreams’, ‘Luxiferia’s Light’ and ‘Sword Of Hate’ are moderate compositions without the magic of the previous four, with simple, uninspired choruses, certainly the weakest moments of the album. ‘The Muses Kiss’ closes ‘The Blessed Curse’ journey successfully being a pretty decent piece with several interesting changes in the rhythm, restoring the balance as the last good moment of the first part.

The second album called ‘After the Muse’ includes 50 minutes of classic rock wanderings. Having little in common with the music Mark Shelton usually writes, it’s a mellower, soft rock, soul deposit of the chief. Thrill and awe overwhelm the senses at the sound of ‘After The Muse’, “In search of the lost chord” and ‘Reach’. Highly interesting is the track taken from a forgotten rehearsal of 1981, a song called “All Hallows Eve”. Without ever coming to an end (they run out of recording tape, …. 80’s analog audio) it evolves into a prog rock orgy, ‘Mark Of The Beast’ -style. In order to fairly restore the composition they re-recorded it (with the original drummer Rick Fisher) with three extra minutes of material.

Worthy of the band’s huge name, this album has a lot to offer to anyone who has the patience and wants to give it a chance to hear it as a complete creation and not hastily from mp3, youtube or something. Anyone looking for hits will be disappointed. Whoever wants to hear music that will speak directly to his soul is more than welcomed.

Up The Hammers & Down The Nails. 4/6

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