January 12, 2013

Manilla Road - Crystal Logic

Guest review by Richard Street-Jammer.

Four albums into their career, only three of which had been released, and Manilla Road's sound was finally established. They'd etched away still more of the prog rock influences of their debut, but they kept the prog rock ambitions and sense of scale. Then and now, they had few peers in style, and fewer still in quality.

Crystal Logic opens with a minute and a half track of narration, and then the band rips into their best song, "Necropolis." It's a compact song, up tempo and to the point, with just a few riffs, a huge chorus, and a mid song tempo shift and guitar solo.

"Feeling Free Again" is another demonstration of the band's ability to write a killer three minute-ish tune. It's a playful celebration of being in love. Hop in your car, put the windows down, crank the stereo, and serenade your lover with the song while driving too fast. Trust me, it'll make sense.

Photos by Distortionplus.

The title track starts off as fast as "Feeling Free..." and "Necropolis," but it soon settles into Manilla Road's trademark groove. Elsewhere, it's business as usual for Manilla Road, but the business is stronger than ever. Manilla Road gets tagged as "epic metal," and no wonder: their core sound is expansive, but they're here to tell you a story, to make a point. Meandering serves them no purpose.

"The Ram," "The Riddle Master," and "The Veils of Negative Existence" live up to the epic metal tag. The riffs are a study in almost: almost hard rock, but too slow. Almost doom, but cut with too much speed. Almost progressive, but too direct and too forceful, and always excellent. "Dreams of Eschaton" lives up to its name, offering a foreboding series of riffs while Mark Shelton narrates the apocalypse.

Underneath the riffing, the rhythm section is adroit and nimble. Shelton's guitar solos belie his age at the time of recording. Send him forward in time, park him in front of a laptop cam, and he'd be a YouTube hotshot playing lead for a tech death outfit.

Photo by Distortionplus.

The Shadow Kingdom reissue features an extra track, "Flaming Metal System," that was originally released on a compilation album in the '80s. Other than some deranged vocals from Shelton, it fits right in with the album proper.

Thirty years and twelve albums later, Manilla Road still haven't topped Crystal Logic. They've only come close, perhaps because Crystal Logic is just that good. Perhaps it is something else? Perhaps it is age. Rare are the things that get better with age; number Crystal Logic among them.

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