May 4, 2021

I’m sure everyone out there is aware of the prolific American heavy metal band Manilla Road that was formed in 1977 by Mark Shelton (vocals/guitar) and Scott Park (bass guitar) and which went on to release 18 albums of hard rock to varying levels of success. The bands beginnings saw them developing from a progressive/space rock outfit towards more mainstream hard rock culminating in the obviously titled Metal album in 1982. A feature of the band was their favoured fantasy themes based around ancient myth and legend and classic sci-fantasy. The band went through quite a few ups and downs including plenty of directional arguments which led to numerous changes in line-up and some quite distinct periods in their history. Co-founder Park left in the early/mid-’90s with Shelton continuing with the band’s popularity waxing and waning according to the prevailing musical tastes of the time. However, it all came to an end in 2018 after the death of Mark Shelton and a glorious helter skelter band career was over but, in the best of traditions, the music lives on and keeps finding generations of new listeners. We now come to the two vinyl re-issues by High Roller Records which are available in limited coloured editions of 500 for each album with both being mastered for vinyl by Patrick W. Engel at Temple Of Disharmony.

The Courts Of Chaos originally was released in 1990 with the album always regarded as a difficult record to produce with the band on the verge of implosion and is not considered as a classic by the band but is still a fine album for all that. Indeed, the tensions within the band seem to have been transferred into the music so you have the band playing with an anger and passion that gives the music a real and palpable vital edge. Mark Shelton is on fine form with his manic vocals and delivers his lyrics with true aggression and his guitar playing is equally in your face and frenetic. Scott Park and Randy Foxe pound the living daylights out of bass and drums respectively making this a truly heavy album even with the exquisitely lush and all enveloping keyboards of Foxe. The album was also noteworthy for the track D.O.A. which is a Bloodrock cover and the only cover ever committed to vinyl or CD by the band. Strangely, this vinyl version is missing the last track, the 8-minute The Books Of Skelos which makes no real sense and almost negates any reason for releasing the album. Although, if you are a fan then you will probably buy the vinyl for posterity whilst still listening to your CD version but it just seems a very strange and bizarre omission.

Spiral Castle was originally released in 2002, some 12 years after The Courts Of Chaos, but there had been little band activity in between with just The Circus Maximus coming out in 1992 which was a Mark Shelton solo project but released under the Manilla Road name to help boost sales and Atlantis Rising in 2001.

Shelton has since confirmed that a number of the songs on Spiral Castle were originally written in the mid-’90s and resurrected for use after Atlantis Rising but needed quite a lot or re-work to accommodate the addition of Bryan Patrick on vocals alongside Shelton. The album is most certainly heavier with the new musicians helping to contribute a new sound to the band but all within the Manilla Road remit and how could the band be anything other with the distinctive vocals of Shelton leading the band? The album has more guitar and less keyboards than The Courts Of Chaos but they both stand comfortably side by side as valid and excellent entries in the band discography even if they are not given the accolades of the earlier material. If you have ever wondered about the guitar prowess of Mark Shelton then simply listen to the amazing Merchants Of Death and be amazed at his stunning and emotion filled playing. This new version features the bonus track Throne Of Lies which was originally intended to be on the original album but was ultimately left off which is a nice touch.

If you love vinyl then you should make a grab for these two fine albums and if Manilla Road have passed you by then they are good places to start your education as the band does deserve a place at rock’s high table.

The Courts Of Chaos track listSpiral Castle track list
Road to Chaos (4:44)Gateway to the Sphere (2:30)
Dig Me No Grave (4:21)Spiral Castle (8:27)
D.O.A. (7:02)Shadow (4:23)
Into the Courts of Chaos (5:23)Seven Trumpets (5:19)
From Beyond (5:05)Throne Of Lies (bonus track) (6:28)
A Touch of Madness (7:03)Merchants Of Death (10:53)
(Vlad) The Impaler (3:27)Born Upon The Soul (7:18)
The Prophecy (7:01)Sands of Time (7:40)

LINE UP:

Mark Shelton – Guitars, VocalsMark Shelton – Guitars, Vocals
Scott Park – BassMark Anderson – Bass
Randy Foxe – Drums, KeyboardsScott Peters – Drums
Bryan Patrick – Vocals
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