Manilla Road

Invasion

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Along with Virginia's Pentagram, Kansas' Manilla Road is one of the absolute treasures of underground American heavy metal, and listeners stumbling upon their incredibly raw 1980 debut effort, Invasion, with its basement-level production standards and almost foreign sonic language, will understand how blues aficionados feel upon first exposure to Charley Patton: A mixture of disorientation and revelation. Although it was recorded for a pittance, in the depths of Wichita's winter wonderland/wasteland of 1979, this wholly self-financed effort already proved that, if nothing else, vocalist/guitarist Mark Shelton, bassist Scott Park, and drummer Rick Fisher comprised a potent and well-rehearsed power trio -- even if not quite all of their musical stars had aligned yet. In fact, Invasion hardly got off to an auspicious start, since overlong opener "The Dream Goes On" was a jittery, funky hard rocker, spiced with hand claps and little else, and the more dynamic "Cat and Mouse" actually distracted from Shelton's first impressive show of guitar heroics with a positively banal, zoological lyric ("The rats are in the cellar, the mice are in the cage, the cat is in the toilet, the dog is in a rage...?"). Truly astonishing, however, was the intro to next tune "Far Side of the Sun," which combined spacey feedback sound effects with a freaky sci-fi recital about distant planets, into a direct and blatant revision of Rush's "2112"; only to suddenly transform into an irresistible heavy rocker, wipe the album's entire, mottled slate thus far clean, and help Manilla Road snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. This feat was then confirmed by the wholly earthbound, Montrose-inspired growl of "Street Jammer" -- an urban driving anthem par excellence -- and, following a mild misstep into the acoustic fantasy of "Centurian War Games," another well-constructed, if derivative, example of space epic-era Rush via the 13-minute "The Empire." In short, a rather mixed outing. Invasion is as likely to thrill as disappoint, depending on one's expectations, but continues to grow ever more fascinating, given time and perspective, to heavy metal scholars. [Long out of print, Invasion was finally reissued in 2004 by Cult Metal Classics, as a two-disc set also featuring its 1982 successor Metal -- both of them recovered from vinyl sources, in lieu of the master recordings.]

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