Manilla Road - Into The Courts Of Chaos
Black Dragon
Epic Metal
9 songs (52:14)
Release year: 1990
Manilla Road
Reviewed by James
Archive review

After a stellar run of five albums, from Crystal Logic, Manilla Road enter the 90s and make their first real misstep since 1981's Metal. Although the line-up is the same, the band were looking increasingly dated, and not in a good way. I assume it was for this reason that the band decided to incorporate keyboards and programmed drums into the mix. These were both handled by drummer Randy “Thrasher” Foxe, apparently playing both at the same time using a nightmarish behemoth of a hybrid between a keyboard, drum machine and drum kit. Unfortunately the keyboards and drum machines are incredibly cheap and digital sounding, and so perhaps for this reason, more so than any other, The Courts Of Chaos sounds dated, with all its' fancy 90s trappings. The drums are very well programmed, but the stiff, robotic sound is no match for the pounding ferocity of Randy Foxe himself. The keyboards just happen to be the most inappropriate sounding things you've ever heard, the organ sounds sounding more like they should be played during a baseball match rather than in a cathedral. They're certainly well played and written, but let's be honest, the music of Manilla Road did not need someone parping away with a dodgy-sounding organ all over it.

If you can get past the weird, campy gothic horror aesthetic, however, there's still something to be gained from The Courts Of Chaos. Dig Me No Grave is as good as anything the band have ever done, a fist-pumping “we're not dead yet” anthem. Into The Courts Of Chaos is what the band clearly thought the whole record would sound like, ethereal keyboard lines and Mark Shelton's effected vocals combining to create something genuinely quite bombastic and dramatic sounding. Randy Foxe manages to stay away from his organ there, and uses some rather interesting symphonic tones that sound oddly like the sort of thing Emperor would do on In The Nightside Eclipse a few years later. Just try and ignore the irritatingly loud synthetic drum fills.

Indeed, many good songs here are effectively crippled by some digital effect or other. Despite A Touch Of Madness being one of the band's always-quality epics, and boasting one of Mark Shelton's best solos, it's rendered near unlistenable at points by a weird, overly compressed sounding guitar that sounds like it's being made by a computer, and drums that seem to rise and fall in volume for no apparent reason. Their cover of Bloodrock's morbid cult classic D.O.A is nearly shot down altogether by Foxe's blaring organ, plus a rather unnecessary extra bit added by the band in order to “metallicize” the song, when really it just sounds more than a little silly.

It's all well and good for a band to embrace new technology, but when a band like Manilla Road, a band known for their esoteric approach to heavy metal start festooning their music with all sorts of digital trickery you just know the results are going to be awkward. Into The Courts Of Chaos may perhaps be the best album the band put out since The Deluge when looking at pure songwriting, but the sheer amount of cheap digital effects (those programmed drums really are unforgivable) means I have no choice but to mark this down a bit. Still, if you thought Manilla Road were getting weird at this point, best to brace yourself for the next one. The band collapsed not long after this album, and Mark Shelton put together a new band called The Circus Maximus, with a new vocalist sharing duties with Mark Shelton and an intention to move away from the classic Manilla Road sound. However, the results came out as just plain weird, and the record label slapped the Manilla Road name on their self-titled release to shift more units. It's an anomaly in the band's discog, but it's sure to be an interesting review.

Killing Songs :
All, if you ignore the keys and drums
James quoted 84 / 100
Thomas quoted 88 / 100
Other albums by Manilla Road that we have reviewed:
Manilla Road - The Blessed Curse reviewed by Andy and quoted 83 / 100
Manilla Road - Mysterium reviewed by Andy and quoted 79 / 100
Manilla Road - Playground of the Damned reviewed by Alex and quoted 82 / 100
Manilla Road - Out Of The Abyss reviewed by James and quoted 87 / 100
Manilla Road - Mystification reviewed by James and quoted 85 / 100
To see all 12 reviews click here
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