“Why listen to fools who don’t have a clue
About life in these new times
Hearts so filled with hate, they think it’s their fate
Under god to kill us all”
If you were to ask me what the absolute best, most consistent ‘traditional’ heavy metal band from the United States is, the answer would always be Manilla Road. The thing is that I haven’t even known about the band for all that long, I mean they’ve been around since 1977 and I didn’t hear ‘Crystal Logic’ until 2003 after deciding to download the highly recommended album on a whim. I’m an awkward sort of fellow who finds unique band names eternally poke at my brain until I listen to that band. Once I’d gotten over a few isolated giggles (Man + Vanilla = Manilla, man vanilla… ugh, sorry I hate myself) that literally nobody else on Soulseek though was funny, I listened to ‘Crystal Logic’ and what a perfect introduction to an amazing band. There are few metal bands that literally embody the “epic” descriptor, and I don’t think puritanical sub-genre snobs would argue that the whole “epic heavy metal” tag wouldn’t exist without Manilla Road’s stylistic influence. The classic six album run from 1983-1990 (Crystal Logic, Open the Gates, The Deluge, Mystification, Out of the Abyss, and The Courts of Chaos) serve as two monumental “trilogies”. The first three records took the bones of the NWOBHM movement and fused it with 70’s progressive rock influences, the next three records built upon that now signature sound as they smartly incorporated speed metal and thrash metal. There was no other band out there that created such a perfect fusion of these elements and each album was truly progressive from one to another. It is only fitting that in their 40th year of existence Manilla Road would put out ‘To Kill a King’ a record that distills the essence of that original run of six albums where Manilla Road cemented themselves as the underground’s true kings of North American heavy metal.
My favorite record by the group is ‘The Deluge‘ and if you haven’t heard it you’re missing out on a record I’d put over any Maiden or 80’s Sabbath record any given day. Seriously, take a break from this crazy fan review and listen to ‘The Deluge’ right now. ‘To Kill a King’ channels that record distinctly, while it creates a salad of uppity speed metal tracks alongside lengthy balladry that the Shark is known for. The album itself feels less like a throwback and more of a concerted effort to return to the heart of Manilla Road’s more distinct sound. That isn’t to say I’m overlooking ‘Atlantis Rising’ through ‘The Blessed Curse’ in the band’s discography each of those records were amazing, some featured experiments with production and style that generally worked. I would only argue that those last two records ‘Mysterium’ and ‘The Blessed Curse’ felt unfinished, unpolished and a bit uninspired. My faith in the band was shaken, I’m not so huge on the epic Shelton ballads when they’re 60% slowness and don’t have the bouncy Cirith Ungol-like riffing to complete the journey. This new record blew me away not only because it sounds like the Manilla Road I love but because it unfurls itself with thematic nuance and classy dramatics that are so wholly characteristic of Shelton’s work. It transcends a ‘throwback’ or ‘fan service’ record and just stands up fully as a solid fucking Manilla Road album.
While I’m sure I could give Shelton all of the credit for this album’s sound and style, I have to say his current line-up thankfully holds onto Bryan Patrick who often sounds more like classic Shark than Shelton does anymore and the two have become indistinguishable within the bands sound. I’d initially though he’d sat this one out. Its always concerning when you’ve got both fans and old friends keeping a decades old metal band going, it worked for Ozzy and Alice Cooper with wildly varying results… but I’m glad Manilla Road has thrived across several line-up changes and sounds vibrant and as classic as ever on their 20th full-length recording. I am so thankful that this band exists in 2017 and ‘To Kill a King’ is an exceptional introduction to folks who have missed the previous 39 years of the band’s existence.