(Shadow Kingdom)

01. The Grey God Passes
02. Stand Your Ground
03. The Battle of Bonchester Bridge
04. Hermitage
05. Do What Thou Will
06. Only The Brave
07. Hallowed Be Thy Grave
08. The Fountain
09. The Calling
10. Mysterium

RATING: 7/10

Twelve years and six albums into the group's career revival (their remarkable legacy of course dates back as far as 1979), MANILLA ROAD's reputation as a living, breathing treasure of underground American heavy metal is beyond question.

In fact, in an age when numerous, once equally obscure ancient metal legends are revered far and wide (e.g. PENTAGRAM, SAINT VITUS, etc.), on has to think that any persistent boundaries on MANILLA ROAD's public awareness and career ambitions are imposed only by band leader Mark Shelton's own desire (or lack thereof) for playing the self-promotion game - or else his band would surely have signed larger record deals by now, booked broader tours, played European mega-festivals, etc.

But, whether he desires it or not, Shelton's much loved, creaky but resilient old heavy metal warhorse continues to gather steam in the marketplace, and perhaps the accelerated recording and release schedules undertaken by he and his band mates, of late (not to mention Shadow Kingdom's comparably more aggressive promotional efforts), are in fact proof that MANILLA ROAD is finally ready to step things up a notch: take the ride, enjoy the thrills, and see where it all leads.

In any case, 2013's "Mysterium", which, depending on whether you count a few "lost albums," is MANILLA ROAD's thirteenth or fifteenth studio album, coincidentally seems to touch on almost every phase of the band's three-decade musical evolution, as though intentionally constructed by Shelton and co. to offer new and old fans alike something of a career-spanning compendium.

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"The Grey God Passes" observes the hybrid approach common to the '00s, complete with occasional vocals from Bryan "Hellroadie" Patrick (a faithful Sancho Panza to Shelton's Don Quixote); "Stand Your Ground" revives the band's thrash-infused attack of the late 1980s; the all-acoustic "The Fountain" Shelton's experimental midlife crisis circa "Circus Maximus"; and the epic title track, along with its synth-designed introduction, "The Calling", the quasi-progressive, post-psychedelia ambitions of MANILLA ROAD's earliest, still formative years - juiced with latter-day metallic aggression.

Having acknowledged that variety, of MANILLA ROAD's many inspirational facets through the years, the one that dominates proceedings is the same one that's persisted most reliably through each period: that being deliberate, majestic "castle metal" exemplified by "The Battle of Bonchester Bridge", "Hermitage", "Do What Thou Will" and "Hallowed be Thy Grave".

And if any single track combines most everything that is special about this veteran metal proposition into a new career-spanning highlight, it's the virtually irresistible "Only the Brave" - proof positive that, far more than a nostalgia act, MANILLA ROAD is still kicking ass and taking names with "Mysterium".


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