Released: 2011, Shadow Kingdom
For such a legendary band I must admit I’m not as familiar with their catalogue. After having a chance to see them play their first Canadian gig at the Noctis Valkyries festival in October in Calgary, Alberta, I remembered what I did enjoy about the band from the 80’s and promptly bought their latest album PLAYGROUND OF THE DAMNED at their merch booth at the show. I knew I had to review it because of the 15 studio albums in their esteemed catalogue, we here at Metal-Rules.com have only discussed four of them in our reviews section. Shame on us!
Shadow Kingdom is pretty much the perfect label for Manilla Road to end up on, as the specialize in the classic Metal sound and have considerable expertise in finding lost-lost gems and re-releasing them as well as supporting new acts as well. The package is very nice, a cool cover by Markus Vesper the underground artists who has his work appear on the cover of dozens of Metal albums. Of course it is the Mark Shelton show as he handles the production, writing arranging, engineering and mixing the whole thing from his HQ in Wichita, Kansas. The lyrics tread familiar ground with songs inspired by A.E. Poe and R.E. Howard and the eight-track 47- minute album is just the right length.
Bryan 'Hellroadie' Patrick has truly cemented his role in the band but I must admit he doesn't display the range and power on the the album that he does live. Tis is quite an odd scenario because usually it is the other way around. A singer can hit certain notes in the ideal conditions in the studio (ie. rested, well-fed, sober, multiple takes, in a good environment etc) and not replicate that same sound live in a concert (tired, hungry, hung-over, smoky air etc) However, to my ears Hellroadie sounded better than on the album! no matter, he still does a good performance but he doesn't cut loose and hit those highs we all know he can do.
The entire album is full of American working man's Metal; straight up, not too many frills, avoiding trendy sounds, just warm production bringing out the best in this batch of songs. The riffs are chunky and not too frantic and same goes for the solos although Mark Shelton can still rip it out. Manilla Road despite my lack of intimate knowledge of their catalogue, still appeals to my innate sense of what good Metal is, even if they may get overshadowed at times by trendy bands. Stand out tracks in my mind are 'Brethren Of The Hammer' buried deep in the track sequence and 'Grindhouse' with a grinding tempo and a really great set of menacing lyrics. Overall the album stays in the mid-tempo zone but Manilla Road has never been all about the speed.
As the band have entered their 5th decade as a recording act, they have truly cemented their status as one of the most iconic Metal bands around. PLAYGROUND OF THE DAMNED is another delightful chapter in the long history of a band that still have many more chapters yet to write.