Home > Music > Manilla Road – Voyager (2008)

Manilla Road – Voyager (2008)

1000x1000.jpgVoyager predates the “nation designer” feature in Europa Universalis IV by seven years. If you ever purchase that game and want to play as an ahistorical Norse nation in Mesoamerica, then you have yourself the perfect soundtrack right here. Voyager is also another prime example of the expanded and dare I say exaggerated post-reformation Manilla Road. It certainly has something of an intensity edge over Spiral Castle, which I certainly appreciate, although much of its abrasion and grit are channeled into slow, even doomy songs where older incarnations of the band preferred raw speed.

Regardless, anyone who’s familiar with prior recordings by Manilla Road should expect even more of it from Voyager. The band’s trademark epic take on traditional heavy metal continues unbroken here (just like the narrator’s family in the intro to the first track), but those who skipped over from an album like Crystal Logic might find the extended songwriting, abrasive guitar, and occasional straight up death metal vocals take some getting used to. Considering that Manilla Road never ended up joining the death metal bandwagon in the 1980s, the fact they’ve amped things up this much is pretty impressive. The songwriting hasn’t changed much on a structural level, but songs tend to be significantly longer and rely more on repetition to get their points across. To be honest, I can see a hypothetical 1983 Manilla Road writing this album, although I doubt it would’ve sounded as heavy.

The emphasis on repetition and aural texture isn’t unheard of, but it’s rarely this prominent within Manilla Road’s individual songs, much less entire albums. The lone exception, so far as I am aware, is Gates of Fire, and I would go as far as to claim that album is basically a rough, unrefined prototype for this one. Combine this with the heavier emphasis on theming, and you have a recipe for unmatched cohesion in the band’s discography. It makes listening to this album quite a journey, especially if you listen to the entire thing in one go. That way, you’ll get a feeling for how Manilla Road keeps developing their set of musical ideas throughout this album. On the other hand, the individuality of these songs suffers in the process. The ideal for this sort of concept album, at least as I see it, is a band that can reach further into their creative reservoirs without sacrificing cohesion. More individual and/or complicated riffs might’ve helped, and some of the more distinct interludes, while occasionally cool (like the organ solo at the beginning of “Blood Eagle”) aren’t very effectively integrated into the rest of the tracks in which they belong. I guess we can’t win them all.

Even with that songwriting flaw, this is not only a well executed Manilla Road album, but still a distinct one compared to the collections of songs that make up most of their discography. I won’t go as far as to say that Manilla Road should keep writing tight concept albums; for all I know, they already have, but since I’ve yet to listen to anything newer, I can’t personally speak on the matter.

Highlights: “Tree of Life”, “Voyager”, “Conquest”

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