It’s a good time to be a Manilla Road fan.
The undisputed kings of epic metal will unleash Playground of the Damned, their fifteenth album, later this summer. Out of print albums have been reissued on CD at a good clip (mostly by Shadow Kingdom), and High Roller has offered up vinyl versions of The Deluge and 2005’s Gates of Fire. But as great as it is to have more opportunities for fans to snatch up reissued back catalog stuff, more than anything it’s a good time to be a Manilla Road fan because this band, this painfully underappreciated force of metal, hasn’t lost a step since their early, some would say “classic,” days, unlike so many of its peers. There aren’t many bands who’ve been recording for over three decades that can put out stuff that could legitimately end up topping your year-end list.
How does this all relate to a reissue of 1986’s The Deluge? Easy. This absolutely essential landmark effort is not only a contender for the best Manilla Road album, it’s also critically important in the band’s stylistic development. This is the album that cemented the blueprint to which the band has more or less stuck since its release in 1986. Sure, 1983’s Crystal Logic (considered by many to be the band’s finest hour) is where the band changed course and introduced the earliest version of its unparalleled style of epic metal. And the follow up effort, Open the Gates, saw the band further distance themselves from their early work on Invasion and Metal. But it was with The Deluge that The Road took the sum total of its parts and cranked them to eleven, settling into the style that has persisted to today’s incarnation of the band. First off, it was faster — in some cases, a LOT faster. By 1986, Metallica and the like had left their mark on the metal landscape and Mark Shelton seems to have been as defenseless as the rest of us. The result was traditional metal infused with a good deal more speed and complexity. Bringing drummer Randy Foxe into the fold on Open the Gates was an important precursor as well, as his insistent, aggressive style helped push the band’s sound forward.
Shelton himself has said that The Deluge is the first Manilla Road album he thinks was the “total package.” The writing and recording, the lyrical concepts and the complexity of the material all reached new heights in the eyes of Shelton. It IS an album that seems to have all the aces. Along with absolute scorchers like “Isle of the Dead,” “Taken By Storm,” and opener “Dementia” are the epic, dynamic arrangements of the title track and the bait-and-switch “Shadow in the Black.” Then there are the requisite Manilla Road fist-pumping sing alongs like “Divine Victim” and the heavier “Hammer of the Witches.” Throughout, Shelton’s ever-present leads (without question a treasure of the metal world) add equal measures of frenetic intensity and melodic hook.
The wonderful thing about truly great bands is that they really don’t have a ‘best’ album. You may or may not place The Deluge above the most commonly lauded albums from The Road. But there is no doubt about its importance in the band’s history. And thanks to Shadow Kingdom, you can now pick it up without having to drop 75 bucks at eBay. And if you’re new to Manilla Road, The Deluge is as good a place to start as any. I’d clear your schedule first—once you dive in there’s no coming back.