Invasion and Metal
Released: 2004, Cult Metal Classics
Manilla Road. Mark Shelton. These are two of the most revered, and alternately, one of the most unknown names in heavy metal history. Chances are, if you’ve come across the music of Manilla Road, and its founder Mark, it was through an acquaintance of yours who is absolutely enamored with this most cult of kvlt bands. Of late, the Manilla Road name, and the subsequent expectation for epic, melodic, crushing heavy metal with some of the most unique vocals in music has been getting more notice, mostly due to the spate of reissues that their catalogue is finally seeing. This is not the time or the place to go into the long, winding, and detailed history of this band (which you are encouraged to check out), but rather a time to celebrate the re-surfacing of two lost gems: Manilla Road’s first to embryonic steps, INVASION, and METAL.
Not surprisingly, Manilla Road’s first incarnation was miles away from what the band would eventually become, and not a few steps from actual heavy metal. Rather, INVASION is a kind of heavy psychedelic-influenced rock that was so popular around in the ‘70s (the album was originally issued in 1980 for those keeping count). “The Dream Goes On”, “Cat and Mouse” and the trippy and over-long “Far Side of the Sun” show that early Manilla Road wasn’t quite the beast it would become. However, there is a wealth of good material here for the adventurous listener. “Centurion War Games” is a surprisingly sensitive ballad (again, very ‘70s sounding), “The Dream Goes On” is a great opening rocker, and the sprawling minor epic “The Empire” belies what the band would eventually become. All in all, an excellent but flawed album.
The prophetically titled METAL seems Mark Shelton taking the band (slowly) in a heavier direction, but it is not quite realized yet. “Enter the Warrior” starts things in rollicking fashion, “Queen of the Black Coast” is an awesome headbanger that also introduces the fantasy lyrics that would become a hallmark in a number of Manilla Road songs. The song “Metal” is anything but however, and is a low point on the album. “Cage of Mirrors” fills the “epic” slot on this album, though “The Empire” from INVASION was a better attempt. However, the stripped down version of “Far Side of the Sun” easily surpasses its predecessor.
The highest kudos should be given to Cult Metal Classics for reissuing these two CDs in a single digi-pack. These are truly two lost classics that are happily resurrected for a new generation of metalheads. We critics often harangue readers to “buy it!” or “check this band out!”, but in this case, you really are presented with two absolute classics, all on a single CD. We have a second chance to support Manilla Road – don’t let the band die out again.