Home > Music > Manilla Road – The Courts of Chaos (1990)

Manilla Road – The Courts of Chaos (1990)

folderManilla Road’s last album before their initial breakup is actually pretty weird, even by the hazy, atmospheric standards of the band. Their previous efforts seem more grounded and relatable to the rest of the American power or thrash metal scenes and displayed an interesting trend of growing ever more abrasive with time. This rejects internal trends. The Courts of Chaos is a mostly slow or midpaced work that relies on a drum machine, showcases all sorts of odd experimental material even by this band’s standards, and was almost certainly recorded in at least two sessions (distinguishable mainly by differences in guitar tone). Regardless of how you and I feel about this, I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say this is an interesting album – one that lends itself very well to my preferred format as a music blogger.

The overarching structure of this recording is a prime example – where your average ’80s Manilla Road album begins with an uptempo number, The Courts of Chaos follows up a lengthy keyboard prelude with several tracks of slow to midpaced material, sometimes even bordering on doom metal. The tempo ratchets up occasionally and gradually increases throughout the album’s length, but the only real exception to this is the last half of the album’s closer (“The Book of Skelos”), which finishes the album off in a way reminiscent of Out of the Abyss. In some ways, it feels like a prototype for the sort of material Manilla Road explored on their post-reformation albums, although it doesn’t stretch itself out nearly as far. Extreme song lengths make latter day Manilla Road something of a mixed bag, as the extended formats don’t necessarily vary themselves adequately, but restraint in 1990 kept this from causing problems.

From a sonic stance,  it becomes even more apparent that the emphasis here has shifted further towards atmosphere and ambience. It was certainly a significant element on previous recordings by the band, but the increased keyboard presence announces it in ways less subtle than before. Manilla Road still relies heavily on guitar riff repetition in their recordings, but the increased variety of instrumentation can be pretty helpful for keeping listener interest up, especially in more sluggish and repetitive material like the “A Touch of Madness”. Overall, I’d say that this proficient usage (if primarily supporting role) of keyboards compliments the other instruments well; especially the guitars, which are produced in a trebly, almost digital fashion that I am rather fond of.

I found that most of The Courts of Chaos took some getting used to, although the peaks on this album immediately drew me in and rival those other favored albums of Manilla Road I’ve discussed in the past. From an increasingly cliched “benchmark” stance, I’d say your opinion of this album correlates better with your interest in later Manilla Road albums than those of the 1980s, but even then this is a fairly different beast. Its depths are not easily accessible, and there are some definite missteps, but this one remains a good listening experience.

Highlights: “Into The Courts of Chaos”, “Vlad The Impaler”, “The Book of Skelos”

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