"This reissue of 'The Deluge' is dedicated to all the fans that have kept MANILLA ROAD alive for more than three decades," is the statement made by vocalist/guitarist/composer Mark "The Shark" Shelton in the liners notes of this Shadow Kingdom reintroduction of what many consider the Wichita, Kansas band's masterpiece. But it's the "more than three decades" part that goes deeper than the obvious in that MANILLA ROAD has for many years been one of those "cult" heavy metal bands about which only a select group knew. Yet the band influenced — whether directly or indirectly — so many acts; PHARAOH, ZUUL, SLOUGH FEG, SINISTER REALM, the list goes on and on. But recognition for MANILLA ROAD's prolific body of work has grown steadily over the years, picking up steam in the 21st Century during which review references and name-dropping by musicians became the norm. Perhaps more importantly, labels like Shadow Kingdom took proper care to shine the spotlight on MANILLA ROAD with reissues like this one.
As captured in the reissue's liner notes, Shelton is the first to admit that his band's 1986 release (its fifth) was the "total package" and is the only MANILLA ROAD album on which he cannot pick just one favorite song. That's not self-delusion from the man that was responsible for writing all the lyrics and music of "The Deluge" (except for spooky keyboard piece "Morbid Tabernacle", credited to Mike Metz); it is beyond a shadow of a doubt the truth and nothing but the truth. The music of "The Deluge" defined that place at which the fundamentals of classic heavy metal, thrash aggression, and MANILLA ROAD's recognizable, progressive-leaning style met, this time recorded to be as "close to what the band sounded like live as possible". That means super high energy and a trio that also includes bassist Scott "Scooter" Park and Randy "Thrasher" Foxe moving in unison, jamming with fervor and ensuring each performance, no matter how challenging, contributes to maximum listener enjoyment.
There are albums from this same period recorded by "name" acts that have been dubbed classic/essential that don't have as much front-to-back appeal as "The Deluge". That means that the aforementioned "Morbid Tabernacle" and rip roaring instrumental closer "Rest in Pieces" are every bit as important to the completeness of the album as the galloping, NWOBHM-with-an-edge "Divine Victim", which boasts one of the greatest heavy metal hooks you'll ever hear, as well as exemplifying one of Shelton's well researched (then filtered of verboseness) lyric sets. Or just as crucial to the disc's success as the brilliant multi-part title track. Lesser bands would have stretched that tune into a 14-minute epic without a purpose, losing the interest of at least half the listeners by the time MANILLA ROAD had already been well into the next track.
There is much at which to marvel here. "Isle of the Dead" builds from that ominous airy guitar intro, launches with a blood curdling scream, and is then off to the races, dropping in a chorus that is right up there with "Divine Victim". Shelton's knack for accent and all those "little" things that make good songs great is well represented on "Hammer of the Witches", a song so action-packed you'll be shocked it's all over in less than three minutes. It is also a track on which Shelton's unique — just shy of quirky — mid-range vocal style rises to a jolting scream at just the right moments, as does the well-placed low vocal effect used during the same track. The same goes for his sinister laugh during "Dementia" or the Dickinson-ian (as in Bruce) tones he reveals on "Taken by Storm" and "Friction in Mass", the latter during which he uses a gruff spoken voice in the middle of a particularly aggressive cut.
The point is that "The Deluge" is the type of album that seemed more prevalent in years past, the kind on which you'd pay attention to every verse, the peculiar phrasings of a certain chorus, and anticipate/memorize ever transitional segment and guitar solo. Speaking of those solos, the ones from Shelton are shredding and tuneful at once. Every space filled is purposeful without seeming overly composed. His bends, whammies, and rips on "Shadow in the Black" constitute just one of many cases of an approach that is as dangerously reckless as it as it tasteful/tuneful. Shelton draws blood every time he picks up an axe.
Listening to "The Deluge" in 2011, words like "dated," "old," or "retro" never occupy one's thoughts; only the status of the album as a great work of heavy metal. The fact is that "The Deluge" is better written and burns hotter than most recent traditional heavy metal albums released by much younger bands. Could the album — even with the 2000 digital remastering — have made greater impact on with a fuller, clear production? Of course, and though it is a relevant point, it is still a minor one in the larger scheme of things The artwork is perfect, the photos are cool, the liner notes informative, the music is superbly composed, and the power generated could light the entire City of Wichita. Shelton captures the vibe of "The Deluge" best when he states "We just mic-ed up the Marshall stacks and the drums and started dropping the hammer down as loud as we could". Believe it. Buy it.