Manilla Road – The Circus Maximus (1992)

Manilla road is one of those bands that has been at it for decades and has manged to avoid any modicum of fame. There are a number of totally valid reasons for this – bad timing, bad labels, bad management, and bad recording quality. However, I think it’s fair to say that few bands quite have the same level of Metal Cred(tm) as they.

I’ve listened to most of their material. I’m not saying this to brag or anything – oh no, listening to too much Manilla Road actively prolongs your virginity (or in my case, makes it grow back.) and makes people not want to be around you (I love the band, but I understand that their music is definitely not for everybody. Or anybody, really.). But a guy that calls himself “The Shark” isn’t exactly what I’d call a pussy magnet.

The reason I bring that up, is because it demonstrates that I’m not just typing out of my ass when I say that The Circus Maximus is a fucking phenomenal album – Nevermind that it is a seriously black sheep in MR’s discography. It sounds nothing like Manilla Road, and in fact, isn’t even technically a Manilla Road album. This might be a good thing for some listeners.

It’s a lot less underground-for-a-reason-but-metal-as-fuck than most of their releases, a lot more experimental, and also takes a lot of influence from bands that are not very popular among their fanbase.

So, the album itself:

Before anything else, the clarity and production are leaps and bounds better than anything else in MR’s catalog – Which isn’t saying much, but the recording quality is *crystal clear*, if somewhat dated.

What makes this such an interesting listen, is that there are two very distinct directions of the songs on the album.

They can be organized thusly:
Type 1:
Throne of Blood
Spider
Murder by Degrees
In Gein We Trust
Flesh and Fury
Hack it Off

Type 2:
Lux Aeterna
No Touch

No Sign from Above
Forbidden Zone
She’s Fading

 

You can even look at the sing titles and tell which they belong to.

I’m making the distinction, because the quality of these songs is entirely dependent on their category.

Type 1 is very much informed by Skin Yard and other “pre-grunge” bands that influenced groups much more popular than they. This isn’t to say that they *rip the style off* or even sound particularly grungy, but th einfluence is obvious and apparent. (Listen to “In Gein We Trust” next to “Skins in my Closet by Skin Yard.”) This represents a small majority of the album, and what makes it worth listening to. Some of the lyrics are a little hammy, but still manage to be pretty clever overall.

Hack it Off is more or less the high point of the album, in terms of displaying what is good about it: Lyrical absurdities, varied song-structure, technical ability on full display…Oh yeah, and by most standards, it’s pretty fucking odd.

The other is a much more poppy and…i’m not sure what the right word is…Glistening, maybe? Much more influenced by Bryan Adams. Well, the early stuff he did. (Check ‘Lux Aeterna’. I’ll call this Type 2)
There really isn’t much to say about it, the Type 2 tracks are mostly plodding, meandering numbers that don’t really go anywhere. I’m not sure what they were trying to accomplish with them to be perfectly honest. The exception to this is “The Forbidden Zone” which I will admit to being conflicted about. It *almost* sounds a modern Iron Maiden, except more upbeat and more prone to progressive interludes.

The more I listen to it, the more I like it. Yeah, I changed my mind a little bit; The Forbidden Zone is pretty damn cool.

And I also Changed my mind about She’s Fading. It starts off pretty weak, but builds up into something really special. I mean that in a good way; not “you’re special because there’s something wrong with you, that isn’t wrong with anyone else”. The buildup and lead climax is actually mountainous. And the production really shines here.

So to sum it up:

“If I made a point it’s just a fly in the ointment
Anoint me, holy Mother of Maggots
For I have sinned against love
What’s love ? I think I love it, but I want to…
Hack, hack”

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