Manilla Road Special (8): Jeff Black (Gatekeeper)

It’s time for the next part of our huge Manilla Road Special. We’re glad that Jeff Black, founder and guitarist of Canadian epic heavy metal band Gatekeeper, was available for an interview. Enjoy reading!

Would you classify Manilla Road as an important source of inspiraton for your music? 

Definitely, yeah. I would never say that anything I do really sounds like Manilla Road per se, but I hold their albums to a high standard. I try to aim for them in terms of creativity and crafting a unique «vibe». I went through a phase where I tried to learn as many Manilla Road riffs and songs as possible and a few things definitely slipped into my playing along the way.

Can you point out a special moment that you experienced with Manilla Road

The first time I saw Manilla Road live (Noctis Festival in Calgary, AB) was a big one. Seeing Mark Shelton and hearing HIS guitar tone exactly as it sounded on the records sent an electric chill through my body. The best part was getting invited to party in Mark’s hotel room the next day before the festival. The whole band plus a bunch of my friends were there and we just talked about music, touring, books and all kinds of crazy bullshit. Mark Shelton made me sing the chorus from «Lay It On The Line» by Triumph before letting me into the room, which was both incredible and embarrassing.  

What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion? 

Where do you start? They had such a unique approach to writing songs, producing their albums and the delivery of the vocals, riffs and rhythms, all came together in the esoteric, mystical vibe. They’re like lightning in a bottle and all their albums sound a little different from each other without losing the soul. 

What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums? 

The Deluge and Mystification for sure. My third would either be Open The Gates or Out Of The Abyss. That whole mid 80’s period was a powerhouse run of albums. I like Crystal Logic a lot and it has a lot of classic cuts but I think the albums that came after are heavier and more creative.

Mark Shelton made me sing the chorus from «Lay It On The Line» by Triumph before letting me into the room, which was both incredible and embarrassing.  

Jeff Black

What’s the most underrated Manilla Road album in your opinion? 

Of their classic stuff, probably Out Of The Abyss. That album is so fierce and menacing. And the «epic» tracks are very cool and dark. I haven’t talked about the reunion albums much yet—Voyager is my favourite from that era. It’s a «mood» album for me. 

What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks? 

  • «Shadow In The Black»
  • «Flaming Metal Systems»
  • «Behind The Veil»
  • «Mystification»
  • «Return Of The Old Ones»

What’s the most underrated Manilla Road track in your opinion? 

That’s a tough one. I feel like some of the favourites I listed above are off the beaten path, especially «Behind The Veil», which has a gorgeous 12-string guitar pattern and a haunting refrain based on a Robert E. Howard story. I also find myself listening to the undulating bass sequences of «Lemuria» from Atlantis Rising a lot. «The Prophecy» from Courts Of Chaos is another banger with some cool synth work and ominous, crawling guitar melodies. There’s another really nice acoustic from Mysterium called «The Fountain».

Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally? 

Depends. I would say «Flaming Metal Systems» because it’s hard not to get excited when it’s playing. If I’m in a more brooding mood then «Behind The Veil» can really take me away.

What’s your favourite solo/lead played by Mark Shelton? 

This might be a weird choice but I love the opening lead melodies from «The Ninth Wave». It’s so huge and grandiose. Mark really stretches the notes out in a way he doesn’t often do. In terms of actual solos, I really like the opening solo from «The Deluge». It sorta fades in and explodes in a flurry of notes in classic Shelton style, then twists into this triumphant cacophony of double-stops and whammy bar noise. The next song «Friction In Mass» has a really raunchy solo after the spoken word section. The whole song is a guitar tour de force.

How would you define the term epic metal? 

I’ve always looked at epic metal as heavy metal that borrows most of its inspiration from classic sword & sorcery fiction, epic literature. It needs to exude a mystical, larger-than-life vibe and have some sort of muscle to the riffs. It’s almost more of a thematic thing than a purely musical thing.

It’s almost more of a thematic thing than a purely musical thing.

About the term epic metal.

Are there any young bands inspired by Manilla Road that you appreciate?  

Oh, tons. Of course Eternal Champion and Visigoth are fantastic. You can’t talk about bands influenced by Manilla Road without mentioning Ironsword!

What do you generally think of Manilla Road’s legacy and the current epic metal scene? 

What can I say that hasn’t been said already? Manilla Road are one of those magical, once-in-a-lifetime bands and it’ll never happen again. It feels like every single person on my Facebook feed has a picture with Mark Shelton and some kind of awesome story to go along with it. It says volumes about his character and the attention he paid to fans of his music, both young and old. We can only hope to be as cool and creative and as kind. While modern artists may never capture the same magic that Shelton tapped into, I think there are some killer and talented bands out there and I think they’ll continue to kick ass and take us to faraway places. 

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