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Manilla Road is anachronistic in every sense of the word. Another way to think of them is as dimensional travelers visiting us from a reality where thrash and extreme metal never happened. If there's any band in metal that deserves respect, it's Manilla Road. They've served their time.

My goal here is to send a new pair of ears in Manilla Road's direction. Just one, that's all it will take, and I'll be satisfied. I want this more than for any other band whose album I'll review for this site.

Manilla Road's never going to make that an easy task. Their music can only be described as Metal. It is epic, doomy, a bit NWOBHM influenced, and it is True. It is articulate without being Images and Words or Perseverance and it doesn't fit into any genre. Manilla Road's post-Crystal Logic sound has acquired quite the patina, and Playground of the Damned changes nothing but adds a little. Mark the Shark's leads speak in longer and more complex phrases than previously. The drumming is more active: constant fills up and down the kit, a busy mix of metal and rock groove, kick drums trotting, punctuating, jabbing, but never sprinting.

That all probably sounds appealing to a number of readers, so then how does Manilla Road make my task of creating a new fan for them so hard? You don't date a Manilla Road album, you marry it. Mark's voice is untrained and his tone nasally, warbly, and gruff. He delivers his lines with charisma, but he is not an accomplished singer, and that wouldn't fit the band's music anyway. Playground's production is vintage. It's thin but crystal clear without being glassy. The snare pops but the rest of the kit sounds like Tupperware...except on high-end equipment. The guitars are emaciated. There's enough bass presence to make us think that someone played bass . . . maybe? Turning up the volume just emphasizes how quiet the album is.

But here's the heart of the issue: if Manilla Road didn't play up those qualities, they wouldn't freaking be Manilla Road.

Think about your local Renaissance Faire. Does it have anything at all to do with the Renaissance or Medieval eras? The food is very safe and very fried, there are huge turkey legs, and the water won't give everybody crippling diarrhea. The jousting is also very safe and very fake. There's a tongue-in-cheek quality to the whole thing, the way the performers have awful fake Cockney accents, vendors hawk Salty Nuts, and acre upon acre of cleavage is on display. It's a party with a theme, not a simulation or a reenactment. One year I saw some people in Star Trek uniforms, which was appropriate in a bizarre, backwards sort of way. Visit the natives on an away mission, anybody?

Now think about the real Renaissance and Medieval eras. The food is awful, and it's even odds whether the jousting or the drinking water will kill you first. All who live die prematurely. Legs are unshaved, bodies are unbathed, fleas and lice abound. Literacy is a skill worthy of listing on a resume. War is a lifestyle and an occupation, not an event.

The vocals, the production, the investment necessary to enjoy the music: those are Manilla Road's innate qualities. For some people, those qualities are like unbathed bodies, awful food, and lethal drinking water. Boot those qualities for big stupid hooks and a deafening, compressed digital production, and all the sudden we'd be left with Renaissance Faire metal. Manilla Road ain't Ren Fest metal and they don't front. They're honesty recorded for posterity. You can love 'em or leave 'em, but you can't stay above 'em, cause they're always True.

So there it is, my best attempt at making a new Manilla Road fan. I can't misrepresent a band as honest as Manilla Road without disrespecting them.

— Richard Street-Jammer

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HEAR PLAYGROUND OF THE DAMNED

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Manilla Road - "Into The Maelstrom"

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. . .

Manilla Road - "Abattoir de la Mort"

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BUY PLAYGROUND OF THE DAMNED

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