Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love, stuff that’s essential listening for students of extreme metal that you may not have ever heard of. Stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. This time around, we travel to the dead realm of Atlantis on a quest for magik and metal: Manilla Road’s Crystal Logic (Roadster).
Probably the finest metal band to come out of Kansas, Manilla Road formed in 1977, right around the time when the amped-up, slowed-down blues metal of Black Sabbath was transitioning into the sleeker, meaner form popularized by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. So, much like Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, and the Scorpions, they arrived at the sound the long way ’round. Their first records, Invasion and the unreleased Dreams of Eschaton, were more space rock jams, while 1982’s bluntly-titled Metal seemed rather quaint when compared to The Number of the Beast or Screaming for Vengeance. Let’s face it — Wichita wasn’t exactly the same cauldron of creativity as Northern England or Los Angeles, where the competition drove the burgeoning scenes to greater heights. Still, something must have gone right, because Manilla Road nailed it the very next year with Crystal Logic.
Combining the speed and melody of early Judas Priest with their earlier, more progressive sound, this was where they found their niche. Considering the limited recording technology at their disposal, the power trio built a pretty formidable sound. Of course, it helped that singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Shelton knew his way around a 12 string, and that Scott Park captured a similarly thudding bass sound to Cirith Ungol. Shelton also utilized all 12 strings of his vocal cords, going from a thin, nasal wail to full-on Bruce Dickinson air raid snarl. But that wasn’t the only secret weapon at their disposal: they also had the ancient art of sorcery.
“Necropolis” storms the gates with a galloping tale right out of the chronicles of Conan, a warning spoken by an ambitious warrior trying not to get lost in a fantasy, alternating between a fearsome charge and a wistful, delicate chorus. Following that on the CD reissue, “Flaming Metal System” may be their most potent single assault, a Maiden-worthy battle cry with out-of-control tablesaw guitars. “Crystal Logic” follows in the footsteps of “After Forever” as a righteous metal hymn that happens to be pro-Christianity while still being awesome. “Feeling Free Again” shifts gears to the glam metal sound that was forming a few thousand miles away, a high-octane love song. Then, of course, it’s back to the dungeons for the ominous, doom-harkening “The Riddle Master,” but that has nothing on the trudge through the evil lands of “The Veils of Negative Existence.” The quest finishes with “Dreams of Eschaton,” a 12 minute epic that begins with acoustic guitars, rides across the metallic landscape, and winds up somewhere in the stratosphere.
Crystal Logic, ultimately, didn’t wind up nearly as lost as some of the other entries in this series. You can hear its influence on modern throwbacks like Twisted Tower Dire, Icarus Witch, and, of course, Slough Feg. Manilla Road continued to record, following this one up with two more minor classics before petering out at the end of the 80s and then having the requisite reunion in the early 2000. This one has been rereleased a few times, although it’s currently out of print and could use a really loving reissue (hint, hint). It’s a shame more people didn’t travel down Manilla Road, but those crystal pyramids are still waiting at the end for those willing to seek out the path.