"Playground of the Damned"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Mark "The Shark" Shelton and his Merrye Men are back in action with "Playground of the Damned" but this time, they've dialed back the "epic" a little bit. Not to say that aspect of their music is absent from this album, but it is definitely not on the massive scale of "Voyager", their last effort. There's no over-riding theme here and none of these eight songs can be considered enormous in scope, though they are still quite powerful.

Personally, I like this approach, the songs are tighter and more to the point. The production on "Playground of the Damned" is fabulous and easily better than the too raw sounding "Voyager". The guitar is very clear and the fuzz that swallowed Shelton's vocals last time has been tamed. The music is very heavy and riff-based but the vocals are oddly relaxed and laidback even on slammers like "Jackhammer" and "Grindhouse". Speaking of which, both Shelton and "Hellroadie" Bryan Patrick handle the singing chores this time around...Patrick is a deeper, less nasal version of Shelton, but the two do not sound greatly dissimilar. Only a few deep growls pop up this time around.

Despite its title, "Jackhammer" is not thrashy or super-aggressive, but rather a heavy, progressive sounding track based on mid-paced riffs. It builds extremely well and as always, Shark's guitar soloing is awesome. The man can flat out play.
"Into the Maelstrom" is slow and brooding, very traditional sounding Manilla Road. The title track really kicks things up a notch, with wild drumming by Corey Christner and an all around rougher approach, although again the vocals are very melodic.

I was expecting "Grindhouse" to be a real cruncher and eventually it gets there, but it starts bluesy and drifting before becoming ominous and building excellently to a really epic finale. "Abbatoir de la Mort" is really strange, an almost psychotic sounding tune with Christner's drumming almost flying off the tracks completely. This tune has its moments, but sounds very choppy and kind of unfocused. In contrast, both "Fires of Ashurbanipal" and "Brethren of the Hammer" are pure power and feature some of Shelton's best soloing. The record ends with the melodic semi-ballad "Art of War", which takes a while to come to life but explodes with terrific guitar work.

"Playground of the Damned" is 100% pure Manilla Road...melodic, powerful heavy metal with that epic touch. Great production and killer fretwork make this a must for their fans.