Manilla Road Special (26): Anna Loppacher (Dreamslain)

Today, our colleague Anna Loppacher from Dreamslain talks about Manilla Road and Mark Shelton. Enjoy reading!

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

For 2/3 of the band they definitively are. Our drummer is the least Manilla Road-influenced, he is the one among the band members who draws most heavily on extreme metal influences. For me and the guitarist/vocalist, getting to know Manilla Road’s music was a huge revelation: to see a band include so diverse influences into their music, make their songs as long as they need and want and combine medieval and fantasy battle themes otherwise mostly known from power metal with progressive elements and just making the music one wants to create, rather than fitting it into existing categories, that really inspired us. And of course, adding vocals that are very untypical for power metal into a lyrical mix that would remind of power metal, really gave us some kind of reassurance: ok, so you can sing about fantasy themes without having to sound like Rhapsody or Blind Guardian (hats off to both those bands of course, it’s just that comparing us to them would only lead listeners to be disappointed)

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

Me and Igor first saw Manilla Road live at Keep it True 2017. The concert was absolutely wonderful, the kind of concert where you just keep standing for 2,5 hours after a whole day standing, and completely forget about your sore feet, because the music is just so captivating. They had a signing session as well, and we showed up there and because we felt that the way of thinking music in our band was in a way similar to what we saw in Manilla Road, we grasped the opportunity to give an exemplar of our EP to Mark Shelton. He seemed both surprised and really grateful, it was really nice to see that there was this connection through music and love for music, there was no «I am in a known/successful band and who the hell are you supposed to be»-attitude. We noticed the same atmosphere during and after a Manilla Road concert in a small club in Oslo in 2018 (I think it was one of the last concerts they played before Mark Shelton passed away), there was this beautiful connection between the band and the audience (apart from someone nearly spilling beer on Mark Shelton’s pedalboard), and afterwards, we met Neudi and Bryan outside the club and had a chat, it was a really nice and laid-back atmosphere.

What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion?

They just do their thing, and continued doing so as long as the band existed. I very much get the impression that they focused on making the music they loved all the way, never thinking about adjusting to some categories to fit in and become mainstream. This attitude has produced great art throughout the course of history. Moreover, even though some albums are very close to thrash metal and they have many very heavy songs, they always remain very melodic, unlike many bands in the more extreme genres that forsake melody for heaviness of the riffs.

What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums?

They have many great albums, so of course this is a difficult question. I love Invasion, it has great grooves and shows quite a bit of the progressive vein. Crystal Logic is great, as many will agree. I like both Crystal Logic and Spiral Castle a lot and because of similar reasons: both are strong when it comes to progressive and epic elements. As the selection of favourite albums shows, I am a big fan of Manilla Road’s epic and progressive side, I love the albums with 10 minutes long songs packed full of rhythmic, melodic and atmospheric changes.

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

Here I’ll say To Kill a King. The album has received rather little attention, maybe it was overshadowed by Mark Shelton’s death and the subsequent releases of the Shelton Chastain Project as well as re-releases. I really looked forward to the album and was not disappointed. It is great and varied, and very classically Manilla Road. I would have loved to hear some songs from that album live.

What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks?

Of course also here, I have a hard time deciding. I think «Sands of Time», «Crystal Logic», «The Empire», «Road to Chaos» (that song appeals a lot to me as a synthesizer and organ player), and «Megalodon» are outstanding tracks. They are all long (except «Road to Chaos», but the synth melodies are just absolutely great) and span over many different atmospheres and harmonies, each song is a journey in itself. Manilla Road have so many songs that feel like being taken on a journey, this is one of the chief reasons why they are a great band.

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

«She’s Fading»: it is a very classic Manilla Road song on an album that, being originally planned as a solo release, seems to be skipped by purists who focus solely on certain periods in the band’s writing. It has everything all the great Manilla Road songs have: it is a long and epic song, it has a wonderful guitar solo, and its atmosphere changes several times throughout the song.

Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally?

There are several songs that move me emotionally in different ways. Among the tracks that move me most, are «The Empire» with its beautiful guitar and vocal melodies and «Sands of Time» with its wonderful violin part. I really like metal that gives space to melody, it makes it so much more epic and captivating.

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

Here I think I’ll say his solo on «Return of the Serpent King». The intro on «The Dream Goes On» is also really cool, but I am not particularly fond of the lyrics, so the solo on «Return of the Serpent King» definitely comes first. But this question is even harder than the one about favourite albums, since a good part of what makes Manilla Road great is Mark Shelton’s guitar work.

How would you define the term epic metal?

For me, epic metal has to do with expressing a long, meandering thought or stream of thoughts as music. This opens up for changes of different kinds within one song, and I think epic metal allows just that: if the atmosphere in the thought changes, the musical expression changes, and that can happen several times during one song. It is basically an epos, expressed in music. In other words, I think epic metal is one of metal’s subgenres that to a great extent allows for creativity and exploring different artistic expressions. I wonder whether one could say that epic metal is prog rock’s little sister within the metal genre? Also, I think a non-polished production style, which is really part of the charm, is a defining aspect of epic metal.

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

There definitively are. Sometimes one discovers a really cool and intriguing new band and I think «well they are creative!» and then I often see that they either say that they are inspired by Manilla Road or I perceive a similarity, and well, that usually explains a lot. Examples of such bands are Ikitan, Ryghär, or Lunar Shadow (which we discovered because of the review on Epic Metal Blog).

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

I think it is really beautiful that they managed to create, or contributed to creating an entire subgenre, because I think that their creativity, innovative spirit (that sounds like a neoliberal catch-phrase, but I mean it in terms of daring to break through genre-, or more generally musical barriers in pursuit of a musical idea) give a kind of openness to the epic metal scene that is not found in any other metal subgenre. I think this open-mindedness is part of the epic metal scene, which may seem a bit ironic, since many aspects of epic metal are quite old school, so one could expect the genre to be rather conservative. Part of the laid-back attitude combined with a real burning passion for music, and of course especially epic metal, is clearly visible at a festival like Keep it True, which I would say in many ways is a hub for the scene. I have never seen a fight at Keep it True, haven’t been disrespected by drunk idiots, and even the elderly people renting out rooms or houses in the town are really happy to see the same metalheads again every year. This laid-back and humble attitude is something Manilla Road passed along to the scene apart from great musical inspiration.

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