Hailed in some circles as seminal metal albums, the hard-to-find first two releases from Manilla Road - a cult band that surprisingly hailed from Wichita, Kan. - may not quite sound that good today. But it is easy to hear how 1980's Invasion and 1982's Metal, previously released and re-released on obscure labels, paved the way for greater success by the likes of Manowar and Omen.
Manilla Road's limited popularity, perhaps not surprisingly, was greatest in countries like Italy, Germany and Greece. So it makes sense that upstart Greek label Sonic Age Records would choose to reissue these two titles in a double-CD set with original artwork. Unfortunately, the original master tapes – as well as any photos from those days – can no longer be found. So these reissues use the original LPs as masters but with digital processing and correcting of minor scratches and other flaws. The result? Two vintage, raw and dirty-sounding discs that nevertheless bear the sonic trademarks of pure, epic heavy metal.
Both Invasion and Metal were recorded with completely different lineups – only vocalist/guitarist Mark Shelton appears on each – and the albums sound almost like time capsules of a more exciting and greater risk-taking period in metal history. Roiling bass and wailing guitars characterize Invasion, especially "Cat and Mouse." Old-school metal meets old-school metal on the first half of this six-track album, with the second half (especially the ballad "Centurian War Games" and the spacey 13-and-a-half-minute finale "The Empire") taking on distinctly different tones. Traces of Pink Floyd can even be detected. Metal actually comes off as more amateurish, with dashes of Motorhead and British psychedelic rock tossed in among such schizophrenic songs as the creepy and slow-building title track and "Cage of Mirrors." Throughout it all, Shelton's voice assumes many styles and characters, complementing the diverse metal offerings here.
Repeat listens reveal that Manilla Road was on to something. It's a shame that it's taken these albums a quarter-century to be properly recognized – yet the American band still can't get an official U.S. reissue. To its credit, Sonic Age has launched a Manilla Road blitz that also includes individual LP versions of Invasion and Metal, plus LP/CD versions of Out of the Abyss and Live: Roadkill.
1) The Dream Goes On
2) Cat and Mouse
3) Far Side of the Sun
4) Street Jammer
5) Centurian War Games
6) The Empire
1) Enter the Warrior
3) Queen of the Black Coast
5) Out of Control with Rock n Roll
6) Cage of Mirrors
7) Far Side of the Sun