Today, we present to you part 12 of our huge Manilla Road Special. We talked to Ansgar Burke (guitars) and John Gunn (vocals) of Scottish/German epic heavy metal band Midnight Force. Enjoy reading.
Would you classify Manilla Road as an important source of inspiration for your music?
Ansgar Burke: I think the general atmosphere and lyrics of Manilla Road are definitely an inspiration. Musically less so, though subconsciously I reckon it does play an important part in our songwriting. We have covered «Necropolis» a few times but I don’t think we have any song that we ourselves see as particularly «Manilla Road-ish». Mark Shelton’s lyrics however are very inspirational to me for songs like «Scarlet Citadel», «Crystal Talon» etc.
Can you point out a special moment that you experienced with Manilla Road?
Ansgar Burke: Their show at Up the Hammers a couple of years ago was brilliant, a moment I won’t forget! Also I think the first time I listened to «Necropolis» I lost my mind! The voice, the melody, the guitars, awesome!
John Gunn: The fun we had together performing «Necropolis». It’s just such a fun song to play, and it was simple for us to get the hang of too!
What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion?
Ansgar Burke: Their trademarks are simple but unique… the voice, the often quite unconventional songwriting and the incredibly evocative lyrics. The latter in particular I think are essential, I always thought Mark the Shark would have made an amazing pulp story author, in the vein of Michael Moorcock or Robert E. Howard. If you read his lyrics he manages to fit whole short stories into a few verses, but I’d love to see someone expand them into graphic novels or comics, that’s how evocative they are.
John Gunn: Mark Shelton has this really distinctive voice you can identify immediately – it’s not necessarily the sort of powerful, operatic voice you might associate with epic metal but it really works in the context of the rest of the music, somehow. And I think that’s more important, that a singer can make an impression with their voice and make what they have work with the rest of the band. That, to me, is more important than being technically the best or whatever.
What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums?
Ansgar Burke: I’d probably have to go with the classics… Crystal Logic, Open the Gates and The Deluge!
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road album in your opinion?
Ansgar Burke: Probably Spiral Castle. Or generally the triple of Atlantis Rising, Spiral Castle, Mark of the Beast as it is an often overlooked but very productive period of the band. Shortly before they were «rediscovered» and got the chance to start their career in Europe «properly» at the amazing underground festivals starting around the mid 2000s. The fact that they continued to release albums despite all difficulties to reach the right audiences is something that people might not appreciated as much as they should.
What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks?
Ansgar Burke: «Dreams of Eschaton», «Road of Kings», «Metal», «The Ninth Wave», «Divine Victim».
John Gunn: «Necropolis» and «Flaming Metal System».
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road track in your opinion?
Ansgar Burke: I would pick the title track of the 2nd Album, «Metal» for this category. I saw them play it live in Athens and it was brilliant. I always loved the slow built up resulting in a great chorus that is already foreshadowing the style they’d go on to perfect on the following albums. Fragile in its melody and tone but yet so moving and powerful.
Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally?
Ansgar Burke: «The Ninth Wave». Everytime I heard it live it made me tear up. The sheer emotional power and nostalgic epicness of the song are something very few bands can achieve. The song is 9 minutes of absolute perfection for me with some of the best lyrics ever put to paper. «For all the tortured and all the slaves!»
John Gunn: «Flaming Metal System» has this real intensity to it that I enjoy – the tempo changes, the chorus melody, and the guitar parts all add up to this really cool epic song that makes you feel powerful. And the intro solo sounds like an old SNES game!
What’s your favourite solo/lead played by Mark Shelton?
Ansgar Burke: I’d stick with «The Ninth Wave» for this one too. Just the overall guitar work and feel.
How would you define the term epic metal?
Ansgar Burke: I think it is a genre defined by the lyrics, the attitude and the approach of the bands that play it. There are musical similarities but also quite significant differences, for instance let’s say between Candlemass or Manilla Road. The differences in songwriting, production etc. are clear, but the approach to epic story telling is there for both. I feel like the use of the term has increased and spread over the last few years, for instance when we started with Midnight Force it was more «Classic Metal», «NWOTHM» or even «NWOBHM» that was used as a label for most bands in our genre. By now I feel the fans and critics have established this new label, as well as the bands who identify as such. I can only speak for us but when we began we understood ourselves as «Classic» Heavy Metal, however now I do feel like the Epic Metal moniker is almost made for bands like us, who maybe didn’t set out to «be an Epic Metal band» per se, but who fit many of its categories. So my overall definition is that it is the logical continuation from Classic Heavy Metal, to take it out of the early 80s and into the here and now. We cannot recreate the sound and spirit (at least not 100% authentic) that was there in the early 80s, but we can take the (lyrical and musical) ideas and attitude and wrap it into our own songwriting to transport it into 2021.
Are there any young bands inspired by Manilla Road that you appreciate?
Ansgar Burke: I’m sure the number of bands citing Manilla Road as an influence will have increased in the last few years, which is a great unifying factor and a sign that there is a «new» genre developing, but a lot of bands don’t necessarily sound like Mark the Shark and co. There’s so many great young bands around at the moment that it’s hard to choose, but going by bands that actually sound a bit like Manilla Road I’d say Iron Griffin are my favourites! Brilliant rough and unpolished but captivating – exactly like the ‘Road!
What do you generally think of Manilla Road’s legacy and the current epic metal scene?
Ansgar Burke: As touched upon in the previous question I really think Manilla Road are one of the pillars uniting the current scene. (Almost) everyone can agree on them being important pioneers of the genre, maybe even the pinnacle of the genre. Something to aspire to and to draw influence from (their vast back catalogue helps here too, as opposed to say a band like Medieval Steel who have left little of musical relics to be unpacked unfortunately). The current epic metal scene seems to become a «scene within a scene» detached and yet part of the wider old school metal landscape. I love genre definitions but this one is maybe too loose to be overly strict about applying it consistently, but as a point of orientation and identification it appears to have become a banner to rally around, find bands with similar musical influences and like-minded high fantasy or history nerds. Once this pandemic is over hopefully we see even more cooperation between the bands identifying as such (split releases, tours, festivals, guest appearances etc.) because there is HUGE potential in all of it! Also I think it is a great opportunity for old-school metal to gain more recognition and a wider appeal again, with bands like Visigoth enjoying huge success across genre boundaries or Eternal Champion topping the best-of-year-lists even in more hipster/mainstream publications. Similar (though of course on a smaller scale) to the NWOBHM having bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon or (though existing before NWOBHM) Judas Priest opening some doors for smaller bands in their wake, maybe the Epic Metal movement can achieve similar things over the next few years.