Manilla Road are an American band (from Wichita, Kansas no less) who unfortunately I've never really had much exposure to until very recently. With much of their back catalog being reissued in recent years and a brand new CD ready to be released here in early 2013, now is as good a time as ever to become acquainted with this underground heavy metal act. Mark of the Beast was originally recorded back in 1981 and intended to be the band's second album, but it was eventually scrapped (the band released Metal instead) and later officially released in 2002 on Monster Records. Now, the band is reissuing it on Forged in Fire Records, complete with full lyrics, photos, and original release info. The band as of this recording was guitarist/vocalist Mark Shelton, drummer Rick Fisher, and bassist Scott Park.
The reason the band decided not to originally release this album in 1981 (it was to be called Dreams of Eschaton) was because the songs as they were written and recorded sounded too close to progressive rock and hard rock/proto metal, as opposed to the classic metal, thrash, speed metal, and epic metal flavors the band favored. If you are at all familiar with the Manilla Road discography, Mark of the Beast is indeed a departure of sorts, with much more emphasis placed on atmosphere, lengthy songs , melodic chord structures, soulful vocals, and extended instrumentation. Their trademark crushing riffs and galloping rhythms, which are in abundance on most of their later '80s albums, are for the most part absent here. However, if you like a more progressive hard rock sound (think Rush circa Caress of Steel, 2112, and Fly By Night) then you'll find lots to love on songs like "Mark of the Beast", "Court of Avalon" and "Avatar", each one epic length pieces with layers of guitars and awash in atmosphere. "Time Trap" has a dreamy feel to it, while "Black Lotus" dips into the NWOBHM style quite nicely, as does "Teacher". The lumbering riffs of "Aftershock" recall Pentagram and Budgie, and "Venusian Sea" and Triumvirate" are sci-fi/fantasy tinged hard rock/metal dripping with power and emotion.
Though I can see why the band at the time chose not to release this album, as it certainly differs from much of their catalog, Mark of the Beast is a stellar collection of heavy progressive rock songs that is a must hear for all fans of the early prog-metal sound. Memorable songs, great vocals & guitar from Shelton, and tons of dreamy atmosphere make for a winning combination.
1) Mark of the Beast
2) Court of Avalon
4) Dream Sequence
5) Time Trap
6) Black Lotus
9) Venusian Sea