Manilla Road – Out of the Abyss re-issued

manilla_road-out_of_the_abyss

Shadow Kingdom Records will reissue the seventh album from Wichita, Kansas, band Manilla Road, entitled Out of the Abyss on January 13, 2015. Originally release in 1988, this album shows the band in both fully-developed and archetypal form.

Death metal fans coming late to this album may note how it is a prime example of how to do everything right and end up wrong. Manilla Road write speed metal in the style of Judas Priest crossed with the post-Slayer high-speed riffing of bands like Atrophy. They do so with precision picking, a good knowledge of harmony and rhythm, and yet make completely boring music.

Part of reason for this boredom emerges from the style itself. This type of late speed metal emphasizes breaking songs into discrete modules composed of riffs, following the NWOBHM style, but they break rhythm between those which allows little buildup. Instead, it is a series of right angles. Further, in another NWOBHM influence, these riffs are fundamentally static in that they center around a chord and use fills composed of that chord or a matching scale, but do not develop melodically within the riff; as in rock, that is reserved for the vocals. The result feels a lot like a series of riffs in a verse-chorus pattern with a tangent 2/3 of the way through, guided along by vocals. It does not achieve the structural intensity of death metal.

With that being said, it is clear why many bands hail Manilla Road as an influence. Crisp and exact playing gives these riffs a militant technological sound, and whether from this influence or another bands like Deceased, Voivod, DBC and Obliveon have put this technique to good use. Subtle rhythms abound in addition to the obvious toe-tapping speed metal choruses and lead guitar, while very much entrenched in the domain of rock-style soloing, provides an example of technical excellence within that domain. Vocals sound like a more devious Rob Halford. All of these contribute to the power of this release, but it remains enmired in the binary riffing and somewhat static riffs of the speed metal days which were thankfully left behind during the transition to death metal.

This re-issue will give a new generation of metalheads a chance to appreciate the technical ability of this band and the compositional issues raised by this style. For example, should metal go the rock route of static riffs and build on that in the style of mid-period Judas Priest, or should it follow more of the death metal style of phrasal riffs and flexible song structures? Guitarists will enjoy the challenge of playing these riffs at speed and still making the change, and classic metal fans will delight in the whole package. Out of the Abyss does everything right to hit its target, but for those of us who are post-80s, it may be the wrong target.

  1. Whitechapel
  2. Rites of Blood
  3. Out of the Abyss
  4. Return of the Old Ones
  5. Black Cauldron
  6. Midnight Meat Train
  7. War in Heaven
  8. Slaughterhouse
  9. Helicon

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11 thoughts on “Manilla Road – Out of the Abyss re-issued”

  1. Graham Chapman says:

    What does the site think of early Manilla Road? This album is crappy, I’ll give you that, but there’s brilliance in the their 83-86 stuff.

    1. Richard Head says:

      Crystal Logic is the only album of theirs that I have. Flaming Metal System rocks so hard that I am not legally permitted to listen to it while driving.

      1. trystero says:

        Funny you mention that, Flaming Metal System is actually only on the 2000 reissue of the album (as far as I know), but I personally feel its an essential addition.

        This is a good review of not just this album but later Manilla Road in general, however it should not dissuade people from Crystal Logic. It doesnt have the strengths mentioned in this review. Comparative to later output its pretty clumsy, the precision attack mentioned here is not evident. Some of it sounds like a straight rip from a couple of nwobhm bands too. The qualities that make this album special is one; the unique (and slightly idiosyncratic) melodic sense, particularly in lead guitar. Its very uh… un-American? Two, the sheer earnestness of the damn thing. If you tend to cringe at heavy metal artifacts of the early days then its not for you.

        1. Richard Head says:

          I didn’t know that, evidently I got ahold of the reissue. Which is fine, since it doesn’t sound like a remaster (or if it is then it sounds good).

          I do hear what you’re talking about with the “clumsiness”. The playing (not the singing) on the album sounds very punk-ish in a way. Not that the guys didn’t care that they were playing like shit, more like they were focused on keeping the energy flowing throughout each song rather than precision and uniform technique.

  2. Lord Mosher says:

    Crystal Logic remains their best album and Open the Gates comes close in second place.
    .
    Speaking of heavy metal bands, I was recently sursprised by Tokyo Blade´s – Ain’t Misbehavin’ of 1987. This is albums demonstrates how to write a heavy metal album within the format of hard rock riffs instead of the other way around as many melodic death metal and power metal bands do.
    .
    Tokyo Blade´s – Ain’t Misbehavin’ presents a collage of hard rock riffs out of which a sense of heavy metal wonder emanates as a resolution. Just like early black metal did, something emanates out of the chaos that happens to be more than the sum of its simple parts. Any opinions?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWg49vLeO30

    1. Tralf says:

      Is this a troll? This band is a glorified dokken with an extra helping of cocks up the ass

  3. Richard Head says:

    Great review, best I’ve read in a while. The way of describing the sonic engineering of the songs as in the third paragraph is excellent, gives me a very clear idea of the drawbacks and benefits of the style. Much appreciated.

  4. yoyo says:

    Manilla Road are “the” cult band to shower with praise these days, along with maybe Cirith Ungol, and I just don’t get it. There’s literally no reason not to just listen to a 70s Judas Priest album instead. Maybe it’s just that everybody takes Priest, Maiden, etc for granted now (even though JP’s 70s records PERFECTED traditional metal), and all these dodgier later groups have more of an “indie” down home appeal. Whatever…

    1. Celtic Frosted Flakes says:

      Well, I’ll agree that Priest and Maiden are kinda taken for granted these day and that a lot of people just listen to bands like Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol due to some sort of obscurity bias. However, I believe that there’s much more to these bands than their amateur flavor or their relative obscurity. As Mr Van der Pol points out, they do have a very rock oriented take on heavy metal, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In a sense Judas Priest and Black Sabbath (as well as all the great 70s prog bands) had a very rock vision to what they were doing but that does not mean that they were churning out dumb hard rock. To illustrate my point, I’ll refer you to albums like Sad Wings of Destiny and Master of Reality. In other words, it’s not the rock that is lacking as a means of expression, but instead the artists and people who perceive it as a formula and lack inspiration and creativity.

      So to finally get to my point, in my opinion, bands like Manilla Road represent an alternate path to that of death metal. For that reason, Out of the Abyss is not a bad album because it’s typical Manilla Road, but because it’s Manilla Road trying to play like a thrash band of that time (speed metal, as they call it in these parts). This tendency begins in The Deluge album, so if you want quality fantasy themed heavy metal heed to Lord Mosher and go for Crystal Logic and Open the Gates. (personally I’m also a fan of their Metal album, which might indeed be a bit too rock for most DMU people) Moreover, I’d say that even though Manilla Road stray only slightly from the verse-chorus tradition, they do bring a sort of narrative ambition to the genre, which even though they are not always entirely successful at is a great aspiration to have.

  5. trystero says:

    As far as the question raised in the last paragraph is concerned. Riff -> Riff is the essence of metal I think. It is the basic genetic difference between it and its rock origin. So metal should never really be JUST static riffs, but I think it can accomodate both the Priest and death metal extremes without any kind of compromise.

  6. Anthony says:

    I dig this Manilla Road album. It’s kind of at the fringe edge of ’70s/’80s heavy metal, as far as that style can go before it jumps into extreme metal territory. I’d compare it to ’80s Fates Warning in that regard. “Black Cauldron” in particular toes the line between blues-based stuff and Wagnerian leitmotify stuff.

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