Manilla Road Special (38): Brandon Corsair (Serpent Rider)

Today we start the 38th round of our Manilla Road Special with Brandon Corsair, guitarist for Serpent Rider, among others. We hope you enjoy reading his very interesting answers.

André: When did you first come across Manilla Road in your life?

Brandon: As a young teenager, I was not particularly into anything other than extreme music. In high school I pretty much only listened to death metal and a handful of black metal bands. That all changed when I heard a Slough Feg song on a forum, “High Passage / Low Passage“ off of Traveller, and suddenly I was obsessed with heavy metal. Slough Feg led me to both the term “epic heavy metal” and to Brocas Helm, and Brocas Helm led to Manilla Road, who have since become my absolute favorite band of all time. 

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

Certainly. There’s an undercurrent of influence from what the Shark did in almost everything that I do, and I’ve written a couple of tributes to Manilla Road (most directly the first couple minutes on the last song on Draghkar’s debut album). Serpent Rider is similarly named directly from a lyric from “The Ram” which should become obvious after listening back through the song with serpent riding in mind.  Manilla Road is never a singular monolith as an influence, but neither is anything else; I don’t like to write music that “worships” any particular band or movement, and in fact I usually dislike other bands that rip off anything too on-the-nose. That being said the guitar wizardry that Mark Shelton did in Manilla Road eternally is reflected in the way I put together my own riffs, the drummers that he chose are always ones that I reference to drummers in my bands (particularly Randy Foxe’s work!), and Mark’s eternal creativity and consistency of voice even within the ever-evolving Manilla Road discography is endlessly inspirational. It’s a rare musician in this genre that grows and changes without losing themself and Mark was the master of integrating his own special sound into every new one that he tackled.

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

Seeing them live for the only time at Frost and Fire festival in Ventura, California. It was a perfect evening of magick, comradery, and heavy metal. Seeing bands like Twisted Tower Dire, Raven, Ashbury, and Jaguar before having my teeth kicked in by Manilla Road left memories that will resonate for a lifetime. 

What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion?

I think that a lot of it is the incredible sincerity, originality, and creativity that Mark had. Any number of bands had a similar level of quality, hard as it can be to admit about one of your favorites – but how many kept growing and developing like that? How many caught our hearts with even their weakest albums? Persevering through the years in a scene that for many years did not care about Manilla Road, playing their hearts out even after heavy metal had gone by the wayside and before people regained an interest in it, and staying true to themselves thematically even when it was not in their best interest- these are the aspects of a band that has transcended what is merely great to become the legends that they rightfully have become.  

What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums?

The DelugeOpen the Gates, and Crystal Logic.

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

Certainly Mark of the Beast! Though it’s gotten more traction over the years I think it’s right around as good as any of the more epic material that they’re known for, and it’s so incredibly unique. The only album I can think of that shares any of the same atmosphere is Full Moon’s eponymous debut, and though that’s another favorite, it can’t hold up to Mark of the Beast! Some of the coolest art a band has ever had, too, such a shame that the reissue was forced to use something else. 

What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks?

That’s like picking children! Without giving it much thought, I’ll say “The Ninth Wave,” “Heavy Metal to the World,” “Witches Brew,” “Masque of the Red Death,” and “Crystal Logic.” 

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

“Enter the Warrior” off of Metal. People will point at “Queen of the Black Coast” or “Cage of Mirrors” as the most powerful prototypes for what would become the classic Manilla Road sound from that record but “Enter the Warrior” is the one that catches me the most, and is a direct precursor to the SWORDS AND CROM section of epic metal that bands like Ironsword or Jotemheim developed with such passion years later. It’s hard as steel, has lyrics that perfectly match what you’d want from the band that inspired barbarian metal legends, and if it’s rough around the edges, well, what polish would you expect from barbarians? 

Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally?

It’s cheating but the one-two punch of “The Veils of Negative Existence” and “Dreams of Eschaton” would have to take my vote. The riffs themselves have a gloomy touch that lend well to the lyrics that constantly battle it out between melancholy and ferocious optimism. “I will never put my sword down, I will never run away!”

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

Now that’s a hard one given how many amazing solos that Mark played over the years! The man was a savant. Off hand I’ll say “The Ninth Wave” because talking about it earlier while picking my favorite songs has me excited about it! 

How would you define the term epic metal?

To me epic metal is difficult to describe but easy to hear; it’s a collection of bands influenced by groups like Manilla Road, early Manowar, Candlemass and Bathory’s Hammerheart (not necessarily all at once!) that have a sense of bombastic, well, epicness that’s as much akin to a Poledouris soundtrack compositionally and thematically as it is to moods evoked by heavy metal itself. 

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

Certainly. I’m a big fan of Smoulder, who did a wonderful cover of “Cage of Mirrors” on their last EP, as well as of Visigoth (who covered “Necropolis”), Chevalier (direct tribute to Manilla Road on their second album) and Eternal Champion. It’s sometimes hard to guess who actually was influenced by Manilla Road in more recent bands given that epic heavy metal has come a tradition all of its own, but some other bands that I’ve not seen talk about Manilla Road but that fall into that general epic metal vibe and that I enjoy quite a bit would include Acerus, Megaton Sword, Dark Forest, Terminus, Wrathblade (though they’re perhaps hard to call a “young band”!), and Vultures Vengeance

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

Manilla Road’s legacy is flawless, and their touch on heavy metal can easily be seen for itself in how many bands take their names and music from them. There are festivals named for Manilla Road songs, a tremendous amount of memorials after Mark’s passing, and with epic heavy metal enjoying the most attention and success it has ever had, Manilla Road continues to find new fans each and every day. I’m not always thrilled by how popular the style of music itself has become as that means that quality bands are increasingly drowned out by the tidal wave of new ones that are not as good, but undeniably the scene is stronger than ever, and that can only be a good thing for those of us that live and breath for true heavy metal. 

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