This is what a lot of fans have been waiting for for such a long time: A new studio album by one of the most legendray US Metal bands of all time. I am talking about Manilla Road and their brand new album "Playground of the Damned". If you count "After Midnight" and the Circus Maximus project as regular Manilla Road longplayers, then it's their 16th studio album. This is how Mark "The Shark" Shelton views "Playground of the Damned" in comparism to 2008's epic "Voyager": "Well, first of all 'Playground of the Damned' is not a concept album. Some of the songs could be considered inter-related though. Our last two albums were huge conceptual projects and I thought it was time to not be so long winded with the story lines. The song 'Art of War' has some Viking philosophy within it so I guess that comes within the realm of the 'Voyager' theme but lyrically the rest of the album does not have much in common with 'Voyager'. As for the music; every album the Road does turns out a bit different than the others while oddly enough retaining a certain amount of familiarity with the bands overall style which has taken three decades to create. This album follows that path as well as any other that we have done. I think this is the best production we have achieved yet in Midgard Sound Labs and I am more than proud to put my name on this project. It's always difficult for me to describe or compare my music. The lyrics are primarily dark in nature but there is an air of moral warnings within as well. The music is heavy and aggressive with not very many mellow parts (a few though). I think we paid a little more attention to melodic content on this project than we did on 'Voyager'. 'Playground' does not have as much Thrash-like content as 'Voyager' with a little more attention to groove and hook but the project is still very heavy with some pretty intricate parts in several of the songs. The other main difference is that we did not scream as much on this album as we did on 'Voyager'. More singing and less growling. I am personally happier with the solos on this album than I was with 'Voyager'. Once again more attention to melody than just shredding. Although there is ample fast and shred-like soloing going on in 'Playground'. The bass parts sound different also because of using different musicians since Harvey is no longer with us."
There are only eight tracks on the album but some are rather epic, as you can expect from a band like Manilla Road: "Three of the songs are seven minutes plus but the others are around five minutes. Most of our albums in the past have pushed 60 minutes or longer but this time we actually made the album fit the traditional time frame for albums. We have always run into troubles with having more material on our CD's than what we can fit on a LP. So this time we paid really close attention to our times on the songs so that we did not have that problem again. The whole project is a little less than 50 minutes long so you don't have time to get bored with it."
One number is called "Grindhouse", that's the name of a movie released by Quentin Tarantino in 2007. Mark explains: "It relates to the genre and the movies that Tarantino and Rodriguez have been doing such as 'Death Proof', 'Planet Terror' and 'Machete'. I grew up going to Grindhouse theaters and I think it's really cool that the genre is still alive. Just writing about stuff that trips my trigger so to speak."
Manilla Road fans are aware of the fact that by now the Viking theme is kind of a trademark for Manilla Road. Lately, a lot of new bands have jumped onto the Viking bandwagon, like Dimmu Borgir or Amon Amarth. Mark Shelton has noticed this as well: "I was asked once why I do so much Viking stuff in our music and my answer was 'because Vikings are fucking cool'. I do believe Vikings are cool but the main reason I touch on the subject so much is because of my heritage. I'm not familiar with Dimmu Borgir but I have seen Amon Amarth live and they were pretty good. I have not really studied their lyrics so I don't know how astute or intelligent they are about the Viking content but I can tell you that we are relentless in researching anything before we write about it. I can see why so many bands want to jump on the Viking bandwagon though. It's because Vikings are really cool. Personally, I think the culture's history and the myths and legends of the people are just incredibly interesting and they played a huge part in the history of the world. And if there is still anyone out there that believes that Columbus discovered America then send them to me and I will set them straight with a real history lesson."
Manilla Road started out in the second part of the 1970's, so I always wondered, if they used the Viking theme from day one or if some of their inspirations came from literature rather than from music: Viking sagas, Edgar Allan Poe and so on … Shark: "The first songs we did that really had the sword and sorcery thing going on were on our second official studio album release called 'Metal'. Songs like 'Enter the Warrior' and 'Queen of the Black Coast' had that going on but it was the album 'Crystal Logic' that I really started to delve into the Viking and Celtic themes. It was early on in the career of the band but not right from the start. Literature has been one of the major inspirations for much of Manilla Road's music and lyric content. History, legend, folklore, myth, fantasy adventure, the occult, pagan and Christian philosophy and stories of horror and the macabre from all over the world have played an important role in the creation of Manilla Road's lyrical style. One of the most re-occurring themes in Manilla Road's lyrics is the idea of standing firm in your beliefs no matter what they be and also never giving up even when the odds are against you. We have a lot of those don't mess with what you don't understand or can't control messages in the lyrics also. But at the root of it all is just spinning a good yarn (tale)."
"Fire Of Asshurbanipal" is a song from the new album "Playground of the Damned" inspired by literature: "'Fire of Asshurbanipal' is inspired from the short story, of the same name, by Robert E. Howard. It's the tale of an adventurer that is searching for a lost city in the desert where is said to be the legendary magik gem called the 'Fire of Asshurbanipal'. He succeeds in finding the city and the jewel but not without flirting with its monstrous guardian. It's sort of like Indiana Jones stuff with demons. My suggestion is to read the story. It is worth the time if you like adventure - fantasy - horror.
They say that life imitates art but in Manilla Road's case our art imitates life and the many philosophies that are weaved into what is the human experience."
Some '70's/early '80's bands also influenced by Viking mythology are Heavy Load from Sweden, Faithful Breath from Germany with their rare debut album "Fading Beauty" (1974) and maybe even Manowar ("Battle Hymns" and "Into glory Ride"). Mark Shelton was aware of those bands and their concepts: "I was really into Heavy Load back then and still break out their albums and play them now and again. I was aware of Manowar and loved the 'Battle Hymns' album especially since Orson Wells was on it. The other band I'm not familiar with even now."