Today, Cory „Hardcore“ Christner answers our questions about Manilla Road and Mark Shelton. He played drums on Gates of Fire (2005), Voyager (2008) and Playground of the Damned (2011). Enjoy reading!
When did you meet Mark Shelton for the first time?
Cory Christner: I believe it was about 2002 when my father introduced me to him. I was about 17 years old. I was playing in my first band called Hardset as a drummer and we wanted to record some of our music. My dad had known Mark since the 80s, also being a local musician, he knew that Mark had built a studio at his home and asked Mark if he would mind recording a few of our songs. Mark was eager to use his new equipment and hear some young talent and invited us over! We planned on recording three tunes but when we were done, Mark said, «Gimme all you’ve got», and we recorded all seven of our songs! Shortly after, Mark asked how I felt about trying out for his band. I’m ashamed to say that at the time, I had never heard of Manilla Road. My dad told me about the band and I was in near disbelief. I looked them up on the internet and listened to some of the music and I told Mark «NO»! three times. I told Mark «No» because I felt that I wasn’t skilled enough or deserving of the spot as this incredible band’s drummer and boy, did I have some BIG shoes to fill!
What was Mark Shelton like as a bandmate?
It was awesome to be his bandmate! We shared ideas and he was open to creativity! He was funny, ornery… (laughs). But he was a brother, a father… I confided in him. He was wise and always had great advice. I miss him.
Can you point out a special moment that you experienced with Mark Shelton?
There are so many… But I’d have to say… The most special was the moment he convinced me to give it a shot and try to be Manilla Road’s drummer. He was encouraging. I’ll never forget in my dad’s kitchen. He said, «Cory, JUST TRY! If it doesn’t work out, it’ll be fine!» I’m so glad that he talked me into it. I look back and think… wow! It‘s still almost unreal… I’ve got to travel and see places that many never will and I got to meet so many wonderful people. Some I’m still in contact with. Thank you, Mark!
What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion?
In my opinion, Mark’s writing. Everyone has their influences but Mark had a lot of unique songs! Of course, Mark’s voice. And every musician that played in the band left their mark.
What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums?
Man… I like songs on every album so this is hard.
- Crystal Logic
- Open the Gates
- The Courts of Chaos
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road album in your opinion?
Voyager... (laughs). Honestly… and this may not count because technically it’s not an actual Manilla Road album but… The Circus Maximus! I think there’s some really cool stuff on there and I’ve heard a lot of negative things about it that I didn’t understand. But to each, their own. An actual Manilla Road album? Spiral Castle and Atlantis Rising! I really liked the drums on those two and there are some really heavy tunes!
There are a lot of people who say that Voyager is the most underrated Manilla Road album. What’s your opinion on that record?
Well, if a lot of people are saying that, maybe it’s not underrated! (laughs) I joke, I joke! Seriously, I don’t know, man. I have heard mixed reviews about the album. You know, one of the coolest things, I think, about Mark Shelton is that his music was forever changing and evolving. So many albums and they all have their own sound. Though he did like to throw in old pieces in new tunes. For instance, at the end of «Epitaph to the King» he throws the main guitar melody from «The Ninth Wave». Truly incredible! If I had to guess, I’d say maybe at the time Voyager was released, the nay-sayers just weren’t ready for it? Maybe it was me? You know, it was extremely difficult for me to come up with drum parts for some songs on Voyager and Playground of the Damned. I didn’t know, if I even liked some of the songs but man, by the time we were done recording, I was really happy with what we came up with! I felt I could have done some things better or differently on some parts but… it took a bit for it to grow on me. Maybe that’s the case for some. Or maybe it just sucks! (laughs)
What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks?
THIS IS NOT A FAIR QUESTION! (laughs) But I’ll name a few…
- «Abattoir de la Mort»
- «Road of Kings»
- «Up from the CRYPT»!
- «Tree of life»
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road track in your opinion?
«Voyager». (laughs). I don’t know man, I don’t want to tell people what to like (laughs). «Voyager», the title track, was one of my favorite tunes to be a part of.
Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally?
I hate to say one of the tunes that I was on, but honestly, for me, «Abattoir de la Mort». It took so long for me to come up with parts I was happy with for that tune but I think it’s my favorite tune that I had the privilege to be a part of creating. Mark’s voice brings me to tears in this song! NO JOKE! I get teary eyed every time I hear him sing the line «I knooow that IIIII AAAM EEEEEEEEVIIIIIIIL». But it‘s the last time he sings it. When the melody goes from high to low. I’m tearing up now thinking about it. (laughs)
What’s your favourite solo/lead played by Mark Shelton?
Man, these are tough questions! There’s so many! But there’s the classic «Necropolis» solo which he played note for note every time! And I hate mentioning my own music but I really love the stuff on Gates of Fire. He always talked about taking a «David Gilmour» approach in parts and I love it!
Can you point out some favourite drum parts?
«Up from the crypt»! I had my friend use software to slow down the intro so I could make sense of what was being played, it‘s incredible! «Haunted Palace»! I very nervously contacted Randy to see, if he could chart a certain part in «Haunted Palace» for me and HE DID and E-mailed it to me! «Road of Kings»! That song is so fun to play! I love Rick’s stuff! Scott Peters. Let me just say he’s one of the reasons I told Mark «No» so many times! Neudi! He’s very precise! He doesn’t like to overplay but once in a while, he throws in a quick little fill that makes me go «wait, let me hear that again»! You can definitely hear a «thrasher» influence in his drumming! Aaron Brown…. Man, he’s been a long time family friend! AMAZING drummer/artist/comedian/friend! He has a painting in the damned Smithsonian! I love his style and dynamics! BEN MUNKIRS: The man who started it all! He was such a great dude. Another long time family friend who left us way too damned soon. I’m very sad and ashamed to say that I never had the privilege of hearing him play with Manilla Road but a very cool fact, I think… When I decided I wanted to play drums, Benny let me use an extra kit he had to practice and play on! He lived on the next street behind my parents. I taught myself how to play drums on a kit that belonged to the very first drummer of MANILLA ROAD!
How would you define the term epic metal?
To be honest, I am the wrong person to ask. I‘m sorry. I never knew anything about epic metal until after I joined Manilla Road. But Mark said it had to do with a certain style with great concepts. I picture glorious vocals and powerful heavy guitar, bass and drums!
Are there any young bands inspired by Manilla Road that you appreciate?
Battleroar, Battle Ram and Ironsword to name a few. All great guys and great musicians!
What do you generally think of Manilla Road’s legacy and the current epic metal scene?
I think it’s amazing! The legacy and the fans and musicians keeping it alive! There is a Manilla Road fan probably in every country in the world and most of Wichita, Kansas, has never heard of them! I still look back and think… wow, I did that? They let me be in that band? The first Euro show I played was at Keep It True II. We headlined! I was terrified! My first time on an airplane was from here (Wichita, Kansas) to Denver and from Denver to Frankfurt. I had a panic attack in Germany. Dry heaving in the German woods. It was so overwhelming! Sitting at a massive table with 20 people speaking four or five different languages… I’m from the middle of KANSAS. It’s truly amazing and I’m extremely honored and privileged to have been a part of it!