by John Wenz
A couple things: 1) I love super cheesy hard rock, and 2) I am woefully underinformed as to Nebraska's place in super cheesy hard rock.
So we've got that out of the way. In my research, however, I stumbled across this slice of pure '80s metal. While Manila Thrills had the look of the hair bands of the era — hair teased up to god knows where, androgynous accessorizing, male bangs — this song in and of itself owes more to fast power metal than Sunset Strip coke-and-stripper metal. Think less Poison, more Dokken — complete hard rock chops, a little bit of "we take ourselves a tad too seriously." The band delivered cheesy, pure late-'80s fair.
The band's star was short lived — they spanned from 1988 to 1991 in Lincoln, and only released one album, 1990's Tomorrow's Waiting. The album rides the crest between melodic hard rock — tracks like "Just Gotta Go" shooting straight for the harmonies over a simple, hooky power chord riff — while others, like the above embedded "Gypsy Blood," the lead track on the album, show a bit of power metal influence. And of course, "The Long Wait" and "Hold On" stuck to power balladry, like any good (read: bad) band of the era.
In the grand halls of hard rock, Manila Thrills were a relative footnote. Vocalist Michael Thomas Beck did some work with long-running hard rock group Leatherwolf, and also played in Omaha's Scary Hairy, a sonically similar affair which strayed a bit more to the metal side of things. He now does engineering work for Sound Vision Recordings. Bassist Lars Owen and drummer John Ogle apparently spent some time in a band called Blessedbethyname — but it's not apparent if it's the same as the black metal / industrial fusionaries going by that name and with the same disregard for the space bar, though the Spirit of Metal site seems to think so.
It's easy to dismiss Manila Thrills' sheer cheese — a little bit Aquanet, a little bit Judas Priest — but the band had its time and its place, and proved enduring enough to warrant a re-release on Retrospect Records. Even if their successes came and went, as a relic of the era, Manila Thrills endure in the lexicon. I mean, there just aren't that many contenders for hair metal kings of Nebraska, so we most certainly should crown Manila Thrills as such.
But hey, if you think you have a better contender, comment below and we can have a hair-off! Wait ... that sounds weird. At any rate, I'd love to get more acquainted with Nebraska's history in metal, so drop me a line if you have some bands you think I should check out.
John Wenz is the Echoes columnist for Hear Nebraska. He was handed down a lot of '80s metal by his brother, who rocked an authentic mullet for his 1987 senior photos. He can be reached at email@example.com.