Today, Legendry’s Vidarr talks about his love for Manilla Road – a very special, passionate and in-depth interview. Enjoy reading!
Would you classify Manilla Road as an important source of inspiration for your music?
Yes, absolutely! More than just an inspiration in terms of sound. Manilla Road has inspired me as a musician to create the music that I want to create, and to largely disregard everything else. Every Manilla Road album is a bit different from the last, which is something I carry into my own work as well. I never want to make the same album twice.
Can you point out a special moment that you experienced with Manilla Road?
Yes, there are a few, actually. Legendry played a show with Manilla Road in Pittsburgh, PA on their 40th anniversary tour. I remember during load-in setting up my amp in front of Mark Shelton’s Marshall rig with the «Beware of Attack Shark» badge on it, staging things for a quick changeover, and Hellroadie slinging his Marshall 4×12 cabinets around like they were nothing (it was inhuman!). I was a bit more nervous than usual playing the set, knowing that the band that inspired me so greatly was there watching. We had just finished recording Dungeon Crawler, but the album hadn’t been released yet, so our set was a mix of songs from the first two albums. We closed our set with «Phoenix on the Blade», and as I was unplugging my pedalboard, Mark Shelton came up to the front of the stage and shook my hand. «That was awesome!», he said, and I was fairly speechless, hah! More recently, Legendry worked with Neudi and his Golden Core Records on the Heavy Metal Adventure vinyl and CD editions, an EP which Phil Ross supplied session bass tracking and merch printing services for. During the tracking process for our cover of «Metal», I had a certain chord progression in the chorus which was corrected by Phil, having been taught the song by The Shark himself. It was a simple variation on a G chord, something subtle, but essential to the sound of the track which I would have never guessed. I had to respect the weirdness and simplicity of it.
What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion?
Manilla Road always was exactly what it wanted to be. Each album is different, and provides a different view on a cohesive world. When I hear Manilla Road, I know that there is no attention paid to trends or appeasing a scene or audience. It‘s music played from the heart by people who want to create it. It is the «essence of creative quality».
What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums?
This is certainly a tough one. I will say that Crystal Logic is my favorite, only because it is the pinnacle of what it seems they were after in the original sound with Rick Fisher on drums. Crystal Logic takes everything they were, and solidifies it into the greatest possible form of the early sound. So, my next three would be Metal, Dreams of Eschaton, and Voyager.
Metal is a barbaric album. The sound production is obscure, and the songs rattle on in a bizarre way (as in the main riffing of «Enter the Warrior». It’s a sound I’ve become accustomed to, but it truly is unique – I can‘t think of a similar album, really, by any band.
Dreams of Eschaton, or Mark of the Beast, as I first was introduced to it, is an epic journey for me, still after countless listens. It expands upon the ideas in Invasion and Metal, and brings the epic elements found in «Centurian War Games» and «The Empire» to the forefront. One of the most intriguing elements of the album is its «lost» status, as something truly mysterious for many years. I think that I would enjoy it as much, even if not for the cult qualities it holds, but that aspect certainly gives it more of an epic feel. In many ways, I prefer the Mark of the Beast edition, as it is the first version I heard. Something about the worn-out tape sound is appealing for these tracks, and the track listing, although incorrect, is the flow I am more accustomed to at this point.
Voyager is a massive achievement, and I would say the greatest later Manilla Road album. The epic scale of the songs and the album concept remain an intense experience after so many listens. The heavy parts are heavier, and the epic melodic parts are more emotional. It’s an album I will never tire of.
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road album in your opinion?
I will say that the After Midnight Live tapes never seem to get mentioned, and it’s a shame. The songs there are rough, and with a few mistakes, but the atmosphere is fantastic. With the narration of the DJ in between tracks, and Mark talking about the band/songs, it really feels like I’m jamming to the radio broadcast at a party in the 70s (images of wood paneling, plaid couches, and inexplicably puke green housewares abound). The songs «Life’s So Hard» and «Dream of Peace» are the favorites here. I’m shocked that these were never recorded in a studio setting, and not included on the Invasion album. It also bears mentioning that the liner notes state that the Invasion songs were part of the first half of the broadcast, which remain lost. I don’t know if those will ever be recovered in some way, but I hope they resurface (maybe someone recorded the broadcast at home all those years ago, if indeed the tapes are lost). The album is around 40 minutes in length too, so its well within the «full length» album category, so again, it surprises me that it never gets noticed.
What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks?
«Flaming Metal System» – The utter triumph of this song, and the off-the-rails performance gets me every time. The lengthy guitar insanity at the opening is always surprising. I didn’t know, when I got a copy of Crystal Logic, that this song was added to the track listing later, but for me, excluding it from in-between «Necropolis» and «Crystal Logic» just feels wrong at this point.
«Metal» – I feel like this song typifies Manilla Road’s weirdness. The song is about how great heavy metal is, but most of the song itself wouldn’t be considered metal at all (until the break at the end, of course). It’s a weird choice, and those kinds of weird choices are what encapsulate what I love about the band.
«Dreams of Eschaton» – Epic in all ways, with the heavy aspects, acoustic aspects, and weird sound effects in the outro. «Remember well my friend: a warlord never cries!»
«Heavy Metal to the World» – Paired with «Out of Control with Rock and Roll», some other favorites. I guess part of me quite enjoys songs about the genre. Manowar can be mentioned here for certain, as they have plenty songs in this style. We wrote «Quest for Glory» and of course «Heavy Metal Adventure» to be in the same category.
«Street Jammer» – There is something about just how weird this song is that will always appeal to me. The recording on Invasion is awful, but I love everything about it. Legendry has covered this song live a few times, and it truly is a blast to play. The lyrics themselves certainly speak to me, and remind me of my teenage years when I had a late 80s Pontiac Firebird and used to drive around blasting heavy metal at top volume. No doubt, I still am a «Street Jammer»!
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road track in your opinion?
«Manilla Road» – The song bearing the band’s name. It was a track I only heard once the Underground demo resurfaced only recently. The phrase «People they ask us: What do you play? There’s only one thing to say: We’re Manilla Road» perfectly sets the tone for the band on into the present. It’s a rough track, and would benefit from a proper recording, but again, listening carefully reveals what they were about.
Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally?
This is a difficult thing to really pin down. I think it would be «Metal» or «Dreams of Eschaton» on some days, and «Tree of Life» or «Life’s So Hard» on others.
What’s your favourite solo/lead played by Mark Shelton?
Mark had a very unique style about his soloing, and a distinct phrasing of riffs he used – like a musical fingerprint. I would say that I couldn’t really choose a favorite solo, because I see the improvisational nature of his playing, and see that it could be considered a career of one long guitar solo. So, I can’t say I have a favorite truly, although the opening insanity of «Flaming Metal System» is quite memorable for me.
How would you define the term epic metal?
I would only ever loosely define it as heavy metal music that contains extended song runtimes, melodic songs, and/or fantasy-based lyrics. There must be an overall heroic feeling about the music. Generally, this includes a lot of what people refer to as US power metal bands like Warlord, Cirith Ungol, Omen, and Manowar, although I do not like the term «power metal» to describe them, myself.
Are there any young bands inspired by Manilla Road that you appreciate?
Eternal Champion, Knight and Gallow, Visigoth, Possessed Steel, Throne of Iron, Lady Beast, Iron Brigade, and so on. There really are quite a few cool bands inspired by Manilla Road, and rightly so! They deserve every bit of credit and honor, and then some.
What do you generally think of Manilla Road’s legacy and the current epic metal scene?
Manilla Road are legendary, yet they are still mysterious, and definitely a cult band. It took me a long time to find them myself, and I think that is for the better in many ways. The moment of discovery for music like theirs is something special for those who «get it». I think their legacy will only grow as time rolls on.