Sometimes, you can predict the goings on of the live-music scene to some degree. There are bands that will almost inevitably swing by this neck-of-the woods; spend enough time in the metal scene and when someone announces that Havok are playing Glasgow, your response will probably be "what, again?". It's easy to run the risk of feeling a bit jaded at the live scene; shows can become repetitive - bands who tour a lot swing past every few years, while the bands who don't tour very much continue to play their much sought-after shows in places which are very, very far - places which are better at doing metal than us. Mainland Europe, basically. I'll always enjoy live music, but you soon come to learn that not every gig - even with bands you look forward to seeing - is going to capture the highest distillation of that live-music buzz, which leaves you wondering when the next truly stand out show is going to be. In answer to that question, fate replied out of the blue with two words; Manilla Road.
It's quite tricky to truly attend to opening-acts when the headlining band is one which quite so many people have spent years dreaming of seeing some-day, including myself. Manilla Road have never come north of the border before, and their shows are few-and-far-between to begin with. Just about everyone is here for one thing, and that's not really a well kept secret. Nonetheless, the opening acts do a solid job of warming up the crowd. Farseer play solid power-metal; not too frilly and fancy, and with a nice hint of roughness - a sort of weaponized Iron Maiden. The riffs are fun, the vocals accomplished and falsetto-tastic, and the drums deliver the goods rhythmically. I'd love to compliment the bass player as well, in the name of balance, but I know almost nothing about bass. Overall, the band play a tight and accomplished set. I've seen them before, and as good as they were then, they're even more solid this time around - there were no mistakes, slips or stumbles as best I can recall, which started the show with a fresh-coat of professionalism which is reassuring to see.
Firebrand Super Rock are second up. I'm not allowed to judge bands with unusual names, considering the name of the one I'm in, but if instinct tells you to be weary of Firebrand Super Rock, ignore it. Besides, the name grows on you. They're damn good. Few vocalists look so passionately enthusiastic about what they do as Firebrand's does, and she carries one heck of a stage-presence. Backing up the excellent vocal delivery are thick riffs which really are some kind of super rock; or at least, indicative of the band's larger than life, 'hundred-percent heavy rock n' roll approach. I've seen them a couple of times, and they've never, ever played a bad show - every time they're called upon to deliver, they do - this time, they're certainly good enough to be enjoyed in their own right, instead of being something which stands between me and Manilla Road - the rest of the crowd's reaction is similar, and they receive enthusiasm from the gradually swelling numbers.
Manilla Road do their own sound check. If I was a pretentious man, I would wax lyrical about this symbolising their eternal position of underground heroes, hands-on, no nonsense... so forth. As an even more pretentious man, I'll just bring attention to it by apophasis instead. It's the usual story - a fifteen-minute sound check - the crowd occasionally start "Manilla Road" chants. Some drunk guy cheers every time a sound issues from the stage. It's probably the most excited I've been to see a band in some time, and when they begin, the whole crowd roars very earnestly. At some shows you cheer because you're supposed to - at shows like this, you cheer because you want to. I'm awful at remembering set-lists, but the band rumble through countless classics; The Ram, Cage of Mirrors, Divine Victim... legitimately countless, in fact, because they're playing an hour-and-a-half set which seems to consist of just about every song I hoped they would play. Some bands play "long" hour-length sets. Manilla Road raise the stakes a little. Considering they played a two-hour set in London the night before, and Mark the Shark got "three hours of sleep and then drove the band up here", they show impressive stamina.
The playing itself is excellent - appropriate of a band of such venerable veteran status. Bryan Patrick's vocals are excellent, reminiscent enough of Mark the Shark's vocals to feel comfortably familiar, whilst not feeling too overtly like a copy. Mark still provides backing vocals and throws in a chorus or verse here and there, but Patrick does a superb job of making-the-grade, equipped with comfortable, flowing stage-banter, to boot. The live guitar-playing from Mark the Shark outright made me realise just how damn good he is as a guitarist; you can take it for granted on the records, sometimes, getting caught up in other elements of the tracks, but the solos which he plays live are truly blistering - especially impressive when he plays sections behind his head, which is something guitarists over a certain age are just allowed to do.
The tone is superb too, doing untold amounts of justice to the bands work in a live setting; songs like Witches Brew and Masque of Red Death are given a roaring, cutting sound which sounds immense. By about half-way through, the band have fired through so many classics that you can't imagine them managing to keep raising the bar... but they do; even in the closing sections, Necropolis and Crystal Logic having been played, the crowd still roars when an "encore" of sorts - The Ninth Wave followed by Heavy Metal to the World - is played. As everyone silently asks themselves "how can they top that", they are answered. It's impressive of any band to be able to play for ninety minutes, let alone play for ninety minutes whilst keeping the set dynamic and interesting.
Seeing Manilla Road, to me, has been one of the best moments in my "career" as a metal-fan. It's a truly wonderful moment for such a band to come to my small, relatively non-profitable corner of the world. The band didn't even play to a sold-out crowd, with empty spaces littering the venue floor, but play they did, and an amazing show at that; they are heroes for coming, and the promoter was a hero for putting them on. Alas, this "review" may read more accurately as a codex of "I love Manilla Road", but in so doing, I'd be being very truthful. There's no school like the old-school, and nothing comes close to embodying this in the way Manilla Road do. Very probably the best live-show I've seen this year.
Farseer on Facebook
Farseer on Metal Archives
Firebrand Super Rock on Facebook
Firebrand Super Rock on Metal Archives
Manilla Road Official Site
Manilla Road on Facebook
Manilla Road on Metal Archives