Sunday, September 30, 2012

Funebre - Cranial Torment [2012] (Compilation)

Man, I really love these compilations. Reissuing underrated albums for more exposure one thing, amassing extremely overlooked demos and EPs into single packages for gruesome, carnal delivery another. Xtreem Music has now gathered all the pre-1991 material of the Finnish cults Funebre in one case, and now, listeners can enjoy the ''Cranial Torment'', ''Demo II'' demos and the ''Brainspoon'' EP the same way they enjoyed the bands vile splash of vile that was ''Children Of The Scorn'', and what's more is that you can feel the rawness and sheer decomposed splendor of these ghastly tunes the way they were taken out of the oven, fresh but rotten, oldie but goodie.

As I said, the authentic production quality helps reinforce the notably primal disorder the album espouses, and you've got vitriolic churning of traditional decayed Finnish death metal in its most macabre and aggravated form, sticking to the path that Convulse or Purtenance took, with a heavy blend of charnel Swedish chainsaw insanity, the same way Nihilist did it in the late 80's. The amalgamation is, of course, nothing new if you've already witnessed the band's excellent full-length, but I've always considered contemplating certain band's primordial exhalations in order to compare it to their somewhat more polished released. In death metal, old school death metal, I have a strict little rule; the more crude and primitive the band gets, the closer it gets to perfection through dissonance and putrefaction. Funebre are easily one of the dominating Finnish death metal acts roaming around 1993-1988, and this temple of embryonic pain is the evidence, clearly.

Thanks to Funebre's slightly original tendencies, we can feel skull-crushing buzz-saw pressure at the same time as somnolent death/doom drudgery. Tracks vary, because the mix does not equalize them all into one single production quality, so songs from differing releases stand out with marginal qualities, and out of them all, my favorite would probably the ''Demo II'' material, which, obviously manifests the darkest and roughest peak of the band's adoration for esoteric and ephemeral horror, sending a barrage of chills down your spine as the ripping chainsaw fluctuates into a grisly slither of flesh and bones. Funebre are one of the best bands to come of the Finnish death metal scene, as already evidenced on their debut, but for furthermore proof of their crude agility, get this compilation and feed yourself all its disemboweled contents. 

''Expunging Mortalities''
''Grip Of Insanity''

Final Rating
Awesome [8.4/10]

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Incantation – Onward to Golgotha [1992]

Incantation has been one of the most consistent long-running death metal bands, releasing killer material on almost every release they’ve put out since forming way back in 1989. Their debut full length “Onward to Golgotha” is one of my personal favourite death metal albums and a total classic of the genre.

Combining a crushing guitar tone and some truly sinister riffs, some of the most guttural vocals ever achieved, interesting drumming and an atmosphere blacker than the Guinness I’m drinking as I write this review, Incantation created a truly evil and cavernous sound that many have since tried to top. Only few bands have come close to achieving such a feat.

The writing on this album is absolutely top-notch. While the songs do follow a similar formula, each one still manages to have its own flavour and fair share of decent riffs. There are moments that will cause your head to bang uncontrollably and moments that will suffocate you in total darkness. Incantation’s formula has always been to suck you in with infectious riffs and then hammer your skull in with that bone crushing bottom end.

Songs like “Devoured Death”, “Unholy Massacre”, “Christening the Afterbirth” and “Profanation” will stick in your head and destroy you from the inside out. It’s a shame that this particular line-up never recorded another Incantation album, as what they achieved here was truly something special. Old-school death metal perfection, if you ask me.

Devoured Death
Unholy Massacre
Christening the Afterbirth

Final Rating: 10/10 Legendary

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Manilla Road - Out of the Abyss [1988]

If someone were to listen to Manilla Road's pre-2000 output, they would more than likely notice that there was a constant changing in the band's sound, yet Shelton always retained a signature style that immediately let the listener know that they were in for a Manilla Road album. This listener might also notice that the changes in sounds came in pairs. The first two records clung to a proto-metal sound, while "Crystal Logic" and "Open the Gates" would go on to become masterpieces of the heavy metal genre, and the latter two albums "The Deluge" and "Mystification" would inject a healthy amount of thrash into the epic sound. Enter the band's seventh studio album and once again, there is an obvious shift in sound. "Out of the Abyss" is easily the darkest output for the band to date, conjuring up wicked sounds similar to groups like Iron Cross, Satan's Host, Metal Church, etc. 

There are a couple of reasons why "Out of the Abyss" has a much darker edge to the sound, but the main reason is once again, the absolute genius of Mark Shelton. Whether he's using sinister sounding and mysterious clean guitar sections ("Return of the Old Ones") or a much more insane vocal style with gruesome lyrics ("Whitechapel"), the music is undoubtedly more evil than it's been before. It would be a stretch to say that the Shark's vocals improved, but they definitely take on different forms throughout these nine tracks. The man sounds fucking deranged on the opener "Whitechapel" as his vocals perfectly convey the insanity of the man who the song is about (Jack the Ripper). "Rites of Blood" is another track that follows the precedent set by the album-opener, as the palm-muted riffs, catchy basslines and vocals all contribute to a more diabolical sound. Songs like "Black Cauldron" and "Midnight Meat Train" have a similar thrashing vibe to them that songs on the previous records have, and it wouldn't be much of a shock to see fans of tunes like "Masque of Red Death" and "Divine Victim" thoroughly enjoy these tracks. 

Of course, Manilla Road is a heavy metal band, and what kind of album would "Out of the Abyss" be without some epic songs that hearken back to the days of "Dreams of Eschaton" and "The Ninth Wave?" "War in Heaven" features the familiar clean guitar passages that serve as the perfect backdrop for Shelton's vocals that sing of battles between deities, before the song eventually turns into a distortion-laden one filled with incredible solos and faster riffs. The album closer "Helicon" is a stellar track to say the least, and one of my all-time favorite Manilla Road songs. Mark has one of his best vocal performances on this song, and every other part of the music followed suit to deliver a heavy metal classic. While I don't enjoy "Out of the Abyss" as much as the few albums before it, this record is still an enjoyable listen with some decent to amazing songs, that would only add to the band's legacy as one of America's premier metal bands. 

"War in Heaven"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.5/10]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Conqueror - War. Cult. Supremacy. [1999]

Your old mate Vagabond has been a bit busy with actual real life recently, so I haven't had much time to contribute to Nightmare Reality. With that being said, I've decided to transfer over some of the reviews I wrote last year for my "Arisen From The Crypt" monthly special which I stopped doing once I started doing old-school reviews on here....

Conqueror formed way back in 1992 and featured J. Read (Blood Revolt, Revenge, Black Witchery, Axis of Advance, Cremation, Kerasphorus, Arkhon Infaustus) on drums and vocals and R. Förster (Blasphemy, Domini Inferi, Revenge, Godless North) on the axe.

They played the most unrelenting war metal ever recorded. Constant blast beats, insane vocals that make your average black metal vocalist sound like Madonna and extremely fast distorted riffs all over the place are what to expect here, although it’s best to go into a release like this with no expectations, because whatever you’re expecting will be wrong.

In all honesty, this is the most savage album I have ever laid ears on. Most people who listen to “War. Cult. Supremacy.” will hear nothing but mush and noise, but the ones who actually “get it” will hear complete, utter primitivism and barbarity. This release is an audio war against humanity. No one is safe.

I have no other words for this. Get your hands on this any way you can and prepare to have your perspective on “music” changed forever.

The whole thing.

Final Rating: Legendary [10/10]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Snyper - Manifestations [1988] (Demo)

Introducing Snyper, a carnal and highly overlooked British thrash assault. For many people, these UK thrashers are just another addition to a growing old school thrash demo collection, but for me, or any other thrash-obsessed metalhead, it's simply a marvel of the Internet. There are many reasons why this five-piece never made to the grand league, and probably the most crucial ones is that they were from the UK, which, although mustered a fair amount of convincing thrash acts including my favorite Xentrix, never actually got the attention or support they required, and the second one, is an even more obvious reason; the band could only spew forth a handful of short demos and a split with numerous English thrash vandals, and so, here is their premier demo, ''Manifestations''; where is all began, in a way.

Snyper's style was probably renowned and copied countless times before it was even released, so yeah, in terms originality, Snyper scarcely stands out. I suppose we can call it an estranged mingle of semi-technical thrash with raw Bay Area elements and a few speed/thrash twists here and there, and the reason I can't quite describe the style of this demo is that it consisted of only one damn song, which pretty much erases the hope of a long paean emerging out of nowhere. The sole ephemeral track ''Manifestations'' can nonetheless boast a fair measure of energy, and besides espousing this sort of dark undertone to go with raw projection of riffs, Snyper has a burden of happy, almost ecstatic melodies springing out of nowhere, and a vile sound that I can relate to Mercful Fate with bits and pieces of Venom and Bathory. No, this isn't black/thrash, but the vocals can deliver harsh and ruinous growls, which makes it sound as if a madmen of a surgeon were plucking out bits of your intestines with a blunt scalpel while you're still conscious. Yep, scary shit.

Snyper's beginnings were humble, but the band showed proficiency, and they were apt to improve, but that never happened, unfortunately. Their augmenting potential was probably obliterated somewhere in the early to mid 90's after they released their final demo ''Something Illusionary''. I don't think even most die-hard thrash fan will become deliriously addicted to this demo, or any of Snyper's material for that matter, but giving this demo a spin every now and then for the sake of its some what evil and spurious contents can never result badly, and what's more, is that Snyper's arsenal has just begun to expose its frivolous afflictions, so be warned, for the band's best is yet to come.


Final Rating
Mediocre [7.7/10]

Snyper - Obituary [1988] (Demo)

For a demo being released in the same year as the previous and somewhat immature installment ''Manifestations'', UK hit n' run thrashers certainly stepped up their game up by a good pace. Not only does Snyper ameliorate the material on the previous demo to form a robuster demo, but ''Obituary'' also stands out with its dexterous approach, its leaps and frivolous excursions, all building up into a single fifteen minute demo of three songs - possibly the best the UK thrashers will ever conjure. Seriously, you can never go wrong with such vigorous splashes in the face like this, and with a itsee bitsee bit of experimentation, Snyper are in the top of their game.

The ''experimentation'' I'm talking about here is lucidly not any major change in the bands style, and in fact, it would be wrong to actually call it an experimentation, but the thing is, on ''Obituary'', Snyper adorn the bloodthirsty thrash craze with fragments of queer twists, which, probably belongs to the same kind of ecstatic  diversity on the previous demo, only more embraced. First off, there demo has a far crisper and cleaner production than ''Manifestations'', and second, with the improved clarity and crunch, the riffs sound better executed, not to mention better penned. The band has obviously grown fonder of tremolos and brusque plods of melody entwining with carnal, raw chops and speed/thrash ruptures, and they utilize these blithe melodies to congeal with the tremolos, forming a solid hooking line of strident narrating riffs.

The vocals have stayed pretty much the same, which is something that I'm very glad about; they're still ghastly and throaty, the way I like it. This time, however, the importance of the vocals have increased. With the band sticking to the primal hostility that they had fancied quite a bit on the previous demo, the vocals become an essential part of the savagery department, emanating the raw insanity throughout the veins of the riff patterns and ultimately, pervading the primal energy. You're bound to have boisterous headbanging time whilst you listen to this, and moreover, this demo deserves accolades for having such a primitive and brisk feel to it, quite literally topping a good number of its fellow peers and countrymen during that time. My only complaint was that it was far too brief, as with all the band's demos, to fully enjoy, but hell, I still like it a lot.

Sacred Blade

Deathright At Sunset

Final Rating
Awesome [8.3/10]

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Manilla Road - Mystification [1987]

Talk about being productive. Mark Shelton and the rest of his musical entourage continued to hammer out one awesome album after another, year after year. After releasing another terrific release in "The Deluge," it would come time to hit the grind once again, and the result was Manilla Road's six full-length "Mystification," an epic record that carried on where the previous full-length left off. To be honest, there isn't much of a difference as far as the overall sound is concerned between this album and "The Deluge," as both boast thrashy riffs that make the bulk of the rhythms which serve as the ideal backdrop for Shelton's constantly improving vocals and every fantasy-riddle theme that he could conjure up. 

Once the first song bursts through the speakers (or whatever you use to listen to your music) there's a huge sense of deja vu, as "Haunted Palace" kicks off with basic chords and intense drumming that reminds one of the opening song from "The Deluge," "Dementia" which has an almost exact same sound. The similarities do not stop there, though, as "Spirits of the Dead" blends clean passages and thrashy riffs perfectly to create a very memorable song (Something that this band doesn't lack whatsoever). The title track is another stellar song that takes the listener on a fun ride that starts with the oh-so familiar clean guitar passage and Shelton's instantly recognizable, nasally vocals that are very pleasant sounding on the ears, before it escalates into some thrashier riffs and solos galore. "Valley of Unrest," "Masque of Red Death," and "Death By the Hammer" are all songs that could easily be described as thrash songs, but of course with the signature Manilla Road flavor, which makes the songs much more multi-dimensional as opposed to just another thrashy song. 

To keep things simple, this album is almost "The Deluge" part II with different lyrical themes and different riffs, but the same spirit and structuring are present. I don't mean this in a negative way, because these guys could have kept releasing material that was just a re-hash of what they did before and I probably would still love it. But all of these songs are worth listening to, and some of them I would consider Manilla Road classics. If you're a fan of "The Deluge," or any of the band's earlier metal records, then "Mystification" is a record that should find no problem joining your collection, as this is epic thrashing metal in top form. 

"Spirits of the Dead"
"Masque of Red Death"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.7/10]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Burial – Relinquished Souls [1993]

Burial is an obscure Dutch death metal band that formed in ’91 and proceeded to release one demo and one album then, due to issues with their drummer, disbanded in 1993. Apparently the band was resurrected a few years ago.
Burial were very obviously influenced by the early works of two specific American death metal bands: Massacre and Death. There is no denying that this whole album reeks of fanatic worship of these two legendary Floridian acts. So, given that most of you will be familiar with these two bands, you should already have a good idea what to expect; technical yet powerful and catchy headbanging riffs, precise drumming, fast, thrashing tempos, complex song structures and aggressive vocals that could give Kam Lee a run for his money.
After hearing the killer opening track “The Second Coming”, the listener instantly knows what they’re in for and it’s one hell of a bloody ride! Along with the previously mentioned Massacre and Death influence, you’ll also find fleshripping thrashing moments that bring to mind old-school “brutal” thrash bands such as Demolition Hammer and Morbid Saint, which should definitely keep the average old-schooler entertained!
The real highlight of “Relinquished Souls” lies in the guitar playing. The riffs are complex but still catchy and nearly every song has multiple solos. The bass, drums and vocals are all great but the two guitarists really on a whole other level. It really is a shame that this band only released one demo and album before fading into obscurity, as I would love to know how they would have progressed over time.

"Abhorence Within"
"Frigid Cold"

Final Rating: Awesome [8.5/10]

If you’re a fan of old-school early 90’s death metal, I would highly recommend picking up the reissue of this album through Memento Mori Records.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Manilla Road - The Deluge [1986]

There was a clear evolution in Manilla Road's sound that was first evidenced when their masterpiece "Crystal Logic" hit the metal underground, and they would follow it up with an equally amazing record in "Open the Gates," and only a year later they would release their fifth full-length in "The Deluge." Much like the albums that preceded this record, there was still an ongoing evolution to the band's sound and if you recognize the year this record was released then it should come to no surprise that "The Deluge" embraced the rapidly rising aesthetics of the thrash subgenre to essentially deliver an awesome album that carried on the epic style from its predecessors while injecting a sizable dose of thrashy goodness, without forsaking any of the tenets of what made Manilla Road's earlier output so damn good. It would definitely be a stretch to consider this material thrash, but more along the lines of what the early US power metal bands (Omen, Jag Panzer, Attacker, etc) were doing, incorporating fantasy-themed lyrics with faster and heavier riffs than typical heavy metal bands. 

Much like "Open the Gates," Randy "Thrasher" Foxe lived up to his nickname again on "The Deluge." The opening track "Dementia" immediately showcases the man's intense and sporadic drumming which contributed greatly to Manilla Road's faster and heavier sound. Shelton also took pleasure in kicking the tempo up a notch, delivering thrashy riff after riff. One of the band's most memorable songs "Divine Victim" has upbeat riffs that are incredibly catchy, almost reminiscent of thrash acts like Anthrax or (early) Overkill, not to mention one of Shelton's best solos (and this man has a lot of 'em). "Taken By Storm" doesn't have any complicated structures or span 7-8 minutes, but its the perfect example of what Manilla Road accomplished with this album; it consists of mainly midpaced to fast riffs, yet it still retains the epic vibe that songs like "Witches Brew" or "Crystal Logic" had. "Hammer of the Witches" also proves to be one of Shelton's heaviest tunes yet, featuring crushing riffs and a stellar chorus that shouts "Burn them all!" in his signature voice, which proves to be just as strong as ever, even showing slight improvements from "Open the Gates."

And how could there be a Manilla Road album without a ton of solos and clean interludes? "Shadows in the Black" features Shelton's more soothing vocal stylings over the clean guitar before it eventually turns into another thrashy onslaught, while "Isle of the Dead" uses the clean guitar tone for a more sinister atmosphere that conveys the title of the track tremendously. Then there's the brilliant title track that lives up to the epic songs that came before it, as Shelton conjured up some jaw-dropping solos, magnificent vocals and plenty of memorable riffs that were executed flawlessly. The album closer "Rest in Pieces" is a wicked shredding piece that only furthers Shelton's legacy as a god with the guitar. While "The Deluge" is a notch or two below "Crystal Logic" and "Open the Gates," its still an incredible record worth the time of any Manilla Road fan, and it ranks up there with some of the best metal records released in 1986. 

"Divine Victim"
"Hammer of the Witches"
"The Deluge"

Final Rating
Damn Close To A Masterpiece [8.9/10]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Manilla Road - Open the Gates [1985]

I cannot even fathom how difficult it must have been for Mark Shelton to top his previous masterpiece "Crystal Logic," a near flawless album that really defined Manilla Road's epic sound, but it was probably just another day at the office for the band when they crafted this very worthy follow-up in "Open the Gates." This record may not be universally recognized as amazing as its predecessor, but for myself, this album is right up there with "Crystal Logic." In fact, its a regular battle to decide which album I prefer with one being the favorite for one week and the other being my favorite the next. As amazing as the band was on the previous full-length, the effort and results on "Open the Gates" is just as phenomenal, as the epic factor would be kicked up a notch, while also making sure the shorter material was equally brilliant and memorable. 

Since this record came after "Crystal Logic," its only natural for there to be some similarities between the two albums. Both "Road of Kings" and "Witches Brew" provide the catchy headbanging tracks that compliment the more epic material perfectly (like "The Ram" and "Necropolis" did for the album before), as the songs have memorable riffs, vocal passages, drumming, solos and everything in between to create a couple of raging tunes, with the latter song being a Manilla Road classic. "Astronomica" serves a similar purpose as the title track to the previous full-length did, as it perfectly blends catchy riffs with an instantly memorable chorus and plenty of goosebump-inducing moments. "The Fires of Mars" is the answer to "The Veils of Negative Existence," with its haunting, yet beautiful aura. This song is also the proud owner of one of the greatest guitar solos in the known universe as Shelton wails away on his guitar like never before. And much like the previous effort, there are the songs that don't quite measure up to the others (and keep the record from being flawless) but remain a joy to listen to nonetheless in "Metalstrom," "Open the Gates" and "Heavy Metal to the World."

"Open the Gates" isn't an attempt at re-writing "Crystal Logic," though, despite the parallels I've drawn between the two. The music on here has an even more epic feel to the songs and part of that reason is because Shelton's vastly improved vocals that suit the style incredibly well. His singing on "Astronomica" is one of the reasons why I consider the song to be a timeless one, because it exemplifies what has always been the band's greatest strength, and that is Shelton's talent for making every part of the music, whether its the vocals, riffs or drumming (which also significantly improved here), flow together excellently. "The Ninth Wave" is another stunning song that was forged in the same vein as tracks like "The Empire" and "Dreams of Eschaton," only its a little more progressive, but a fucking terrific song regardless. Manilla Road definitely raised the bar for heavy metal with this mind-blowing release and it cemented the band's legacy as one of the premier American heavy metal bands. If you're a fan of the albums that came before this one, or even after then you shouldn't even think twice about listening to this masterpiece. 

"The Ninth Wave"
"The Fires of Mars"
"Witches Brew"

Final Rating
Masterpiece [9.6/10]

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Manilla Road - Crystal Logic [1983]

With two albums under Mark Shelton's belt, it came time to continue Manilla Road's ascent to greater heights with the ushering in of a different and improved sound, and "Crystal Logic" is the vehicle for this advancement of the band's music (and career). After debuting with the awesome "Invasion" and then failing to follow up with another solid release ("Metal"), the Kansas group unleashed arguably their greatest collection of music, taking their proto-metal tendencies from the first two records and morphing them into an epic heavy metal masterpiece. The change in the overall sound for the band was so massive that the drummer at the time left the band because of it, but that's his loss because this is an album that is sure to go down in legend as a magnum opus of the epic heavy metal genre, especially for the Americans who were busy with the glam scene, punk and the spawning of the thrash genre. 

"Crystal Logic" is the execution of the hints of brilliance that were present on "Invasion." The epic "The Empire" from the debut showed what the band was capable of delivering, but not until their third effort, did Mark "The Shark" Shelton and company finally achieve the grandiose, yet entirely catchy sound that avoided Manilla Road on "Metal." The absence of catchy and memorable riffs on the previous full-length proved to be no concern on this album, as this album is a total riff-fest. "Necropolis" is an absolute classic, not only of Manilla Road's catalog, but of the entire genre, as the upbeat, near thrashy riffs keep the listener captivated throughout, while Shelton's trademark nasally-rasp vocals bounce along and create incredible moments like the ever-memorable chorus that screams three simple words repeatedly "Lost in Necropolis!" And the title track is no different as it features headbanging riffs that weave in and out of the ever changing tempo perfectly and much like "Necropolis," there's hardly any chance that anyone can listen to this track just once. 

Of course, the real epic here is the album-closer "Dreams of Eschaton," a masterful song that spans twelve minutes, but retains an amazing level of replay value. Its definitely not everyday that I can listen to a song this long over and over, but Manilla Road is that damn good when it come to creating this type of music. Other songs like "The Ram" and "The Veils of Negative Existence" are terrific as well, as they feature even more fragments of the band's sound. The former track is a catchy headbanger while the latter is almost doomy at times as it slays the listener with its melancholic riffs and lyrics("I will never put my sword down, I will never run away!"). I can't bring myself to utter a single sleight against "Crystal Logic," and had "Feeling Free Again" and "The Riddle Master" been on par with the other classics here, this record would be absolutely perfect, but being damn-near perfect isn't too bad either. It's obvious that this was the release that marked the beginning of something truly special for the band, and nearly thirty years later this album is still a pinnacle of heavy metal, and it will be thirty years from now too. 

"Crystal Logic"
"The Veils of Negative Existence"
"Dreams of Eschaton"

Final Rating
Masterpiece [9.6/10]

Friday, September 7, 2012

Manilla Road - Metal [1982]

When you choose the name "Metal" for the title of your new record, that implies a couple of things. The main thing that it implies is that the music found on this album should be heavy metal, but the music on Manilla Road's sophomore full-length is still very proto-metal, embracing the same sound that the previous album had, only Shelton and the gang decided to strip the music of its epic qualities and release shorter songs that had more of a "metal" resemblance. This turned out to be a horrible idea that saw the group fall into the "sophomore slump" as this is easily the most mediocre and forgettable album in the band's (Pre-2000) discography. 

Manilla Road's previous full-length "Invasion" was a terrific starting point that showed glimpses of what the band would accomplish in the future, while "Metal" is an album that should not have been released in the form it was, because there are definitely some moments where the band showed they were ready to take their sound to that next level, but for the most part the execution of that ideal sound was nowhere to be heard. "Queen of the Black Coast" is one of the two solid tracks on this album that is worth listening to, as mostly everything clicked on this song. Mark's ability to create music that flows together smoothly was nearly absent on this record, but on this particular song the riffs are rockin' and his vocals are tremendous. And much like the album that came before, the closing track "Cage of Mirrors" is an epic full of acceptable riffs, solos, and compelling vocals that bring a darker edge to the song, something new and fresh for the band. 

That's really where the praise for "Metal" stops, though. The other songs are far too forgettable to even try and re-listen to over and over hoping for them to suddenly grow on me. The songs started to get shorter, something that I have no problem with, but the music lacked anything memorable. The riffs all maintained an amount of rock attitude and fervor, but they don't seem to stick. In fact, I found the bassist's performance to be more acceptable because I can remember the basslines and fills more than the riffs (something that should not be happening). And of course, there's the incredibly misleading title track. While the lyrics are something that any proud metal fan should enjoy, the music is boring and played on a clean guitar (ironic?). This is an album that I probably won't actively seek out for quite a while, especially when the two songs worth listening to aren't even that great when compared to much better material produced later on in the band's career.

"Queen of the Black Coast"
"Cage of Mirrors"

Final Rating
Mediocre [7.2/10]

Manilla Road - Invasion [1980]

This is the album that started what was to become an incredible catalog of epic metal at its absolute finest, and it wasn't even a heavy metal album. Still, "Invasion," is well worth the time for fans of Manilla Road's other work, as there are plenty of seedlings for what Mark Shelton and (various different) company would later produce in their career. The six tracks on this record could all be considered proto-metal, as the music isn't too different from what bands like Heavy Load, Legend, Rainbow, etc were doing in the late '70s and early '80s, taking the rock n' roll attitude (and some riffs) as well and blending them with a heavier kind of sound. There are also some bits and pieces taken from the psychedelic bands of the time that could be plucked out of certain parts of the songs, but not enough to consider Manilla Road a psychedelic, flower-power band, because these guys were creating music about war games and mighty empires with songs that featured long, intricate compositions and an epic feel that would stick with the band for decades. 

Aside from the ballad "Centurian War Games," the songs on "Invasion" clock in from five minutes up to thirteen minutes, leaving plenty of room for the Kansas metalheads to leave an impression. There are familiar aspects in just about all of the songs in that they feature Shelton's unique vocal stylings, scores of solos, rockin' riffs and plenty of catchy moments to keep the listener enthralled. The thirteen minute opus "The Empire" is an essential listen for fans of Manilla Road or the epic style in general, as this track set the bar for the longer and more grand style of songs that the band would create later on. Mark Shelton's ability to craft music that flows together perfectly is displayed throughout the album, from the opening "The Dream Goes On," which blends traditional galloping riffage with vibrant rock n' roll styled hooks, to the aforementioned album closer that shifts effortlessly between soothing clean guitars and distorted, uptempo riffs. "Cat and Mouse" is an absolute solo-fest that has probably had many old-timers whipping out their air-guitars, while "Street Jammer" is a fun tune more along the rock n' roll side as evidenced by the riffs. 

"Invasion" is not the defining album for the prolific Manilla Road, but it was a great starting point for the band and their ever-evolving sound. Having the convenience of being able to listen to this group's latter music and then being able to come back to this record has allowed me to appreciate this one a bit more, because the overall sound of the music is obviously different, but the spirit of the music and the same fantasy-riddled atmosphere is present, having never left the fold from song after song and album after album. This album may not be one that strikes the listener upon the first listen simply because of how different the music is and it isn't necessarily "metal," but after giving it a few spins and letting the music digest, I would find it hard to believe that fans of "Crystal Logic" or "Open the Gates" cannot appreciate this record. 

"Far Side of the Sun"
"Street Jammer"
"The Empire"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.4/10]