Manilla Road‘s unreleased “Mark of the Beast” album, recorded between Invasion and Metal, has been pressed to CD and LP by High Roller Records as Dreams of Eschaton. This is the highest fidelity version yet, pressed from a collector’s tape that originated from Mark Shelton himself as detailed on the Nuclear War Now! forum:
Great Death Metal, through its boundless courage, developed an uncanny ability to plunge listeners into a subterranean labyrinth, revealing the philosophical impetus that stimulated the development of the genre itself. Black metal is slightly inverted, wherein the meandering melodic and thematic developments reveal an adventurous spirit and a desire to plunge into and discover the majesty of the infinite. Indeed, although each genre is somewhat complimentary there is a stark philosophical difference that characterizes each, where Death Metal revels amongst the catacombs and forces listeners to re-evaluate life in the face of their impending doom, Black Metal having stared long enough into the abyss and having emerged from the catacombs seeks glory amongst the stars, and in so doing provides listeners with a glimpse into what once was, and must be again.
Minas Morgul is a testament to this very spirit. Individually meandering, soaring and delicate melodic phrases weave around one another, periodically converging and thus creating a breathtakingly lucid and organically familiar polyphonic structure. What the listener will find most striking is the way each melodic motif develops according to its own internal logic while simultaneously complimenting and augmenting the presentation and development of concurrent melodic lines, which themselves develop according to their own internal logic. Here the infinite abounds as listeners bear witness to the expert use of polyphony, with each rung in the ethereal melodic hierarchy subtly altering the emotional experience of the listener through its capacity for slight differentiation.
The individual melodic motifs themselves are more robust and less restrained than the cryptic sense of melody that characterized say early Darkthrone. However therein lay this albums strength, as each melody is highly communicative and capitalizes on its inherently archaic, although timeless content to appeal those psychological archetypes that define the modern Hessian, to wit, regality, a desire for adventure, wanderlust and a sense for the transcendent.
Guitars are a secondary instrument on this album, however they are utilized with such tact and melodic viciousness, if I may say so, as to ensure that the sometimes airy and sentimental melodies remain grounded, bonded to an orthodox sense of attack and ferality that has always made great metal threatening, challenging, confrontational, and insightful.
Indeed, what makes this album truly compelling is that it successfully melds together a romantic longing for those eternal values that once gave life meaning, with a feral and commanding spirit that wishes to take hold of life and explore it’s depths, and its mountainous heights! One is less likely to find an album more suitable to one’s journey of self exploration and self transcendence.
Stylistically and in terms of execution, this is perhaps the most important album that Judas Priest made. Some will argue that the Sad Wings Of Destiny album from 1976 was the record that encapsulated this, though the reviewer picks Stained Class on the basis that it shapes and crafts the periphery of what was yet to come from a still young musical form. The origins of extreme metal are hinted at in pieces such as ‘Exciter’, which elaborates further on the quintet’s advancement towards more aggressive techniques and motifs, heavy on palm muted rhythmic guitar riffs and rapid fire double bass pedals, overlaid with Rob Halford’s banshee-like falsetto and lead guitars which although in terms of patterns and scales are not yet free of the restraints of rock music from previous decades, clearly set a benchmark for the revival of neoclassical technique in the metal genre. This is additionally showcased in both the follow up piece ‘White Heat, Red Hot’ the title track and ‘Saints In Hell’, more adherent to mid-paced tempos though in terms of form, the same development is obvious.
‘Invader’, ‘Savage’, and ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’ are all anthemic, semi-melodic numbers that are more standardized than anything else on this album, and is easily of the quality of the best material that permeated the disappointing predecessor Sin After Sin. As is with much work within earlier NWOBHM, this creates a solid base that allows for the most joyous segments of this album to thrive so well. ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’ which is by many seen to be a seminal piece for this band, is an excellent piece of balladry, to which a clear lineage of the more subtle, ‘slow burning’ work of Iron Maiden (“Children Of The Damned”), Manowar (“Valhalla”, “Bridge Of Death”), Bathory (“One Rode To Asa Bay”, “Twilight Of The Gods”), Metallica (“Sanitarium”, “Fade To Black”) can trace a root. With the exception of perhaps their triumphant Painkiller opus, this remains their most consistent and advanced work, and shows an act at their most vital and relentless. Metal was forged here.