Epic Heavy Metal from USA
It’s been three months since the legendary Mark Shelton of the epic metal titans Manilla Road passed to the other side. His sudden death made shock waves across the metal world. Mark was one of the kindest and most dedicated individuals out there – over forty years of writing kick ass metal music without a hint of wavering. His never-ending devotion to music led him to a number of projects over the years in addition to his mainstay of Manilla Road – The Riddle Master and Hellwell to name a couple among a legion of others. One such project, buried long ago, was a collaboration with fellow US metal powerhouse David T. Chastain.
The discussions to unearth this project started back earlier in February this year according to the official Leviathan Records page on the Shelton Chastain project. Looking back at history, this project makes a lot of sense. When Manilla Road ran into problems with distribution via Black Dragon, Chastain picked them up for his label: Leviathan Records. This was for the release of 1988’s Out of the Abyss, also the same year that the Edge of Sanity demos started to be worked on. Mark and David were certainly excited at the prospect of bringing this music to light. The release of this material ended up being one of the final things Mark was working on.
I am eternally thankful that these old tracks saw the light of day. I had astronomically high expectations for a collaborative effort involving both Chastain and Shelton – I want to make it very clear up front that it lives up to everything I hoped for and more. Chastain handles all instruments and the majority of songwriting while Mark takes the lead with vocals and lyrics. While Chastain handles the main load crafting the songs, it’s clear that Manilla Road were the main influence in mind. The songs are similar to the Road’s darker and more aggressive moments. Imagine some of the best stuff off of Out of the Abyss and Courts of Chaos. Now imagine it played by David Chastain, complete with his unique shredding style. On top of all this, we have Mark’s distinct, sorcerer-like gruff vocals and mythos building to tie everything together.
There’s only three tracks on Edge of Sanity – two of which are shorter and straight to the point numbers and one is a twelve minute Manilla Road-style epic. There’s a lot of variation in the three songs that sets them apart and keeps them very interesting and refreshing. The two aggressive songs, “The Edge of Sanity” and “Fields of Sorrow”, would fit perfectly on Out of the Abyss with their thrash-influenced riffs. “Orpheus Descending”, the album’s epic, has an alternate version included on the b side that clocks in at over twenty minutes long. While I prefer the shorter “radio edit”, this version is even more ambitious and makes for a very nice listen. Both versions of the song are tremendous – the guitar work especially sticks out to me as especially masterful and I wouldn’t expect anything else from David Chastain. There are sharp transitions on this track from hard hitting riffs and blistering solos to beautiful cleans that David snd Mark manage to execute so damn well.
The only issue I find with this release is its production. These songs were clearly meant to stay demos as the overall mixing and production values aren’t up to snuff. Even by 1988’s standards they aren’t great, let alone compared to something you might hear in 2018. This can easily be overlooked as the actual music itself is top notch, which is what really matters in a case like this. The length is also a bit disappointing. There’s twenty to thirty minutes of material depending on how you look at it, but with only 3 songs it really felt like an EP to me. Beggars can’t be choosers, but just imagining a proper album of this stuff has me salivating.
The release of this material came as a surprise for me and what a pleasant one it was. I’ll be candid here, I was quite emotional on my first listen of this demo session. It really does feel like in a way that Mark’s come back and released a classic Manilla Road album. It’s rare that an “unearthed recording” is worth merit (there’s usually a reason they weren’t released), but this is truly an exception to that case. The Edge of Sanity demos are 100% essential for fans of Manilla Road and Chastain.
Album Rating: 92/100
Favorite Song: Orpheus Descends (12 min version)