The band that time forgot! Manilla Road is without the shadow of a doubt one of the most innovative American Metal bands of all time. In the late '70's, they practically single-handedly invented what is today called Epic Metal. But they are not a band bathing in nostalgia. Far from it! Manilla Road have constantly played all important European fesivals over the last couple of years (from "Keep It True" to "Headbangers Open Air"). With "Gates Of Fire" and most recently "Voyager" (both on High Roller Records) Mark "The Shark" Shelton and his boys have released two phenomenal comeback platters. However, as Manilla Road has been going for such a long time, the guitarist's archive is still full of hidden gems. Just think of the unreleased "Mark Of The Beast" album, originally recorded in 1981 and finally put out for the first time by Monster Records in 2003. Now Mark has searched deep in his archive once more, only to come up with another absolute gem: Five never before heard compositions from 1979 (recorded shortly before "Invasion"), which make up the new "After Midnight Live" vinyl for High Roller Records. Mark Shelton elaborates on the five individual tracks:
"All these songs have a very young, sloppy style of writing, if you ask me but that's because I was young and my guitar playing was pretty sloppy back then. I had been playing guitar seriously for about two years at that point. This song was sort of a modern futuristic lyric thing about being a metalhead dealing with the flak you would receive from others about being a metalhead. It was a word I made up to explain the fear of being slammed because you were a long haired heavy metal freak. The music is always so hard for me to explain. I have never really been able to say at any stage of this band's career that we sounded like someone else. It's sort of an upbeat thing with a lot of chord changes for me back then. Early attempt at writing stuff like 'Road Of Kings' maybe. Not really very epic though."
2. "Life's So Hard"
"Now, this song has more of an epic feel to it. It reminds me a little of the direction we went with some of the songs on "Mark Of The Beast" musically. The lyrics are more like whining about life being a bitch. Once again, the lyrics don't strike me as epic but the music was starting to have hints of the epic thing going on."
3. "Pentacle of Truth"
"This one is sort of funny actually. This song was very new at the time. We were really still working on it and there were no set lyrics to the song. So I made up the lyrics as we were playing it. To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure what all the words were that I sang to it that night. I know the basic idea behind the song was just saying that the pagan cultures were not necessarily bad because they were not Christian and actually that there is sometimes more truth in the ancient cultures' religions than there is in Christianity. As for the music, this was just a real raw rock 'n' roll song with typical rock 'n' roll riffs."
4. "Dream of Peace"
"This my favorite song on the album. I was actually starting to get conceptual with this song. It has a very "Mark Of The Beast" epic style to it and the lyrics are the best on this project. It's about mankind digging their own grave with the way we treat the earth and make war with each other. Has sort of a Rush feel to parts of it."
5. "Herman Hill"
"This is my second favourite song on the album. Herman Hill is a public park in Wichita and the song is about a riot that took place there at a free rock concert on Easter Sunday in 1979. Wichita Kansas is right in the middle of an area of the US that we call the bible belt. This means that (and especially back then) most everyone that lives here are bible thumping Christians who think that all that don't believe in the same thing they do are going to hell. Well, times have changed a lot, thank the gods, and it's not so bad now but back then there was like a rock 'n' roll and heavy metal revolution going on locally and it was almost a war out there. People got shot at the riot and to tell you the truth the police were more to blame for the whole incident than anyone else. I happened to be at that Easter Sunday free concert and saw the whole thing up close so I wrote a song about it. The music is very standard rock 'n' roll riffs again but it has a sort of catchy thing going on it that I have always´liked."
As already mentioned, the songs were recorded even before the first Manilla Raod album "Invasion" was put out via Roadster Records in 1979. So one can assume that the material was considered to appear on the album back then? Mark Shelton: "Yeah, all these songs were up for maybe being on the album. We did have a time restraint for how long the album could be. These are pretty much songs that we did not feel were good enough to be on the album. Now, 'Dream of Peace', I think, would have made it on the album but I think I had just finished writing the lyrics to the song after we had recorded "Invasion".
The name of the new (old) Manilla Road album is "After Midnight Live", paying tribute to the radio show which aired those gems in the first instance. The guitarist explains: "We had just finished recording the album "Invasion" when we played on the "After Midnight" radio show. It was the December in 1979 and I remember that it was cold and snowing out the night of the show. KMUW radio is the Wichita State University station and "After Midnight" was the alternative rock radio program on the station. The producer of the "After Midnight" program was Sherry Avett who was a leader in the metal underground movement here in Wichita. The show was on every night from midnight to six in the morning and it was the only place you could hear heavy music on the radio in our area at the time. After we did this show I started college at WSU and actually got a job at the station as a DJ. I did that DJ gig for about three years. The show was always promoting and playing music from the local scene and they had been playing advance cuts from the "Invasion" album for a couple of weeks with really good response from their audience. So Sherry asked me if we would be interested in doing a live feed through the station on the show and do a live Manilla Road show on the air. They had never done it before and I thought it was a great idea so we went for it. We started playing about 12:30 AM and finished up about 3:00 AM. It was a blast and we had really good phone-in response while the show was on the air. The guys that were engineering the session recorded the show and that is how the tape came to exist. They did not do any more live broadcasts like that again that I know of."
As Manilla Road compositions tend to be rather epic, the question remains how many songs in total were recored live for that session? Shelton: "There was two tapes that captured the whole show. The first tape had mostly songs from the "Invasion" album on it. I think the only song from the album that we did not play was 'Centurion War Games'. Unfortunately, that tape has not been found. Rick Fisher (our drummer back then) had ended up with the tapes and many years later when we were meeting with each other he handed me a tape and said 'Here, you might be interested in this.' It was the second tape to the "After Midnight" show. Well, it was in pretty bad shape and, hell, it was 20 some years old so it was not a surprise that it was messed up. But I was able to salvage the tape and get a really good digital rip-off of it. All the songs on the second tape are the ones that are on the "After Midnight Live" album now. I did not even touch up the sound on it. I left it all the way it sounded originally because of the archaic nature of the whole thing. This way people can experience what the band really sounded like live back in that day. There were probably 14 songs on the two tapes total or something like that."
Matthias Mader (Iron Pages)