Saturday 25 November 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Manilla Road - "To Kill A King"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 30/06/2017
Label: Golden Core Records (ZYX)

In summary, To Kill A King is a superb and epic metal album, forged from the finest steel.

“To Kill A King” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. To Kill A King
2. Conqueror
3. Never Again
4. The Arena
5. In the Wake
6. The Talisman
7. The Other Side
8. Castle of the Devil
9. Ghost Warriors
10. Blood Island
11. The Books of Skelos Pt. 1 (The Book of Ancients)*

The Review:

Incredibly, this is the first time this legendary band has been featured on THE SLUDGELORD, but their influence on the metal underground- trad/doom/thrash, even prog- is so great that this album simply had to be reviewed. I wanted to review this when it was released earlier in the year, but finances were tight and no promo copy made its way to SLUDGELORD HQ, so I had to wait until I had the funds to buy it. I am glad I did, as for the last week; this has been in constant rotation.

Manilla Road have been putting out records since 1979(!), barring a break for much of the 90's, and each one has been different from the last. From the trad metal of “Crystal Logic” and “Open The Gates” to the chaotic and progressive “The Deluge” to the thrashier material of “Mystification” through to the mix of metal genres that has permeated everything from “Atlantis Rising” onwards, Manilla Road are a unique band. With Mark Shelton still at the helm, Bryan Patrick's perfectly matched vocals, Neudi- a German drummer with unusual and capable technique- and Phil Ross holding down the low end, the band are tight and very focused.

Honestly, I came to the band late- I first heard “Crystal Logic” after hearing the cover of “Necropolis” by Visigoth- and then went through a few of the key albums before buying “The Blessed Curse” back in 2015. I rate that very highly indeed- I love the drum sound, love the writing, the playing and the themes. A fantastic album on every level. It was with high hopes, then, that I pressed play on “To Kill A King”.

The title track is first up and it is an epic. The sound is not dissimilar to “The Blessed Curse”- a huge bonus for me as I love the production on that one. It seems that some fans complain about Manilla Road's productions, but not me. I like albums to sound different from one another and to have quirks; it makes the music come alive a lot more. The tom sound is particularly excellent- it has real tone and depth to it. The snare is tight (maybe a piccolo?) and the cymbals are very bright and clear. The guitar has the usual distinctive Shelton tone and the bass has warmth and depth. As per recent releases, the vocals are reverb drenched and almost laid back in delivery. With Hamlet re-told in the title track the ten minute playing time flies by- lots of guitar workouts, several different sections and a few interesting production approaches (overlay of acoustic in the verses, for instance).

“Conqueror” blasts out of the speakers with a killer riff and some shredding leads early on and makes for a very direct second track. Good time changes, too. The much more melancholy “Never Again” is a great change of pace and a fine rumination on the nuclear threat. I really like this track and find it extremely catchy as well as being oddly relaxing- despite the unsettling subject matter.

“The Arena” finds the guitars mixed front and centre as bass drums roll and the none-more-metal subject matter of gladiatorial combat is brought to life through the music. This is rousing stuff and features some great harsh vocals to go with the more operatic delivery through the verses. Once again, the lead work is superb and the band is really firing on all cylinders. By the time of “In The Wake”, the pattern of the album becomes clear- the band have made a very dynamic record; epic songs, all out metal assaults, more mellow and introspective material and some serious hooks. “In The Wake” certainly features the latter and represents the more commercial side of Manilla Road; strong riffs, catchy vocals and mid tempo pacing. It is also rather melancholic as per “Never Again”.

“The Talisman” represents one of the album high points and offers up an excellent main riff and a very focused vocal performance- a fantastic track. The band take things down a few notches for the intro of “The Other Side”, but then switch to a strong central refrain and a great vocal from Bryan Patrick (please excuse me if I have confused him with Mark Shelton, but I think this is right) with evocative lyrics about visions of doom and manifest destiny this would not be out of place on any classic Sabbath album.

The final three tracks are balls to the wall heavy metal. “Castle Of The Devil has great rhythmical riffing and the bass pulls the track along superbly. As ever, you are never too far from a lead break and they are all expertly delivered. Time changes also abound, just for good measure. “Ghost Warriors” has a surprisingly catchy vocal line and the central riffs are just as memorable. The historical theme is delivered with the universal message of how glorious it can be to fight against tyranny and stand up for yourself.

By the time “Blood Island roars out of the open gate the album is close to an hour long. Truthfully, it does not feel like it to me- it just feels like an immersive listen with no one track like another. The alternating heavy track/mellow track dynamic is dispensed with in the record's final stretch, but this is fine with me- the band finish strong and go for the throat down the home straight.

Honestly, I thought was going to like this album as soon as I saw the Paulo Girardi artwork- but it has been great to hear it and really get into it. I think Manilla Road are in something of a purple patch of their career here; “The Blessed Curse” and the “Hellwel” records are great and I also really liked “Mysterium” as a straightforward metal album. In summary, To Kill A King is a superb and epic metal album, forged from the finest steel.

“To Kill A King” is available here

Band info: official || facebook