It is unnecessary to introduce MANILLA ROAD and anyone who pretends to have a clue about the history of US heavy metal should know this legendary and innovative band, which was formed in 1977. They were among the first to establish the term 'epic metal', but unfortunately MANILLA ROAD were not as famous as other metal bands from the late 1970's/early 1980's. Despite this fact they have gathered a loyal following over the last decades and their early records have become sought-after collector items. 'After Midnight Live' is not a new studio album, but, as the album's title suggests, a live album that has been recorded on a cold, snowy night in the winter of '79 at the KMUW radio studios. At that time, MANILLA ROAD were still unknown and it should take another year before Roadster Records released their debut record 'Invasion'.
However, there was Sherry Avett, who was the producer and moderator of the 'After Midnight' program, where she supported the metal underground scene in Wichita, Kansas. That night MANILLA ROAD was given the opportunity to play a complete live show in the studios and here we have the only recordings that have survived to the present day. 'After Midnight Live' consists of five previously unreleased tracks, which clearly show that MANILLA ROAD have their roots in 1970's heavy rock. What I personally liked a lot is the fact that all songs sound as if they would date from 1974. Furthermore, this album is a good example for the transformation from hardrock to heavy metal at the end of the 1970's. And even tough MANILLA ROAD was far away from their unmistakable sound, they already had a keen sense for epic song structures. 'Chromaphobia' is the shortest song here, clocking in at a running time of "only" 6:30 minutes, whereas 'Life's So Hard' is almost thirteen minutes long. The remaining tunes are between 8:02 and 8:49 minutes. That's what I call epic! 'Life's So Hard' is definitely one of my favourites, because I like the way how Mark Shelton and crew have build up that song to a furios finish. It has a melancholic atmosphere and starts off very mellow, but you can feel the anger under the surface. With increasing length the song picks up speed while at the same time the mood changes. Truly classy!
Basically, there is no weak song on 'After Midnight Live'. 'Chromaphobia' is a powerful opener and shows very clearly that MANILLA ROAD were in really good shape at this night. They perfectly embody the term 'power trio' and especially Mark Shelton impresses with his earthy and passionate vocals. The sound quality is raw and fortunately there are no overdubs or other manipulations. That's the way it should be. Of course Shadow Kingdom Records delivers the usual high quality - the booklet includes all lyrics, a couple of rare photos and additional liner notes. In sum, 'After Midnight Live' is another great release in 2010 from one of the best independant heavy metal label. It is an absolute "must have" for fans of MANILLA ROAD, but also very recommendable for all those who are interested in 1970's heavy rock.