Although it was officially released for the first time by Monster Records in 2002, Mark of the Beast is actually a collection of tracks recorded over 20 years earlier; a "lost" album originally named Dreams of Eschaton ("Eschaton" referring to the end of all things) that Manilla Road abandoned unfinished while wrestling with their very musical identity. This creative conflict had already been apparent on the Wichita-based underground legends' 1980 debut, Invasion, whose songs entertained wildly divergent notions of both sci-fi-fueled progressive rock à la early Rush and more simplistic, muscular hard rock boogie à la Montrose. But by the time Manilla Road re-emerged with 1982's indicatively named Metal, their reinvention as a heavy metal-focused concern was off to an at times clumsy but certainly more focused start; and so, the previously bootleg-only material unearthed for release as Mark of the Beast offers Manilla Road enthusiasts an exciting opportunity to connect those ancient stylistic gaps. This it most certainly does, with typically long-lasting endeavors like the title track, "Court of Avalon," and "Time Trap" constantly pushing the prog rock envelope with predominantly mellow, dreamy, somewhat psychedelic aesthetics, goosed solely by rare bursts of Mark Shelton's fiery guitar work and snarling vocals. "Black Lotus," "Teacher," and "Aftershock," on the other hand, are direct throwbacks to the more economical hard-driving heavy rock sound showcased on first album nugget "Street Jammer," while the hybrid results displayed by the likes of "Avatar" once again find the young musicians depending heavily on Rush's template for inspiration. Finally, as with most "salvage albums," Mark of the Beast is sequenced from best to worst -- meaning that closing numbers like "Venusian Sea" and "Triumvirate" (both also dominated by the aforementioned laid-back style) are in fact hardly finished demo-quality efforts (yet sonically not all that far off from Manilla Road's modestly recorded early albums, come to think of it). And of course, "salvage albums" are ultimately about satisfying nostalgia, not top-notch production or racking up sales figures, so, to that end, Mark of the Beast signifies a resounding "mission accomplished" to go with a handful of tracks that collectors will deem essential jigsaw pieces completing the Manilla Road canon.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia