Considering how prolific Mark “The Shark” Shelton was in and out of Manilla Road, it was only inevitable that unrealized projects would start popping up after his passing. This collaboration with shredder David T. Chastain, The Edge of Sanity: 88 Demo Session, is one such example, having been crafted and quickly put to the wayside in 1988. Releasing a demo of this unpolished nature could come off as exploitative, but the pair’s intent to get this demo out there regardless of circumstance is reassuring. Equally reassuring is how much it kicks ass.
Chastain may have handled all the instrumentation, but this demo is far more indebted to Manilla Road than anything else he’s done. That likely has to do with Shelton’s distinct vocals and mythological lyrics, but the thrash tempos on the title track and “Fields of Sorrow” have more in common with Out of the Abyss than The 7th of Never. It’s also difficult to imagine Chastain’s main band ever touching a track like the ultra-epic “Orpheus Descending,” even with their neoclassical tendencies.
With this in mind, these three songs are excellently written. Whether it be the title track’s bludgeoning or the multi-faceted exoticism of “Orpheus Descending,” the structures are esoteric enough to avoid sounding formulaic while the snappy transitions ensure that even the longest song doesn’t drag. It’s a thrilling listen that would’ve been even more so with a more professional production job.
But with this being a thirty-year-old demo and all, it’s certainly not a release for the casual listener. The sound quality is decent enough for the raw guitars and vocals to come through, but the programmed drums are buried in the mix, most notably on “Fields of Sorrow.” It might’ve also been a little overwhelming to include two versions of “Orpheus Descending,” one of which is twenty-one minutes long, but they’re both well-composed enough to justify preference for either.
A 1988 demo collaboration between Mark Shelton and David T. Chastain is the ultimate nerd metal fodder and fans of both musicians are sure to act accordingly. There’s no denying how awesome a full-length album in this vein would’ve turned out, but the writing and playing here is quality enough for one to not brood too much over missed opportunity. At the end of the day, two guys with excellent chemistry had fun making a demo together and we’re all lucky for finally getting to hear it.
“The Edge of Sanity”