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"For we shall slay evil... with logic!"
"Crystal Logic"

Manilla Road was a heavy metal band from Wichita, Kansas, formed in 1977. A Trope Maker for US Power Metal, they became a major cult favourite band among fans of the genre despite very little in the way of mainstream exposure. Their sole consistent member was lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Mark “The Shark” Shelton, with various other members coming and going over the years.

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Manilla Road put out their debut album Invasion in 1980, on their own independent label Roadster Records. While they started out their career playing an unusual brand of spacey, psychedelic-influenced hard rock, they quickly evolved into their signature sound on 1983's Crystal Logic, a sound which the band dubbed “epic metal”. They mixed elements of traditional heavy metal, power metal and Doom Metal, as well as Thrash Metal later in the 80's, but notably had a major influence from 1970's proto-metal, frequently sounding like what might have happened if heavy metal's hard rock precursors had never died out. The most distinctive elements of their sound were Shelton's instantly recognizable nasal baritone voice, narrative fantasy-based lyrics, and extended guitar solos that carried a strong influence from psychedelic and progressive rock. They found little favour in their home country, but garnered a stronger fanbase in Europe, where they also proved influential to the rising power metal scene.

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The original formation of Manilla Road disbanded in 1990, with the name being put to rest in 1992 after the release of The Circus Maximus (which was originally intended to be for a new band featuring Shelton by the same name). They reformed with a new lineup in 1994 to play local shows, before returning to larger-scale touring in the new millennium, and to regular recording with Atlantis Rising in 2001. They would continue to release albums and tour prolifically for the rest of their career, as well as finally being able to play shows in Europe, and achieved much wider recognition for their previous work as it was rediscovered through re-releases. Sadly, on June 27, 2018, Shelton passed away from a heart attack, only hours after playing at the Headbangers Open Air festival in Germany, putting an end to the band.

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Final line-up:

  • Mark "The Shark" Shelton — Vocals & guitar (1977-1992, 1994-2018)
  • Bryan "Hellroadie" Patrick — Vocals (1999-2005, 2007-2018)
  • Andreas "Neudi" Neuderth — Drums (2011-2018)
  • Phil Ross — Bass (2016-2018)

Former members:

  • Scott "Scooter" Park — Bass (1977-1990)
  • Ben Munkirs — Drums (1977-1978)
  • Robert Park — Guitar (1977-1979)
  • Myles Sipe — Drums (1979)
  • Rick Fisher — Drums (1979-1983)
  • Randy "Thrasher" Foxe -– Drums (1984-1990, 1994-2000)
  • Andrew Coss — Vocals, bass & keyboards (1991-1992)
  • Aaron Brown — Vocals & drums (1991-1992)
  • Harvey "The Crow" Patrick — Bass (1994-1999, 2003-2007)
  • Mark Anderson — Bass (2000-2002)
  • Scott Peters — Drums (2000-2003)
  • Cory "Hardcore" Christner — Drums (2004-2011)
  • Vince Golman — Bass (2007-2010)
  • Josh Castillo — Bass (2010-2016)

Discography:

  • Underground (1979) – demo
  • Invasion (1980)
  • Metal (1982)
  • Crystal Logic (1983)
  • Open the Gates (1985)
  • The Deluge (1986)
  • Mystification (1987)
  • Out of the Abyss (1988)
  • Roadkill (1988) – live album
  • The Courts of Chaos (1990)
  • The Circus Maximus (1992)
  • Atlantis Rising (2001)
  • Spiral Castle (2002)
  • Mark of the Beast (2002) – recorded 1981
  • Gates of Fire (2005)
  • Voyager (2008)
  • After Midnight Live (2009) – live album, recorded 1979
  • Playground of the Damned (2011)
  • Mysterium (2013)
  • The Blessed Curse (2015) – double album, including second disc After the Muse
  • Dreams of Eschaton (2016) – compilation, including a remastered Mark of the Beast, Underground and After Midnight Live
  • To Kill a King (2017)

Manilla Road has examples of the following tropes:

  • Ascended Extra: Hellroadie. Originally, he was Manilla Road's roadie and drum tech back in the 80's. Upon the band's reunion, he would sometimes join them as a live member singing part of their songs, before becoming an official member and co-lead vocalist on Atlantis Rising. His vocals would get more prominent as time went on, both in the studio and in live shows due to Shelton's vocal damage making it difficult for him to sing some of the older songs.
  • Author Appeal: Shelton was a devotee of Robert E. Howard, and made lyrical references to his work a lot (“Queen of the Black Coast”, “The Books of Skelos” and the first three songs on Gates of Fire being just a few examples). Lovecraftian themes also appeared frequently, such as on “Return of the Old Ones” and the Atlantis Rising album.
  • Band of Relatives: Brothers Bryan and Harvey Patrick played together in the band between 2003 and 2005.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Randy Foxe, according to Shelton. Apparently, the band were waiting years on end for him to come up with drum tracks for what eventually became Atlantis Rising, which he ultimately would not contribute to anyway due to getting ejected from the band.
  • Catchphrase: “Up the Hammers & Down the Nails”, the phrase with which Shelton would usually end the news posts on the band's official website.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Vince Golman had to resign from the band and stop playing music after being afflicted with severe problems in his left hand, which meant he could only play on two songs from Playground of the Damned (Shelton handled the bass on the rest, under his “E.C. Hellwell” pseudonym).
  • Concept Album: Several.
    • Mystification is half a concept album, with the songs on the first side being based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
    • Atlantis Rising is Manilla Road's first album with a full original story, about Atlantis re-emerging and a war between the Aesir and the Great Old Ones over it. It has been described as a loose follow-up to the title track of The Deluge, which was also about Atlantis.
    • Gates of Fire is essentially three mini concept albums in one; tracks 1-3 are based on "The Frost-Giant's Daughter", tracks 4-6 on The Aeneid, and tracks 7-9 on the Battle of Thermopylae.
    • Voyager is another original story, about a pagan Viking warleader named Holgar and his band fleeing from the Christianization of Scandinavia on the ship of the same name, and eventually ending up in South America.
    • The first disc of The Blessed Curse is themed around ancient Sumeria and The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Cool Old Guy: Shelton was 60 years old when he died, and still going strong playing heavy metal.
  • Crossover Cosmology: Shelton's lyrics frequently invoke this. Examples include the entire Atlantis Rising album (a crossover of Norse mythology, the Cthulhu mythos, and the Atlantis myth), and the song “The Fires of Mars”, which is about King Arthur returning to life in the far future to fight demons on Mars (while again referencing Norse mythology).
  • Darker and Edgier: The general trend of their music throughout the 80's, with each album being heavier and more thrash metal influenced up through Out of the Abyss. They also underwent this shift lyrically starting with Mystification, switching from their usual Heavy Mithril to horror themes.
  • Distinct Double Album: The Blessed Curse. The eponymous first disc has a concept about ancient Sumeria, and follows Manilla Road's standard post-Playground of the Damned style for the most part. The second disc, After the Muse, is mostly acoustic and contains some archival songs.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: The Circus Maximus was originally intended to be a self-titled debut album for a new band featuring Shelton, also called Circus Maximus; Manilla Road had broken up at that point. However, Black Dragon Records ended up releasing it under the name of Manilla Road, as they felt it would sell better that way (even though the band was still performing live under the Circus Maximus name). Shelton was not happy about this, to say the least, and it led to the demise of the project in fairly short order.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Invasion consists mostly of spacey, psychedelic hard rock, and sounds very little like anything that follows. Metal still bears some elements of this – Manilla Road would not settle into a full epic heavy metal sound until Crystal Logic. And (chronologically) in between the two, there's Mark of the Beast, which bears little resemblance to either.
  • Epic Rocking: Well, it wouldn't be epic metal without it. The longest song they've ever done is the 2014 re-recording of “All Hallows Eve”, at 15:05.
  • Filk Song: A lot. Special mention should probably got to “Defender”, based on the video game of the same name.
  • Harsh Vocals: Performed by both Shelton and Hellroadie on occasion.
  • Heavy Meta: “Metal”, “Out of Control With Rock n' Roll”, “Heavy Metal to the World”.
  • Heavy Mithril: Their usual lyrical theme, based on literature, mythology, and original stories.
  • Horrible History Metal: They've dabbled in this on occasion, such as with “Whitechapel” (about Jack the Ripper) and the last three songs on Gates of Fire.
  • I Am the Band: Shelton was the only consistent member and sole songwriter (except on The Circus Maximus).
  • Metal Band Mascot: “Smiling Jack”, the image of a grinning skull wearning a horned helmet that they often used on artwork.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Usually a 7, though their more thrash-influenced material goes up to an 8, with the majority of Out of the Abyss, The Courts of Chaos and Spiral Castle being at that level. Voyager is also mostly an 8, but parts of it (particularly “Return of the Serpent King”) go up to a 9, due to prominent death metal influences and harsher vocals. Invasion, Mark of the Beast and Metal mostly dwell in the 6 range, with the former two going down to 4/5 territory at times, and the softer songs on The Circus Maximus are also generally about a 6. They even have some acoustic pieces, like “The Fountain”, that go all the way down to a 1. Manilla Road are a diverse act, to say the least.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Manilla Road's usual sound is a fusion of classic heavy metal and US power metal, but their strong influence from the proto-metal groups of the 70's makes them sound very different from their peers in those genres. Depending on the song or album, they can also have elements of thrash metal, doom metal, progressive metal, death metal, and even psychedelic rock, space rock and folk. “Epic metal” is about the only thing that fully fits.
  • New Sound Album: Many.
    • Mark of the Beast, meant to be released in between Invasion and Metal but not seeing the light of day until 20 years later, was distinctly different from either of them, consisting mostly of lighter psychedelic rock with little metal to be found.
    • Metal saw the band easing out of the space rock and psychedelic influences of Invasion and Mark of the Beast, in favour of their heavier and better-known “epic metal” direction, a transition that was fully completed with Crystal Logic.
    • Open the Gates saw the debut of Randy Foxe on drums, who brought thrash metal elements to their sound with his faster and more dynamic drumming, and the band's playing was heavier and more technical overall. The thrash influences would get more and more prominent over the course of the 80's.
    • Out of the Abyss was a transition to almost pure thrash. The Courts of Chaos eased off on this a bit, adding more of their old epic heavy metal style back in, but was still mostly rooted in thrash.
    • The Circus Maximus was a mixed bag of styles: Shelton's songs were a slightly lighter variation on Manilla Road's signature style, Andrew Coss' were mostly keyboard-heavy hard rock with progressive elements, and Aaron Brown's were darker and thrashier.
    • Atlantis Rising added co-lead and harmony vocals from Hellroadie to compliment Shelton's singing, removed most of the thrash and returned to a more straightforward heavy metal style. Shelton's guitar solos also got longer and more improvisational, remaining this way until the end.
    • Spiral Castle was very different to anything before or since. It saw a switch to psychedelic-tinged heavy/doom metal, with twisted and dissonant elements in the riffing that bore influence from death metal, as well as some Middle Eastern influences to the melodies and the addition of death growls.
    • Gates of Fire was something of a stylistic roulette, featuring power/thrash (“Riddle of Steel”), doom metal (“Betrayal”), progressive metal (“The Fall of Iliam”), and acoustic-led pieces (“Behind the Veil” and “Epitaph to the King”).
    • Voyager had a much darker, heavier and sludgier sound than anything previously, with the death metal elements from Spiral Castle making a return and Shelton's vocals being at their harshest. It was also the only post-reunion album not to feature Hellroadie on vocals.
    • From Playground of the Damned onwards, the band returned to epic heavy/power metal, with more streamlined and catchy songwriting overall, and Hellroadie taking lead vocals more often. Within this period, The Blessed Curse stands out for its softer sound and greater emphasis on acoustic guitars.
  • Protest Song: “Merchants of Death”, which is critical of religious conflicts in general.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: “DIG! ME! NO! GRAVE!”
  • Rearrange the Song: “All Hallows Eve” appears on After the Muse in two different forms: its original 1981 rehearsal version, and a 2014 re-recording that has a different arrangement and adds another five minutes onto its length.
  • Retraux: Riddlemaster, Shelton's side project with former Manilla Road drummer Rick Fisher, which was meant to be an exploration of what the band might have sounded like if Fisher hadn't left after Crystal Logic.
  • Rock Trio: Until Atlantis Rising.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Sometimes used on their post-reunion albums, contrasting Shelton's cleaner nasal baritone with Hellroadie's rougher, lower singing and death growls.
  • The Stoner: Shelton. When asked where he had got his inspiration for the concept of Atlantis Rising from, he replied simply, “I smoke a lot of marijuana”.
  • Trope Maker: For US power metal, or at least one of them. While they never quite fit the genre fully and took influences from a lot of other styles, their epic compositions and focus on mystical atmospheres certainly proved influential to the genre's more progressive side; alongside Manowar, they were also one of the first metal bands to lean heavily on Heavy Mithril as a theme.
  • Vocal Evolution: Shelton always had the famous nasal raspiness to his voice, but it changed a lot throughout the group's career. On Invasion and Metal, he sung in a gruff and unpolished hard rock style for the most part; on Crystal Logic, he adopted a more dramatic and cleaner tone, capable of reaching higher notes. Later in the 80's, he added a harsh snarl to his reportoire, suitable for the band's more thrash-influenced direction. Upon the band's return with Atlantis Rising, his voice was noticeably deeper, though he was still capable of the higher nasal tones, and he also began to use occasional death growls. By the end of his life, he had fully deepened into a bass-baritone register, but his voice was noticeably damaged by heavy smoking and chronic laryngitis.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Shelton, Andrew Coss and Aaron Brown on The Circus Maximus; Shelton and Hellroadie on all their post-reunion albums except Voyager.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Randy Foxe was not on speaking terms with Shelton for over a decade after his removal from the band, and was more or less the only former member of Manilla Road who ended things with him acrimoniously. In recent years, however, they patched their relationship up, with Foxe sitting in on drums as a guest at several Manilla Road gigs, and playing on Behind the Demon's Eyes, the second album by Shelton's side project Hellwell.
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