Review by Vinny for Manilla Road - Mystification (1987)
Manilla Road's sixth full-length continues their golden run of records that stretch back from a full seven years before this release. Launching straight into a romping and glorious opening track full of haunting lead work that leaves notes hanging in the very air around you it is obvious that the band are here to pick up where they left of with The Deluge. Not only does opening track Haunted Palace announce the arrival of the album it also sets the tone for what is to come over the next forty minutes.
Mystification literally has me spellbound from the get go, it is instant without being mainstream and varied without ever getting tied in knots. Tracks are well paced and the tightness of the band is superb throughout. Shelton's trademark vocals sound a little more hoarse than on previous outings and this adds depth to the vocal's sound, giving them an almost cool edge that is oddly soothing for such a unique sounding vocalist. His guitar work is excellent also. Whether it is the speed metal-like riffing of Valley of Unrest or Up From the Crypt or even the classy lead work he deploys across virtually the whole album, his work is front and centre at all times. His fret work feels emotive and full of passion for the subject matter it accompanies; it feels dark and mysterious as well as insanely vast in scope.
Mention has to be made of the superb drum work of Randy Foxe. He is the real engine room on the record with his galloping rhythms and studious fills matching the pace of the record perfectly throughout. They feel like a genuine accompaniment to the vocals and guitars adding to the suspenseful atmosphere of the record on the title track (for example) and although I think they are a tad too buried in the mix overall they still maintain a healthy presence throughout. When combined with the rumbling bass of Scott Park they make quite a fearsome duo.
It's an album that makes me want to play it again as soon as it is finished (I think I am on my third play of it today at least). Whilst not essentially full of hooks, it retains memorability for its relentless charge and urgent sounding narrative. It combines rampant heavy metal with atmosphere and a goofy nerdiness to boot and continues a fine line of albums. It's metal that makes you want to seek more like it, creating lust for similar sounds as I hit countless "similar artist" and "you might also like..." playlists in search of more, more, more. It's mania is infectious and it's lack of polish is utterly endearing. It is an absolute triumph.