After a relatively long break, we are very happy to continue our Manilla Road Special today. This time we talked to Ryan Ohlson, guitarist in Knight & Gallow from Sacramento, a band that has already been featured on our blog several times. We hope you enjoy reading it.
André: Would you classify Manilla Road as an important source of inspiration for your music?
Ryan: Absolutely! They’re one of the biggest influences on my songwriting. While I pull from a lot of different styles in my guitar playing, when it comes to writing songs one of my biggest goals is that the music itself tells a story and takes the listener on a journey. So much of that comes directly from Manilla Road, they were masters of that approach to writing.
André: Can you point out a special moment that you experienced with Manilla Road?
Ryan: There are a few, but I think the big one for me now is the first day I jammed with Knight & Gallow. Our singer Nick and I got along right away, and after we played some songs we spent an hour or two just geeking out about heavy metal. Our mutual love of Manilla Road is ultimately what sealed the deal, we both knew that it was the right fit. Since then, we’ve occasionally covered “Necropolis“ at our shows and there are often people singing along. It warms my heart connecting with people in our tiny little metal scene here with a band that means so much to me, so those moments are a close second!
[Nick was one of the first guys we interviewed for our Manilla Road Special, you can find the article here.]
André: What makes Manilla Road special in your opinion?
Ryan: To me what makes Manilla Road such a special band is the way their music conjures such a rich atmosphere. Not only do the lyrics tell a story, but the music really places the listener into that world. It’s raw and authentic, and Mark Shelton was never afraid of experimenting throughout Manilla Road’s career. Especially as a very old school, underground band, Manilla Road was always evolving, from the early space rock material, to the classic era, to later in their career even incorporating more extreme elements like death metal vocals on records like Spiral Castle and Voyager. They were always pushing forward, but always distinctly Manilla Road.
André: What are your three favourite Manilla Road albums?
Ryan: This one is really hard, because I don’t think they ever made a bad album. However, if I have to choose they would be:
- Spiral Castle
- Crystal Logic
I think Mystification is Manilla Road at their peak, it really has all of the elements I love the band for and I think is the perfect encapsulation of their sound. Spiral Castle to me is just the most inspired record of their later career. The incorporation of harsh vocals and some more brutal riffing makes it really unique up to that point, and while many would argue Voyager is an improved take on that, I feel like Spiral Castle just has something a little extra. Finally, Crystal Logic I think is special to most of us. It’s most fans’ introduction to Manilla Road, and it’s iconic. While it may not be the ultimate representation of the band, songs like “Necropolis“ and “Flaming Metal Systems“ are all-time classics, and the record is really the beginning of what Manilla Road would become.
André: What’s the most underrated Manilla Road album in your opinion?
Ryan: For me, it’s Gates of Fire. I think it gets overlooked a little being sandwiched between Spiral Castle and Voyager, both stronger albums overall. But Gates of Fire is a really great record, and the concept of dividing the track list into three different stories with three songs each I think is one of the coolest things on a Manilla Road record. It’s an awesome approach to the storytelling Manilla Road is known for, and the songs really do a great job of pulling you into the stories.
André: What are your five favourite Manilla Road tracks?
Ryan: In no particular order: “Mystification“, “Divine Victim“, “Spiral Castle“, “Flaming Metal Systems“ and “Road of Kings“.
André: What’s the most underrated Manilla Road track in your opinion?
Ryan: It’s gotta be “Feeling Free Again“. That song catches a bad rap, and I know Mark himself disliked it. Personally, I think it’s a really fun song. It’s goofy, and hearing Mark Shelton sing “Hey Baby!” is always a little funny. It’s a little quirk in their discography that I love, and it’s a good one when you’re driving on a sunny day with the windows down.
André: Which Manilla Road track moves you the most emotionally?
Ryan: “Mystification“, for sure. It’s my personal favorite Manilla Road song and for me, it really captures the mystery, beauty, and atmosphere that make the band so special. It takes you to a fantasy world and feels truly magical, and that is why I fell in love with the band.
André: What’s your favourite solo/lead played by Mark Shelton?
Ryan: It’s easily the main solo in “Divine Victim“. I think it’s the best example of his overall style as a lead guitar player. He’s not the cleanest, most technically amazing player in the world, and especially coming from the 80’s I think he gets overlooked a lot because of that, but that song to me highlights his strengths. Specifically, his melodic phrasing is amazing. He builds so much energy playing wild licks, but picks the perfect moments to insert really memorable melodies, and develops the solo to a really epic climax.
André: How would you define the term epic metal?
Ryan: I think epic metal is best described as a style of heavy metal that is rooted in tradition but thrives on innovation, and which takes the listener on a journey through both the lyrics and the music. There are no strict rules to be epic metal, the most important thing is the feeling that you create through your music.
André: Are there any young bands inspired by Manilla Road that you appreciate?
Ryan: So many! I love the big players in the modern epic metal scene, bands like Visigoth, Eternal Champion, and Atlantean Kodex. They’re big reasons why I even discovered the genre beyond Manilla Road to begin with. However, there are a ton of newer and less well-known bands in the genre that are incredible. Big ones for me, in no particular order, are: Herzel, Vultures Vengeance, Gatekeeper, Wanderer, Throne of Iron, Ryghär, Black Soul Horde, Legendry, Seven Sisters, Iron Griffin, Morgul Blade, and Darkest Era, to name just a few.
André: What do you generally think of Manilla Road’s legacy and the current epic metal scene?
Ryan: I think the magnitude of Manilla Road’s legacy is immense and only growing over time. While epic metal is a small niche, especially here in the US, there are new bands every single year and Manilla Road is the standard against which they are all measured. Their influence also definitely extends beyond just epic metal. A lot of black metal clearly has elements from Manilla Road. Modern Darkthrone clearly takes huge influence from Manilla Road, and Fenriz is one of the reasons for the surge in attention for Manilla Road in the 2010s. As far as what I think about the current epic metal scene, I think its future has never looked brighter. There are so many bands in the style and it has become really diverse. Between a band like Morgul Blade taking the style into a blackened direction, to Iron Griffin leaning almost toward the 70’s space rock side with synth textures and cool clean guitar passages, to Wanderer from Portugal with their rough, speed metal inspired take on the style. I think the scene will only continue to diversify, which makes it a really exciting time to be a fan of epic metal.