18 albums into their crusade to bring Kansas proto-metal to the masses and Manilla Road keeps right on truckin’. To Kill a King is yet another cobblestone on their pathway to Vahalla and predictably delivers a flying buttress of epic, olde-timey metal mixed with doom and 70s hard rock, sounding like Atlantean Kodex would if the current members were replaced by dirty bikers. Founder Mark Shelton likely plans to keep passing his epic metal stones until Odin calls him home, and at this point it seems he can crank out an album a year without breaking a sweat. Hero-worship aside, it can sometimes feel as though he’s spinning wheels and grinding the gears on his ageless metal machine. Luckily, most of the shortcomings on any Manilla Road outing are at least partially offset by Shelton’s dazzling, dizzying guitar-work and wild, free-form jammage, and this platter is no exception. In for a penny, in for a jammy, that’s what I always say.

Nice guys that they are, the band eases you into the flow with the 10-minute title track, which tells the tale of the original emo prince, Hamlet of Denmark. Luckily, in the hands of Mr. Shelton, there’s far less hemming, hawing and angsty self-reflection and way more chopping and usurping, as a proper metal lord is wont to do. For an oversized opus, the song plays out pretty smoothly and allows for plenty of extended guitar showcases. It has everything a classic metal tune should, though Mark’s vocals are way too sedate and somnambulistic for such a slow-building saga of hate and revenge. In sharp contrast, “Conqueror” is far more aggressive and in-your-face, with heavy riffage and straightforward momentum. It almost feels like an early Candlemass song that ran away from home and became a greasy thug, and the fluid, long-winded jams add an interesting spin to things.

“In the Wake” is one of the more “accessible” songs Manilla Road ever penned, with a touch of of Brainstorm in the song structure and riffs. “The Talisman” has a noticeable Danzig vibe to the leads, and “Ghost Warriors” is a lot doomier and reminiscent of early Pentagram. While no song is outright bad, “Castle of the Devil” begins to feel monotonous before it wraps, and closer “Blood Island” is about The Isle of Dr. Moreau and all I can think of is Marlon Brando in a moo moo with an ice bucket on his head, and nothing in the music is compelling enough to shake me from that disturbing visage.

At over an hour, To Kill a King is way too long and feels it by the seventh track. Another issue is how the band seems to be composing lately. Many of the songs feel like simple shells designed solely to give Mr. Shelton a platform to drop monster jams upon. Many don’t feel thought out, and all are saved by big league soloing. When song after song feels average, but gets elevated by inspired jams, it’s hard to say the band’s writing is at maximum effectiveness. This results in tedium and fatigue two-thirds of the way in, where I just want to get to the fret-board gymnastics and skip the pretense of “song craft.”

In the plus column, this has one of the best productions ever heard on a Manilla Road platter. Long known for clunky, slipshod sounding albums, To Kill a King sounds decent, if a bit muddy and cluttered. Baby steps!

With this band, you come for the guitar-work and stay for the mead and swordplay. Shelton is a chaos wizard at loose, improvisational solos and he’s essentially the Jerry Garcia of proto-metal. There’s plenty of his soulful, 70s-influenced playing here to savor and it’s always trippy fun. Guitar ability notwithstanding. Mr. Shelton’s voice is always a risky proposition. While never considered a “good” singer in the classic sense, his nasal whine always added an oddly endearing element to the music. Sad as it is to say, his vocals sound weaker and more washed out here than I can ever recall hearing. Frankly, he sounds tired, and aside from some attempts at harsh vocals on “The Arena,” it seems like he’s struggling to put more punch in his delivery. Bryan “Hellroadie” Patrick adds vocals here and there, but he’s so similar to Shelton it’s often tough to tell them apart.

Manilla Road is as kvlt and trve as any band will ever be, and their catalog reads like the history of metal itself. To Kill a King has all the expected thrills, chills and epical noodling, but in sum it’s not an album I imagine coming back to much in the future. The writing was way more interesting on 2015s The Blessed Curse and even the recent Hellwell. With a career this long, not every album can be gold, but I’ll always hail them for a lengthy career of trveness.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Golden Core Records
Websites: manillaroad.netfacebook.com/manillaroadofficial
Releases Worldwide: June 30th, 2017

  • Vlad Invictus

    A blasphemous review! Each Manilla Road album should have 5/5 score!
    But, fanboyism aside, I thought it was the best post 80’s MR album so far, along with Gates of Fire and Blessed Curse. In the Wake is an instant classic. Highly recommended for all true mead drinkers.

  • Señor Jefe El Rossover

    Sucks to see the kings get 2.5/5, but I gues they can’t win everyone’s hearts. Still, I will do my due diligence as a metal knight and purchase immediately. Hail!

    • Nag Dammit

      Kings, I now dub thine music, Game of Thrones-core. Arise and be trve to thine self.

  • teasers are dumb

    • Thatguy

      And if I didn’t hate this ab initio the teasers would make me not buy it on principle.

      SD should have a rant about teasers.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    That cover art could have been used on your post yesterday with the text “Et tu, Jørn?”

  • I actually like the mix, at least from what I could tell in the embedded track. Not a fan of the way it only lets me hear 3.8 seconds of a song and then fades out, though. The vocals aren’t anything to write home about, either. Of course, who knows if there are more inspiring vocal lines that I didn’t get to hear.

    • [not a Dr]

      I think I could like the tracks starting @ 1:30, 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30

  • rumour_control

    BÖC Secret Treaties shirt=Epic Coolness.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I just realized how old Manilla Road is when every band they got compared to in this review (except Pentagram) was newer than Manilla Road, despite all of them being old as dirt.

  • The vocals sound like a Layne Staley impersonation. Or, maybe they always sounded that way and LS was inspired by them. Regardless, not for me. I respect their importance and contribution, but can’t say this is enjoyable.

  • Mark Shelton

    I don’t usually put much stock in reviews and for sure I don’t usually respond to them. But in this case I felt compelled to speak up because it seems that you are like a confused puppy pissing on a concrete post thinking it is a tree when it comes to what some of our songs are about. Blood Island is not about Dr. Moreau but instead the trilogy of movies about Blood Island. Also I seem to remember you saying in the New Hellwell album review that our song To Serve Man was about the Twilight Zone episode of the same name. This is totally wrong also. The song was inspired by the true story of Karl Denke. It’s a good thing you are a critique and not a journalist because your accuracy is quite off. Maybe you should try actually paying attention to the lyrics before commenting on them. I really could care less if you like the music or not. To each their own but I would think that you would at least want to be correct in the information you are putting out there. Up The Hammers

    • Hey Mark, maybe if lyrics came with the promo it would help clear things up. Thanks for responding though!

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        What could possibly be more METAL than getting scolded by Mark Shelton and apologizing back? You’re the man, Steely D!

  • Tofu muncher

    I am enjoying this one tremendously, and am spinning it hard on iTunes.

  • Antreas Sotakis

    Production is better than the last one, although i do like Blessed Curse more, the songs are better. No way the new helwell being better than this though. surely deserves a 3.5/5.

  • Vince Rayner

    I absolutely love this album

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Anyone knows if now either “What is Regicide” and “What is Manilla Road’s 2017 album title” are both valid answers to “To Kill a King” in Jeopardy?

  • Panagiotis Krokidas

    I gave a few spins to the album. Very interesting with some parts that grabbed my attention at the very first momen. But the drummer gives me on my nerves. He is gabby and the production brings forth a shower of rolls and hits that doesn’t do justice to the guitar work.

  • Óðinn

    Manilla Road sucked in 1982, and they still suck. At least they’re consistent, I guess.