Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of Mark Shelton’s earthly death. We honour him today with an interview with Rick Thor, a true epic metal warrior from Portugal – you know him from bands like Ironsword, Ravensire and currently Rage and Fire. Enjoy reading – and up the hammers for Mark.
André: Would you classify Manilla Road as an important source of inspiration for your music?
Rick: Manilla Road are the quintessential epic metal band. I remember reading about them in fanzines in the nineties, but I only really discovered the band and started paying attention to them twenty years ago when I joined Ironsword and became aware of the heavy/power metal underground that was thriving far away from the lights of the mainstream. In the process, I discovered many bands I didn’t know yet, such as Brocas Helm or Slough Feg, playing amazing metal in the vein of old favourites of mine such as Omen, Cirith Ungol or Jag Panzer. It was a very exciting scene to become aware of and be a part of. Of course, Manilla Road stood high as the overlooked, underrated masters of 80s metal (now made some justice) and the excellence and charisma of their records was second to none. So back in the Ironsword days, later in Ravensire, and now in Rage and Fire, Manilla Road has always been a musical guiding light for me. I played a cover of “Necropolis“ live with Ravensire once, and I even recorded “The Veils of Negative Existence“ with Ironsword. So definitely a source of inspiration, yes.
When did you meet Mark Shelton for the first time?
I met Manilla Road for the first time at Keep It True II, back in 2004, which they were headlining and in which I went to play with Ironsword (it was in fact the band’s first live presentation ever). It was a long time ago, but an unforgettable event, with many great bands… I can remember those days vividly. I saw Manilla Road live other times later on, but that first concert was truly a memory to take to the grave. Mark was a really very nice guy; all of the band were, really.
Can you point out a special moment that you experienced with Manilla Road?
Probably all that happened at that concert… I remember Cory, the drummer, coming into the backstage area after the gig absolutely ecstatic… he was a really young guy back then, and perhaps he just thought Manilla Road were a small-time band from Wichita that had recorded some albums during the eighties, and suddenly he was standing there, after headlining a festival in Europe with some 1500 Manilla maniacs who had gone totally wild and worshipped his band… But when I really think about it, a very special moment was when Mark gave Ironsword the honour of lending his voice to the intro in “Overlords of Chaos“, the song from the album of the same name. When I spin it, it’s always an amazing feeling to hear his voice over our instruments.
What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion?
That’s a good question and not easy to answer… in my opinion, it’s the personality of Mark’s voice over the absolutely phenomenal songwriting, mainly on those monumental albums from Crystal Logic to The Courts of Chaos… there’s something otherworldly, dreamlike about the music. Mark’s lyrics strike a chord deeply in me, in the teenager I once was who listened to metal and read Poe, Lovecraft and Conan comics. I love all the albums, but this time is really magical.
What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums?
That’s tough! I have to go with Crystal Logic, Mystification and Open the Gates.
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road album in your opinion?
Well, either they’re all underrated because they haven’t got the recognition they deserve, or none because Manilla Road fanatics listen to them all. Of the, shall we say, “non-classic“ ones, I guess my favourite is Voyager.
What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks?
Far too hard to say, again. Five that could certainly make such a list are “Helicon“, “Flaming Metal Systems“, “Up from the Crypt“, “Dreams of Eschaton“, “Divine Victim“.
What’s the most underrated Manilla Road track in your opinion?
I don’t really know. Is “Venusian Sea“ underrated? It’s one of their best songs, in my opinion.
Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally?
Many do. If I have to pick one, it’s probably “The Road of Kings“. An amazing song. When Mark sings “What did you see behind the line? Was it really what you expected to find?” I always find it deeply moving.
What’s your favourite solo/lead played by Mark Shelton?
When I think of Mark soloing, I always remember his epic double solo at the “Epilogue“ of the Crystal Logic album. So I guess that one.
How would you define the term epic metal?
It’s not easy to determine… several epic metal bands sound very different, from Wotan to Atlantean Kodex to Battle Ram, Procession and Herzel and so on… I think there tends to be a literary influence – a storytelling – and a historical, mythological longing, together with a strong metal attitude. And an atmosphere, a cinematic atmosphere perhaps…. Let’s say the original soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian by Basil Poledouris…. it’s one of the most epic metal albums of all time and it’s not even metal! How can you solve this conundrum? That, my boy, is the riddle of steel!
Are there any young bands inspired by Manilla Road that you appreciate?
I don’t know how many young bands feel directly inspired by Manilla Road, but there are many new bands coming up that keep the flame of true metal burning… If you follow the NWOTHM Full Albums YouTube channel made by Anderson Tiago, the amount of bands you hear there every month is astounding, many of them are very good. But to pointedly answer your question, Eternal Champion deserve all the recognition they’ve received. A truly remarkable band. And definitely inspired by Manilla Road.
What do you generally think of Manilla Road’s legacy and the current epic metal scene?
Manilla Road’s legacy shall live for a long time to come, for as long as there are younger bands carrying the true metal flame. It was a tragedy for Mark to die, taking Manilla Road with him, when he still had a lot to give. Back then, we in Ravensire recorded a song dedicated to him, “After the Battle“, with some guest vocals by James Beattie of Terminus (one of the best bands ever for me – their latest album is insanely good). As to the current epic metal scene, there are many very good bands that have established strong names, such as Visigoth, all the Greek bands, newer bands from Canada like Gatekeeper, Smoulder, Sandstorm, and from elsewhere like Vendel, Chevalier… the list goes on… we now had the unexpected return of Tales of Medusa… and in fact I hope the live scene now manages to rise again, after these two disastrous Covid years. Hopefully there will be a vibrant and strong scene again with no further hindrances. And Mark Shelton’s inspiration will always be present.