Review Summary: Not all that mysterious after all. Manilla Road's 16th LP is good, but leaves the listener wanting more.
Manilla Road are without a doubt one of the hardest working independent metal acts in existence today. Formed in the late 70’s by Mark ‘the shark’ Shelton, the band took on an epic metal sound that was not unlike bands like Iron Maiden, especially on albums like their fantastic breakthrough Crystal Logic
. However, thanks in part to Shelton’s unique vocals and the band’s refusal to be mainstream, they have remained unpredictable and mysterious for over 30 years and the cycle has continued into 2013 with the band’s 16th full length release Mysterium
Or has it? Many of the qualities the band is known for are still present on the band’s newest effort, but the release is not without its disappointments. The main flaw in the album can be found in the vocals of Mark ‘the shark’ himself. Although his vocals sound nearly as unique as ever, they feel very uninspired on most tracks and lack the passion and energy found on the band’s best releases. The album gets off to a rather underwhelming start with ‘The Grey God Passes’ which is a prime example of Shelton’s watered down vocals. Thankfully, he does sound much better on the slower tracks such as ‘The Battle of Bonchester Bridge’ or the somber ‘The Fountain’, but the vocals just seem to be lacking the energy to make the heavier tracks stand out the way they have in the past.
Thankfully, despite the disappointing vocals, the drums sound fantastic on most of the album, which is due mostly to the improvement in production. There’s also no shortage of flashy guitar work and songs like the fast-paced ‘Stand Your Ground’ or ‘Only The Brave’ are packed with blistering guitar solos while tracks such as ‘Hermitage‘ and ‘Do What Thou Will’ contain the album's most memorable riffs. However, perhaps the most complex song on the album instrumentally is the lengthy 11 minute title track. It starts with very light drumming and atmospheric guitar notes before exploding into one of the heaviest songs on the album. It brings the band's newest effort to a satisfying and somewhat unexpected close, but it’s still hard not to feel like the band could have done better.
isn’t a terrible album, it’s just a somewhat underwhelming release from a band that is capable of so much better. If you’re a die hard fan of Manilla Road, there are definitely some enjoyable moments to be found throughout the band’s 16th release, especially in the soothing nature of ‘The Fountain’, but if you’re looking for an album that shows off the band’s raw talent and musicianship, you’d be better off listening to the epic Crystal Logic
or the often overlooked Mystification
. If there’s one thing Shelton did right on this album, it was his decision to improve the production of the guitars and drums, but unfortunately he seems to have lost his magic in the process.