This is the sixth album from underground granddaddies MANILLA ROAD, and one of their best. A lost masterpiece for more than a decade, all but ruined by a horrible production, "Mystification" was at last resurrected by True-Metal stalwart Denis Gulbey at Sentinel Steel Records. With a new remaster and slick new packaging, this album stands plain as a Tour-de-force of true Metal.
For those unfamiliar with the 'Road, this is old-school Heavy Metal with no frills, gimmicks or silly keyboard wanking. What you get here is heavy, inventive riffing, complex songwriting that still maintains a directness of attack, and the nasal yet enthralling vocals of Mark "The Shark" Shelton. From their base in Kansas, isolated from mainstream trends, MANILLA ROAD have churned out album after album of their raw yet intelligent Metal wizardry. "Mystification" is almost all based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, from the "House Of Usher" homage "Haunted Palace" to the "Masque Of The Red Death" this band spins out tune after tune of their heady, trademark stuff. Even with the new remaster, the production here is what could be termed 'raw', and it takes a few listens to get into MANILLA ROAD.
But while this band is an acquired taste, it is definitely worth the effort it takes to acquire it. The riffs that seem odd at first quickly become addictive, and the undersea warble of Mark Shelton's vocal melodies become smooth and soulful, evocative of forgotten times and places.
The packaging on this re-release is very nice, as I expect from Denis. The booklet contains band pics and a hilarious (in a if-we-didn't-laugh-we'd-have-to-cry way) account of the album's creation back in 1987. As usual with Sentinel Steel reissues, the original cover art is on the flipside of the booklet, so you can turn it over for instant flashback.
MANILLA ROAD are a band without peer, and they don't sound like anyone else, other bands sound like them. But no one has ever been quite like these guys, and I doubt if anyone ever will be. After more than twenty years in the underground MANILLA ROAD remain one of the great unknown bands, and that borders on criminal, because after all this time, they remain a band well worth the effort. Addictive, iconoclastic and strange. An excellent album from an unparalleled band. (Online October 9, 2003)