Don't get me wrong - all Manilla Road albums are unique in their own way. Each and every one has a certain flair, a certain aura about it. But for me, personally, "Crystal Logic" (originally released in 1983) is the top of the crop. Mark Shelton tries to explain what makes "Crystal Logic" so special: "You know that is always a hard one for a musician to answer. When you are the creator you seem to look at everything a little differently than everyone else. I have actually asked myself many times what has made 'Crystal Logic' so special that all other releases dim to its light. Our production, musicianship and I believe songwriting skills have improved immensely since 1983 and 'Crystal Logic'. Yet 'Crystal Logic' still stands the test of time and almost all our fans still regard this album as maybe the best we ever did. Why does 'Crystal Logic' strike so many in this fashion? I think maybe the answer, for our long time fans that remember when 'Crystal Logic' came out, is that it was the real starting point of the historical and mythological lyric content that the band delved into for the rest of Manilla Road's career. Not that the career is anywhere close to being over. We were sort of a space metal band for our first couple of releases and 'Crystal Logic' was the first to really have a solid direction in Epic Metal. I guess you might say that the band was finally developing its own personality. And for our fans that have come to the Road a little more recently I think that they see that this album was sort of the mold that the band arose from. 'Crystal Logic' was the turning point for the band. It was when we started to really grasp a more solidified idea of what Manilla Road was and was to become in the future."
So Mark has somehow already answered my next question. A lot of pepole, including me, rate "Crystal Logic" as their favourite album by the band. This is what he says: "People tell me 'Crystal Logic' is their favorite Manilla Road album more often than any other. 'Open The Gates' or 'The Deluge' comes in second with our older fans and the newer ones seem to gravitate to 'Atlantis Rising', 'Gates Of Fire' or 'Voyager' the most but still regard 'Crystal Logic' as one of our best from the days of yore. I think I would have to say that 'Crystal Logic' to a great majority of our fans is still maybe the number 1 album of the Road."
Quite obviously, with Mark being the creator of such a masterpiece, his view of the album might not be as enthusiastic as the fans' view: "Well it's obviously an important release for me because if not for the popularity of 'Crystal Logic' I may not have been able to make it as far as I have in the music business. But in truth it is not one of my most favorite Manilla Road albums. I'm not saying that I dislike the album. As a matter of fact I do like 'Crystal Logic' a lot. But the project does include the one song that I really wish I would have never written: 'Feeling Free Again'. I just still can't believe that I wrote a song with the line 'Hey baby' in it. Because of that the album appears a little ways down the list of my favorite Manilla Road projects. 'The Deluge' and 'Gates Of Fire' are my two most favorite albums that I have done with Manilla Road so far. It would be hard for me to rank most of the other projects in any precise order because they all have things that I am proud of in them."
Okay, now where to begin when analyzing the strengths of the individual compositions? For me, "Crystal Logic" is an album full of immortal Heavy Metal songs. "Dreams Of Eschaton" is maybe my personal favourite Manilla Road track of all time! Can Mark still remember his feelings when he composed the song? It seems as if he does indeed: "Thanks for the kind words. 'The Mark Of The Beast' album was originally going to be called 'Dreams Of Eschaton' but when that project got shelved, instead of released right away, I decided to try and bundle up the concept into one song. I remember thinking of Nostradamus peering into his blazing urn grabbing glimpses of the future in the flames. I thought of the many times that I had, like all of us do, visions of the future as well. Moments of deja vu or even just waking thoughts of what is to come. I remember wanting the song to deliver the feeling of frustration that most of us have about the impending doom of man. I was after a heavy and brutal sound to the main body of the song accompanied by a spacey approach to the last section because of the idea of magikally seeing into the future to watch the doom of mankind. And of course there is the acoustic intro section that was sort of a first time for me and the Road. I had done an acoustic song on 'Invasion' called 'Centurion War Games' but I had not used an acoustic intro to a song on an album up until 'Dreams Of Eschaton'. At the time it was sort of an experiment you might say. To see if I could successfully incorporate acoustic stuff into the Manilla Road sound and still have it sound epic and heavy. Seems like it might have worked." It has worked for sure …
"Flaming Metal Systems" is another great song, a storming Metal number and today still one of the Road's most popular live numbers … That's a favourite of Mark also: "Yeah, I love that song even now. It is great fun to play live even though soloing in the key of D can be challenging. To this day I think 'Flaming Metal Systems' is maybe the best metal anthem that I ever wrote. The song was originally written for the Shrapnel Records release of 'US Metal III' and I was trying to show off as much as I could with 'Flaming Metal Systems'. I saw it as a great opportunity to get the band some recognition and it was that release and song that helped propel Manilla Road into the spotlight. It was written and recorded in about a week or so while we were finishing up on the 'Crystal Logic' mixes. That is why I included the song on the re-issues of 'Crystal Logic' because it was actually recorded during the making of 'Crystal Logic'. It only seemed right."
"Necropolis" is maybe the most haunting number on "Crystal Logic", very deep … The Shark says: "The beginnings of my delving into Greek mythology and history in music form. Still one of our most popular songs ever this one is. If we did not do this song live I think the fans would kill us. I still love the haunting intro to it. It is a challenging song for me to play live though because I still sing that one and I was in my 20's when we recorded it and it's not as easy to sing nowadays almost three decades later. But I do the best I can and it always seems to be a high point in our shows."
"Crystal Logic" was originally put out by Roadster in 1983, but it got re-released on blue vinyl via Black Dragon Records in 1986. So most of the European fans might have picked the album up some three years after its initial release (and after "Open The Gates" and "The Deluge"). After "Invasion" in 1980 and "Metal" in 1982, Roadster was able to export some of the original US copies of "Crystal Logic" to the European market: "Yes, it was the first album that Roadster Records was able to distribute in Europe. We just got lucky. Important Records was one of our main distributors at that time and they had sold some of the 'Crystal Logic' albums to a distributor in Sweden. One of the copies made its way to a popular radio station in Holland and they decided that it was the best album of the year and played the hell out of it and the next thing I knew I was getting fan mail from all over Europe. Also I had Important Records wanting a bunch more copies of the album for this same Swedish distributor because it was selling very well. It was all of this activity that lead Black Dragon to our door while we were recording 'Open The Gates'."
As mentioned above, for 1985's "Open The Gates" Manilla Raod had signed with Black Dragon Records in France. This led the French label to re-release "Crystal Logic" in 1986, amounting to further European sales: "I am not sure of the final figure but I know it was a pretty large number. We were very popular in France at that point and the word was starting to spread. 'Crystal Lgic' was a re-issue by the time Black Dragon got a hold of it so they did not treat it like a new project. They did not put as much promotion into it as they did with our new releases with them. But at the time our working relationship with Black Dragon was very good. It was much later that the deal went sour on us with Black Dragon. 'Open The Gates' was our first with Black Dragon. Then came 'The Deluge', 'Mystification', the 'Crystal Logic' re-issue was somewhere about this time or a little before, 'Live Roadkill', 'Out Of The Abyss' and 'The Courts Of Chaos'. 'Out Of The Abyss' and 'Courts Of Chaos' were signed to Leviathan Records but sub-licensed to Black Dragon for European distribution. My 'Circus Maximus' project was also released on Black Dragon but under the name Manilla Road by the label's request. 'Circus Maximus' was the last album that I did with Black Dragon."
With the re-release of "Crystal Logic" making waves in Europe, was there ever talk of Manilla Raod pushing the album ever further by playing live in Europe? Shark says no: "We had absolutely no contacts in Europe when 'Crystal Logic' came out. It was not until 'The Deluge' that we started talking about trying to tour in Europe. Even then it still did not happen until after the reformation in 2000. That was our first trek onto the magik soil of Europe.'