We’re very glad to present to you this very special contribution to our series about Manilla Road. No more words needed, enjoy reading – and check out Elusive God, of course!
After months of persuading myself that I should actually write this text, I’ve finally decided to give it a try. Why? I was under the impression that my attempt to describe one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever witnessed simply won’t be good enough. What is this about? It’s about a live show of Manilla Fucking Road held in Barcelona in 2016, a little bit about Manilla Road itself and how the band influenced me.
I don’t exactly remember when I first heard Manilla Road, but I do remember that Crystal Logic was the first album I listened to. Instantly, I admired their epic atmosphere and the whole mystique surrounding the band. However, at that point I got the feeling that simply now it’s not the time for me to fully absorb and comprehend what Manilla Road is all about. So I decided to give myself more time and be patient. I somehow knew that the day will come when I’ll be properly blown away by this phenomenal band.
A few days before the concert, I listened to a few of the Manilla Road albums again. Over the years I’ve learned to respect and feel some sort of and admiration for performers who are proven to be great, successful or cult in their genre. If you feel admiration for the artist, what’s the better way to pay respect than to go to a concert?
The whole atmosphere at the concert venue upon my arrival was pretty cool. People were relaxed, insane amounts of beer were consumed and very few of the metalheads were headbaning while listening to the sounds of screaming metal from the sound system. Support band Grim Comet delivered a very solid 70s hard rock with doom elements. While I was getting myself a beer, I saw a familiar face on the other side of the counter. There was a man who looked like some magician from the ancient times, but dressed in a metalhead outfit. Somehow he had this mystical aura intertwined with wisdom of the ages while simply standing in a bar with a beer in his hand just like a regular guy. His very appearance evoked an instant feeling of respect in me. Yes, this was Mr. Mark Shelton.
Later, I was thrilled by the fact that the guys from the band did not have a roadie or whatsoever and were setting up the instruments, amplifiers and stage all by themselves. Guys seemed so cool and relaxed while setting up the gear for their show, you could see they’re enjoying every moment of it even before they actually started the show. I mean, they probably took a few days off, packed their guitars and got on a plane to Spain to play some gigs. I thought to myself: «Fuck, how cool is that.» If someone were to tell me now that I would be traveling to the other end of the world while I’m 50-60 years old to play my music to local fans, I’d say, «Yes, of course. Where should I sign up for this?» All of those little details were just additionally building up the hype shortly before the concert.
And then it started – fucking heavy metal rumble. I’m not sure exactly what song they opened their set with, but I think it was their medley «Masque of the Red Death By The Hammer of the Witches Brew». Shit, I can feel the shivers down my spine just by remembering and writing this. I recall that sometime in the middle of «Death by the Hammer» song, I was standing in the middle of the crowd, listening to a double bass thunder and thinking: «That’s it. This is what you’re looking for.» The band was so fucking energetic and cool and the audience reaction was totally out of this world. Everyone in the audience, and I mean literally everyone knew what they came for. There was no posing or tourist/just for fun coming to the concert. There was stage diving, crowd surfing, «ooooo» singing of every fucking riff and chorus. It seemed almost as if the windows were about to crack when the band played «Necropolis» and «Crystal Logic». Not because the sound was too loud, but because the level of audience shouting and singing was out of this world. There was such a level of connection, passion and honest enjoyment in metal music in the crowd. It’s something that has been long gone at concerts. Maybe you could see it 10-15 years ago on the gigs in Croatia, maybe you can still experience it today on the Iron Maiden show, but generally this sort of behavior is gone and it was a shock and a surprise at the same time to experience it again.
In a way, that evening made me realize what truly matters in metal music and helped me to redefine my values. Let’s call it the return to what music really is all about. You don’t need big stages, fancy gear or expensive scenography. You don’t need 10,000 people in front of you. You don’t need unnecessary rider requirements or fancy light shows. This concert was totally bare-to-the-bone metal experience, the most honest I have ever experienced. When you see those faces in the audience, when you see the band giving their 100% while enjoying their performance every second and the audience gives it back with fucking delight… This is where we come to the part that is beyond words. I miss the words to describe it better, but it comforts me that I still keep somewhere in my memories deep fragments of that concert and that wonderful feeling that possessed my whole being.
Manilla Road is my regular playlist entry for me today and almost always when I’m in a bad or half-hearted mood I’ll play «Necropolis» and «Flaming Metal Systems». These are the songs that can instantly cheer me up because they directly bring me back to one magical evening, to one beautiful city and a wonderful period when I somehow redefined parts of my personality. «Mystification» actually describes my interest in occultism and paganism in a nutshell. It’s a poetic and musical description of everything I do not know and cannot say myself. In a way, Manilla Road is a symbol much related with my introspection and with my understanding of music and life. After all, music is about diving into the deepest corners of your being and expressing what’s beyond words.
In addition, they symbolize in some way this notion of «non-giving up» and persistence in music. Let’s be realistic, the band’s performance in the 80s in a way went «under the radar» for the majority of metal fans. Still, throughout these years Shelton has pushed the band through various incarnations, pushing his epic metal vision and all of this paid off in the end. Thanks to the internet and epic metal revival, Manilla Road came to the center of attention and finally received the recognition they deserved. I remember reading a statement from Shelton’s wife shortly after his death when she said that he was, in fact, very glad that all the years of work, dedication and sacrifice had eventually paid off. It seems that the whole point is to make music no matter the cost and maybe you’ll get deserved recognition even after 50 years or maybe not. However, it is important that you enjoy the path, the struggle and leave something behind, just as Mr. Mark left it.
I wrote it at the beginning of the text and I will write it again. Where do I sign up to be 60 years old with head full of hair, looking like a fucking Wizard and playing in Spain in front of 100 bloodthirsty metalheads enjoying every riff and every song that I made? That’s metal, that’s the ideal for me, that’s what it’s all about.
Thank you Mr. Shelton for a wonderful evening, but more importantly – thank you for your brilliant music, lyrics and perhaps most importantly – thank you for showing me what is important in music and life. Thank you for always cheering me up with your distinctive voice and excellent songs. And most importantly, thanks for all the albums, songs and mythological monsters I have to study from Manilla Road’s songs.
Up the hammers \m/