Released: 2013, Shadow Kingdom Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
The veteran American band Manilla Road have toyed with many musical genres during their 30 years plus career (though the band took a break from 1991 to 2000).
From Progressive Rock and traditional Heavy Metal to Speed Metal and even Thrash Metal during the 80’s, the band, led by guitarist/vocalist Mark Shelton, have released quite a number of records, some very good and some that are not as inspired. Somewhere in that area lies “Mysterium”, their latest album: while the band are bringing back some of their edgier elements from their 80’s records, some songs fall a little off the mark. The guitars, as always, sound inspired, though this record seems to lack some of the Progressive Rock elements of before, and instead the band incorporates a more Doom Metal approach.
That is not to say that the Progressive Rock in this band is completely gone, but here it is mostly reserved for the title track. The vocal duties are shared by both Shelton and Bryan "Hellroadie" Patrick, who also uses the same nasal-vocal style as Shelton.
This means that people who did not like Shelton’s vocals in the past may be put off by Patrick’s style.
The album kicks off with “The Grey God Passes”, a song that, while not bad, does not sound like the kind of song you want starting off your record. The song is a slow, laid-back, mid-tempo number, which consists of some interesting bass work during the bridge.
The chorus tries to sound epic but feels uninspired, though the vocals during the verses sound okay. Next song “Stand Your Ground” picks up the pace a little bit, with more aggressive guitar riffs, and an awesome chorus. I personally thought this one would have made a better opener than “The Grey God Passes”. Next, we get a power ballad, “The Battle of Bonchester Bridge”, and even though it feels awkward to be hit by a ballad after the attack that is “Stand Your Ground”, I will say that the song is actually one of the better moments on the album. The song evolves into one of those big choruses with screaming guitar harmonics, and it’s quite an effective song.
Next comes “Heritage”, which bogs down the album once again into uninspired territory.
The vocals are not that powerful here, and even though the song does feature a great guitar solo, the rest of the song just stays there. “Do What Thou Will” is Doom Metal-inspired number that sounds like Pentagram, and is actually a better song than the previous one. The vocals are much better on this one, too.
“Only the Brave” begins with a more aggressive guitar riff, and has some interesting tempo shifts during the chorus. Next is “Hallowed be thy Grave”, and if the title is any indication, the song just doesn’t really cut it, even compared to the other uninspired numbers on this record. I have to say, again, the guitar work is awesome, and makes me think that they should’ve just edited the solo sections and release those along with the rest of the tracks. The vocals are quite uninspired as well here.
“The Fountain” is an acoustic ballad with some Folk music touches, not a bad song, not a great song either. Next is a keyboard intro, “The Calling” which leads into the title track. Here the band gets down to business, mixing odd tempo shifts, acoustic guitars, big flourishes of screaming guitar work, and so on.
The track sees the band actually coming back to life after the last few tracks, and closes the album on a good note.
This record stands in the middle of the road as far as Manilla Road and their discography is concerned. It is no “Open the Gates” or “The Deluge”, even though some areas do reach those heights during the record. Some of the songs work very effectively, while others seem like they could have used more work.
Review by Titus Isaac