MANILLA ROAD - Out of the Abyss: Before Leviathan LP (orange)

MANILLA ROAD - Out of the Abyss: Before Leviathan LP (orange)

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In no way can 1988's "Out Of The Abyss" be classified as a typical Manilla Road album. Some say it is the darkest Manilla Road album ever and some are of the opinion that it was the most trash metal influenced record in the band's long and fruitful career. Mark “The Shark” Shelton agrees on both counts: “It was indeed very thrash influenced and most of the topics are based on bloody murder and Cthulhu mythos stuff. There are a couple of lighter topics on it with the songs 'Helicon' and 'War In Heaven' but the remainder of the songs are very dark in nature. I think it was all because »Out Of The Abyss« was the album that we reached sort of a peak in the progression of becoming heavier and faster. It was a goal of ours to do that starting when Randy Foxe joined the band. »Out Of The Abyss« was the album where we decided that we had finally reached that goal. The darkness came from my insatiable interest in horror and dark mythos themes. Songs like 'White Chapel', 'Black Cauldron', the title cut and 'Midnight Meat Train' are most assuredly thrash influenced material. I really like all styles of metal for the most part and I’m no different with the thrash style. I don’t really like a continuous diet of thrash but then again I don’t really like a continual diet of anything. I have to move around and experiment with my music and "Out Of The Abyss" is no different.”

So with "Out Of The Abyss" Manilla Road reached their peak in going out and out thrash metal? Again, “The Shark” shares my view: “I felt we had reached an apex or peak with our heavier and faster direction once we did "Out Of The Abyss". But I would not say that the thrash went away from the style of the band after that. For example on the next album, "Courts Of Chaos", we did the song 'Vlad The Impaler' which was still very much a thrash influenced song. And the song 'From Beyond' had a bit of that thrash style within it as well. And when the band finally resurrected with the »Atlantis Rising« album there were songs like 'War Of The Gods' that for sure had that thrash essence to them also.”

For the current re-issue of "Out Of The Abyss" Mark “The Shark” Shelton has once again delved deep into his archives. The album bears the subtitle »Before The Leviathan« and features the rare original first mix of »Out Of The Abyss« (never published before). Mark Shelton has the full story: “When we first recorded "Out Of The Abyss" in Miller Studios in Kansas we were not signed to a label. Black Dragon was struggling with distribution issues and we were looking for a new label to work with. While this search for a label was going on we were not being idle. We went ahead and financed the recording of the album ourselves and when we finished the recording, we did a good quick mix of the entire album. It was not necessarily intended to be the final mix but it was pretty close to it. We then negotiated a deal for the album with Leviathan Records in the States. That label decided to have us mix the album in California with Steve Fontano of Shrapnel Records fame. So what was originally released was the Fontano mix and on this new re-issue you will get the first mix that myself and Larry Funk and the band members did at Miller Studio before we went to California.”

“I personally like our mix a little better. And not just because we did it but there are some things that are distinctly different about the mixes. First of all, the label decided not to have the song ‘Books Of Skelos’ on the album. So that song is where it should be now among the tracks it was recorded with. This song really was a integral dark part of the idea of the album and its contents. Some of my screams were omitted from the California mix that are present in the band mix. I'm talking about the high Rob Halford style of singing that I did a bit on the album. There are more high parts on the first mix from Miller Studio where some of these parts were mixed out of the Fontano Mix. Most of all for me, the main difference between the two mixes is the overall ambience of the sound. The band mix done at Miller Studio in Kansas is brighter and more distinct than the California mix. Or at least it is that way to my ears and the others in the band. Neudi was not around us back when this all was done and he even likes the band’s mix much better than the mix that was originally released. I think the band mix is clearer where the Fontano mix is a bit darker sounding or maybe even muddy sounding compared to the band mix. Myself, I like to hear all the details of what is being played and there are some albums that we have done that I feel are not clear enough. The original release of this album felt a little bit like that to me where this first unreleased mix done by Larry Funk and the band is much better when it comes to clarity and balance.”

“So I think there are some good reasons to check this re-issue out. I personally feel "Out Of The Abyss" was an incredible and great album. The music really shines better on this mix that was done by the band. I think this mix really helps in making it obvious how competent this material really is. This album I think has a very good balance between epic and really heavy fast intricate metal music. Most of the concepts are very dark and mysterious based in fantasy, the occult, mythology and the writings of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. This album to me was the next logical step from the »Mystification« album. Even if you own the first release of »Out Of The Abyss« I think this re-issue is a must listen too for Manilla Road fans. And if you have not heard the album before I think "Out Of The Abyss – Before The Leviathan" is the better version to come into first contact with.”

In retrospect, Mark still views »Out Of The Abyss« as a rounded album: “I think so. With songs like 'Return Of The Old Ones', 'Helicon' and 'War In Heaven' the album still has experimental approaches with a very artistic attitude. I don’t believe we have ever done an album that was entirely one style or approach.”

Which is indeed true to the point. But would it be fair to say that the main Manilla Road fan base rather prefers the band's more epic style of albums like "Crystal Logic"? “Yep I think so,” says Mark. “But then again we have so many directions that the band goes on any album. I think most of our hardcore fans appreciate the fact that we do not stay stuck on one style or theme all the time. The beauty of Manilla Road is that we are a very versatile band and our approach to the music is a combination of many styles like prog, doom, thrash, classic, psychedelic and many other styles as well. Hell, we even do folk type music at times. The one style you will never hear from this band would be Rap or Hip Hop. Just not my cup of tea. But I think our fans are very intelligent and don’t just want to hear the same stuff over and over.”

Over the years, not too many songs from "Out Of The Abyss" made it into the band's live set: “Right now none of the songs are in our current list of songs that we have prepared for live performance. That list is almost 40 songs deep. We have thought about adding 'White Chapel' to our current rapport of live songs but to be honest it seems that we don’t get too many requests for songs off of »Out Of The Abyss«. It does happen every once in a while but usually it is 'War In Heaven' or 'Helicon' that we get the requests for. But there are times that I remember people asking me if we ever do 'White Chapel' live. The thing is every time we do a new album we just complicate the set list issue because of adding new songs to the list from the newest release. It is always tough for us to choose the songs that we will do at any given show. Just too many songs to choose from.”

"The Midnight Meat Train" has been influenced by literature once more, this time Clive Barker: “Yep. He is another writer that I really like the work of. His stories are very intriguing and full of cool twists. He is a very creative writer and I really love his work. His 'Books of Blood' series is very compelling and that is where the story 'Midnight Meat Train' comes from.” And of course there is H.P. Lovercraft again, with "Return Of The old Ones". True or false? “For the most part you are correct. But I consider Robert E. Howard almost as important to the Cthulhu mythos as Lovecraft was. The difference between the two is that most of the stories that Howard did that involved the mythos took place in the time line of pre-recorded history of man where Lovecraft was based more on the Old Ones appearing in the now instead of the past.”

If a musician listens back to his old albums nowadays, is it hard for him
to still remember the moods and the frame of mind at the time when the
album was originally written? That does not seem to be the case for Mark Shelton: “Not really. I can still remember pretty much what was going on and how I felt about things back then. We were doing a lot of live performances at that time and we were touring in the states in the North East a bit all the way up to New York. Also touring in the Midwest. Even did a show in Cincinnati with Chastain when Leather was singing with him. I also remember that this was the time that Randy and Scott started to have their differences that culminated in the demise of that line up after we did the "Courts Of Chaos" album. I could see the writing on the wall and knew in the back of my head that things were headed in a direction with the other members that was going to lead to the end of that line up. Sort of the best of times and worst of times all at the same time.”
(Matthias Mader)