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"