By Dr. Abner Mality

There was something of a backlash against Manilla Road's last album "Playground of the Damned" and I could understand why. The production was thin, the songwriting somewhat erratic and experimental and the vocals were not that hot.  The album certainly wasn't terrible, but I doubt if even the band themselves would disagree that it was not Manilla Road at their best.

Now we have "Mysterium" and in atonement, this is Manilla Road at its most steadfast and reliable, almost to the point of playing it too safe. But "Mysterium" is altogether more enjoyable and if you like your Manilla Road albums to sound like...well, Manilla Road, you're gonna love this one. Best news is that the production is light years beyond "Playground..." and in fact, most of the MR back catalogue. Mark Shelton's guitar sounds robust and heavy, the bass is nice and juicy and the drums at least sound live. This is very traditional stuff. "The Grey God Passes" recalls the days of "The Deluge" and even "Open The Gates", "Stand Your Ground" flirts with thrash, and tunes like "Battle of Bonchester Bridge" and "Hallowed Be Thy Grave" mix moodiness with mid-tempo heaviness. The mix of vocals from Bryan Patrick and Shelton himself is pretty seamless and these two could be brothers, they way they compliment and echo each other.

The last part of the album throws a few curves. "The Fountain" is wholly acoustic, with a positive and happy vibe. Not unwelcome at all. "The Calling" is an instrumental of eerie sci-fi electronics, recalling the soundtracks of several 70's SF epics. But it's the ending title track that really forms the icing on the cake. This song builds beautifully from mysterious, bluesy mellowness to driving metal and then some of those truly majestic riffs that only Shelton seems capable of. After reaching a mighty climax, the song then cools down into more mystery, with the sound of blowing sands in the background. I also love the lyrics here, about Australian explorer Ludwig Leichardt, who disappeared without a trace in the 19th century. The song really does summon up the enigmatic feeling of his vanishing.

So this is rock solid and heavy Manilla Road that doesn't rock the boat at all, but focuses squarely on the things the band does best and thereby succeeds absolutely.