Home > Music > Manilla Road – Mystification (1987)

Manilla Road – Mystification (1987)

folderMystification is compositionally not that different from its illustrious predecessor, with its moderate progressive rock influence underlying a mixture of traditional and thrash metal tropes. However, the average song is faster and more aggressive, and the production has dramatically improved. The caveat here is that recent pressings of this album apparently underwent an excellent remaster that solved major issues with the original’s sound and generally make it sound far more authoritative. The most common remaster also shifted the order of the tracks, but I feel the album flows better with its original tracklisting.

Much has been said about Manilla Road’s steady evolution in the 1980s; given the poor production of its immediate successor, Mystification may be the band’s most “intense” sounding record, at least during their first period. Mark Sheldon’s vocals retain their style, but his range as a singer seems to have improved a bit since the last album, allowing him to take deliver some of the higher notes in a more authoritative tone. The guitars and drums are also similar to those on The Deluge in style, but the aforementioned boost in velocity alters the sound substantially. Meanwhile, the average song is longer, but there aren’t any substantial outliers on the scale of the previous album’s title track; in short, Mystification is not a particularly marked change from its predecessor in terms of writing. It even contains a few softer, gentler songs that actually benefit from the greater room for dynamic contrast that this approach provides.

In a few ways, though, this album is a boost in cohesion for Manilla Road. The first half is loosely themed around the words of Edgar Allen Poe (the most blatant example of this would be “The Masque of the Red Death”, although the title track serves as a sort of tribute), although this sometimes just means the band is tapping into the same themes. This doesn’t stop the band from tapping into their usual mythological themes – even when the lyrics reference Poe, the music retains many of the triumphant motifs the band is known for. Arguably, this creates a conveyance problem, but given the nature of the band’s previous work, it’s not something that the average listener would notice. The next two albums before the first breakup (Out of the Abyss and The Courts of Chaos) do a good job of fixing this problem, but the effect on this one is a bit odd.

Regardless, Mystification gets about the same amount of playtime on my computer that its predecessor does, and in spite of the problem I mentioned in the last paragraph, I still think it’s worthy of sharing that top position. It’s essentially a more intense experience compared to The Deluge, which focused more on the band’s atmospheric qualities (relative to its velocity). The improved musicianship compared to that album allows the band to explore more territory, at the very least. It certainly stands tall with the rest of the ’80s power/thrash metal scene.

Highlights: “Spirits of the Dead”, “Mystification”, “Children of the Night”, “Dragon Star”

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