Manilla Road - Voyager 3.5/5

Reviewed: 4-25-08


1. Tomb of the serpent king/Butchers of the sea
2. Frost and fire
3. Tree of life
4. Blood eagle
5. Voyager
6. Eye of the storm
7. Return of the serpent king
8. Conquest
9. Totentanz (The dance of death)

The latest work from the legendary cult metal band continues the work of its 3 predecessors, the new post-millenial Manilla Road, and for those who greatly enjoyed that era, they should definitely love this. Additionally, those who are looking for something in the vein of epic, unyielding, doomy atmosphere that they will approach with patience (and who don’t mind a very raw production) may also find a strong CD here, but those truly looking for a full return to Manilla’s more glorious 80s sound won’t find it anymore than they did on 'Gates of fire'.

Without rehashing a terribly brief history of Manilla Road that I went into on the 'Gates of fire' review, Manilla at their highest point produced some of the greatest metal ever known, but when they returned after a dozen year hiatus with mainstay guitarist and voice Mark Shelton, and a whole new band, the CDs they produced were very drawn out, very raw, and continued some elements of the band’s work while forgetting others.

'Voyager' certainly lives up to the lyrical legacy of Manilla Road, telling the story of a viking ship seeking new lands away from the tyranny of Christianity, and bringing battle and vengeance as they go, culminating in arrival in the new world.

The presence of the CD is epic, unrelenting, with each song mainly keeping to its original tempo, most of which are lower midtempo, and structured in long, brooding, and rather repetitive style. The guitar work, once you listen to it, is strong, but it really is a matter of particular preference how much jam you want in your metal, because with most songs 6-8 minutes, and feeling much longer, they feel drawn out. The first couple of times I listened to it, the feeling that the CD was droning was my initial impression, but with more careful consideration it has definitely grown on me.

Symptomatic of the requisite patience is that you don’t even hear any “real” music until 4 minutes into the opening track. “Conquest” actually portrays a bit of the speed and aggression that the band once displayed on certain songs, while “Eye of the storm” is almost completely acoustic, but ironically, while it’s quite a change of style it is not, literally, a change of pace. The one part where the CD falls short of 'Gates of fire' is that I do not hear one truly epic, memorable chorus that captures my soul, which 'Gates of fire' provided most strongly with “Fall of Illiam”.

Mark’s vocals range from his most typical Manilla voice, that most unique of styles, which sounds a bit weaker, mixed with his also familiar melodic growl, and very clean vocals on songs like “Eye of the Storm”. On tracks like “Conquest” he goes into a deathish mode, which actually isn’t bad considering the song. The drum work is quite strong, like the latest Solitude Aeternus 'Alone', within the overall tempo of each measure, rife with intricate fills and interesting motifs. However, UNLIKE that CD, the production on all the “metal” elements is incredibly raw, 80s vinyl on a cheap turntable raw, and at this point it may be something that Mark really wants to capture the warmth of that time, but I still would prefer a clearer production. I think the CD would really stand out more if some of the more aggressive guitar riffs came crunching through like a razor, and there was more differentiation between the drums and other instruments.

This CD definitely grew on me after repeated, careful, and patient listens, and if you look at songs as epic and brooding as a good thing, you will definitely enjoy this unique mixture. If you liked 'Gates of fire', and won’t be disappointed when you don’t find that one chorus on here, then again this should be something to get. If generally slow to midtempo songs that are structured to be fairly repetitive, mixed with a raw production sounds like a negative, or, if the last few Manilla Road CDs have left you very cold, then probably skip this one.




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