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Road to recovery - 91%

haikuholocaust, September 13th, 2005

It amazes me that a band like this goes so long without getting noticed much by the metal community. Manilla have been around since the '80s, yet they're just in recent years being masturbating upon by every metalhead this side of Valhalla. I'm not really sure why it took so long for them to get the recognition they deserved, but it's about freakin' time.

The only problem is, the Manilla efforts -- recorded after their reunion / whatever you want to call it -- since their "discovery" haven't been that great. Atlantis Rising was mediocre at best, and Spiral Castle had a few good moments but overall left me dissatisfied. Of course, I've been content listening to every album before those, so when I heard that Gates of Fire was coming out, I was optimistic but not overjoyed. Afterall, there's plenty of good Manilla material already.

I expected Gates of Fire to be like Spiral Castle: decent but uninspired with nothing mindblowing.

My expectations were not met.

Gates of Fire is a fucking killer album. It opens on perhaps its highest note with "Riddle of Steel" but doesn't manage to lose much interest afterward, as many albums do with killer opening tracks and crap to follow. Manilla do a great job on this album mixing their thrash side with their epic / traditional metal side. It's a great blend of all of Manilla's pre-breakup material.

The vocals are as strong as I've heard from The Road. Mark Shelton trades off occasionally with a dude who does some nice gutteral stuff and even some falsetto, which works surprisingly well. A lot of people are turned off by Shelton, which makes sense to me, since he sounds like an old woman who's been smoking cigarettes for 70 years. But something about his voice is really pleasing to me.

The songwriting is the main reason this album is so good compared to its recent predecessors. The riffs are killer and catchy, and the choruses are hypnotic in a way. The layers of melody and technicality keep the mind interested and the ear entertained. My only complaint about the songwriting is sometimes it gets a bit competitive; I can only listen to the same chorus so many times in a row in a song. If there's any knock against Manilla throughout their career, it's that they carry songs on too long, and that's certainly present here. You'll hear the same chorus for three minutes straight at the end of a song, when it could've ended without those three minutes and had a much greater impact.

I fucking love the production of this album. The drums are thick and punchy with the cymbals providing a really nice, sharp clang. The double bass is thundering. The guitars are clear and crisp and complement the vocals and drums perfectly. The things I hear most are the vocals and drums, which actually is nicer than it sounds. The layered vocals provide a really awesome melody kind of similar to a twin-guitar attack. My only gripe is the bass isn't really very distinguishable. But that's partially because the bassist does nothing special.

I can't say Manilla will put out another album this good; in fact, I'm not optimistic. But I'll tell you what: I'm a hell of a lot more optimistic now that they've actually put out something outstanding. I was ready to write them off as has-beens after hearing Atlantis Rising and Spiral Castle. Buy this album or I will slice you open from crotch to throat and lay my eggs inside you.