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For What Glory It Brings Us - 96%

Nightmare_Reality, September 13th, 2012

I cannot even fathom how difficult it must have been for Mark Shelton to top his previous masterpiece "Crystal Logic," a near flawless album that really defined Manilla Road's epic sound, but it was probably just another day at the office for the band when they crafted this very worthy follow-up in "Open the Gates." This record may not be universally recognized as amazing as its predecessor, but for myself, this album is right up there with "Crystal Logic." In fact, its a regular battle to decide which album I prefer with one being the favorite for one week and the other being my favorite the next. As amazing as the band was on the previous full-length, the effort and results on "Open the Gates" is just as phenomenal, as the epic factor would be kicked up a notch, while also making sure the shorter material was equally brilliant and memorable.

Since this record came after "Crystal Logic," its only natural for there to be some similarities between the two albums. Both "Road of Kings" and "Witches Brew" provide the catchy headbanging tracks that compliment the more epic material perfectly (like "The Ram" and "Necropolis" did for the album before), as the songs have memorable riffs, vocal passages, drumming, solos and everything in between to create a couple of raging tunes, with the latter song being a Manilla Road classic. "Astronomica" serves a similar purpose as the title track to the previous full-length did, as it perfectly blends catchy riffs with an instantly memorable chorus and plenty of goosebump-inducing moments. "The Fires of Mars" is the answer to "The Veils of Negative Existence," with its haunting, yet beautiful aura. This song is also the proud owner of one of the greatest guitar solos in the known universe as Shelton wails away on his guitar like never before. And much like the previous effort, there are the songs that don't quite measure up to the others (and keep the record from being flawless) but remain a joy to listen to nonetheless in "Metalstrom," "Open the Gates" and "Heavy Metal to the World."

"Open the Gates" isn't an attempt at re-writing "Crystal Logic," though, despite the parallels I've drawn between the two. The music on here has an even more epic feel to the songs and part of that reason is because Shelton's vastly improved vocals that suit the style incredibly well. His singing on "Astronomica" is one of the reasons why I consider the song to be a timeless one, because it exemplifies what has always been the band's greatest strength, and that is Shelton's talent for making every part of the music, whether its the vocals, riffs or drumming (which also significantly improved here), flow together excellently. "The Ninth Wave" is another stunning song that was forged in the same vein as tracks like "The Empire" and "Dreams of Eschaton," only its a little more progressive, but a fucking terrific song regardless. Manilla Road definitely raised the bar for heavy metal with this mind-blowing release and it cemented the band's legacy as one of the premier American heavy metal bands. If you're a fan of the albums that came before this one, or even after then you shouldn't even think twice about listening to this masterpiece.

Highlights
"Astronomica"
"The Ninth Wave"
"The Fires of Mars"
"Witches Brew"

Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
nightmarerealitywebzine.blogspot.com

Less consistent, more immersive - 87%

Jophelerx, June 21st, 2011

For those who have yet to hear Manilla Road, their sound is difficult to describe. For example, Open the Gates could be called thrashy, epic, mystical, or arcane; all of those accurately describe aspects of the sound, but none of them really defines it. This album is all those things, but it's also extremely dense and strange; although more accessible than some of their albums, it probably won't click in its entirety on the first listen; although I immediately loved "Road of Kings", most of the album took several more listens for me to truly enjoy and understand it. That's how it is with all Manilla Road, and usually even more so; Open the Gates, at least for me, was one of their most accessible albums, alongside Crystal Logic.

Open the Gates is the first album in Manilla Road's "middle period" - it marked a change away from the fairly laid back sound of Crystal Logic and its predecessors, and instead a movement towards a progressively more aggressive sound. This may be largely due to former drummer Rick Fisher leaving the band after Crystal Logic and being replaced by the more aggressive drummer Randy "The Thrasher" Foxe, whose style is evident on Open the Gates, although the rest of the music has gotten heavier and faster, too. There is also notable thrash influence in the guitar, although the music is still far from all-out thrash; rather, it is more of an amalgamation of power, speed, thrash, and traditional. The vocals here are raspier than on Crystal Logic for the most part, and Shelton covers a greater range. In fact the entire aesthetic of the album feels different than on the previous; CL was a doomy, laid back album in which Shelton felt more like he was giving ponderous musings on the subject matter; here, he is an active part of the stories he tells; he sounds like a bloodthirsty warrior looking for adventure. That's not to say that it's a complete departure from CL, as there are definite similarities, but the differences are definitely significant.

The main problem with Open the Gates is the songs' tendency to overuse a single idea, or not to develop one enough; the latter can be seen in the title track, which starts off sounding like an awesome thrash song, but quickly switches from idea to idea before they are fully realized, and ultimately ends up not doing much of anything. Another example is "Road of Kings" which, although it's an excellent song, has very few musical ideas, and overuses the ones it does have a bit. In other words, the album lacks consistency. The good songs are REALLY good, but there are a few clunkers. The aforementioned underdeveloped "Open the Gates", the commercial-sounding, bland, upbeat "Heavy Metal to the World", and to a lesser extent, "Weavers of the Web" and "Hour of the Dragon", which are both very good songs that just go a little too long; if they were a bit more compact, they would be excellent. For example, "Hour of the Dragon" is one of my favorite songs except for the fact that the same riff repeats for close to a minute during the solo, and then again at the end, leaving me bored after awhile.

That being said, most of the songs here are top-notch. The album starts off with "Metalstrom", a fast, catchy thrasher, with Mark's vocals more or less roaring throughout; the song flows well and culminates in the catchy, soaring chorus. "Astronomica" is an arcane, mystical song, opening with an enchanting, atmospheric intro that includes a haunting clean performance from Mark, but quickly transforming into a fast, heavy number, once again featuring Mark's raspy roars in the chorus. "The Ninth Wave" is one of the best songs here - it's slow, vast, and murky, and opens with a slow, marching drum beat, drawing the listener into another world almost immediately. If I had to use one word to describe this song, I think it would have to be "huge" - it flawlessly evokes feelings of vast grandeur, as if you're on the verge of another world and getting small glimpses of it through this song. I've had the same feeling with other songs of theirs, such as "Epitaph to the King" and "The Books of Skelos", and each time I listen to them I'm rewarded with insight into some other dimension; Manilla Road is the only band I've ever heard who has the ability to do this so flawlessly. This is certainly one of the best examples of it; at times it feels like perhaps you're on a ship in the middle of the ocean and the drum beats represent the movement of the oars; at other times, as though you're marching to war, and the drums mark the pace of the soldiers. Regardless, this is a majestic, monumental masterpiece, definitely the highlight of the album.

"The Fires of Mars" is a dark, ominous piece that is simple but effective, conveying the depths of hell beautifully, Mark's vocals excellent as usual. The riffs here are phenomenal, as is the solo - possibly the best solo on the album. The entire song flows seamlessly, without any gratuitous or bland musical ideas - this is definitely one of the better songs here. "Road of Kings" is an upbeat speed metal tune that is simple and catchy. The guitar wankery at the beginning is a bit excessive, but the verses are excellent, building up but then seeming to fall back down to the very calm chorus. This is a strange technique, but it's oddly charming; again Shelton's vocals save the day, making the soft, calm chorus enchanting. The chorus here might be the best part of the song; it works perfectly in conjunction with the rest of the ideas, and is executed wonderfully. Overall, definitely a good song.

Finally, we have the mystical "Witches Brew" - probably the best thing here aside from "The Ninth Wave". The opening is fantastic, Mark's croons perfectly complementing the guitar harmony, before the song becomes heavy and pounding, not to mention catchy as hell. This, too, does not have a second of wasted music; every section works with the song in some way, and none repeats for too long. It's heavy, mystical, catchy, and concise - everything you could want in a metal song. The foreboding riffs that repeat during the solo are absolutely spectacular, and help create a feeling of impending doom of some kind. They eventually fade out, and the song is over - again, one of the greatest here. The only thing that disappoints me on this album is that the riffs are sometimes too quiet; the drums or the solos or the vocals often overpower them, which makes listening difficult, as the riffs are more or less the backbone of the music; however, it's not noticeable all that often, and the album is certainly still quite enjoyable; I'm just saying it would be quite a bit better with riffs more in the forefront. Overall, this is a very strong album; while it might not have the level of consistency of The Deluge or Mystification, the best songs do something that those albums seldom do - immerse you completely in a magical world of Mark Shelton's creation. Be it "Astronomica", "The Ninth Wave", or "Road of Kings", you'll find yourself completely immersed in and captivated by this musical masterpiece. If you're a fan of epic metal, power metal, thrash metal, mythology, or escapism - hell, if you're into metal at all, get this album. You won't find yourself disappointed.

Enchanting. - 91%

Empyreal, December 27th, 2009

What can you say about music in general? I enjoy it for certain reasons that might not be entirely quantifiable to others. I love the creative expressionism, all the various ways of humans to express emotion and create larger-than-life feelings through man-made instruments and conventions. I enjoy listening to a band with a sort of drive to create something meaningful, a band having fun and producing something truly great with inspiration and heart to spare. I enjoy listening to things like Manilla Road’s Open the Gates.

I don’t know why, but ever since this album clicked for me, I just fucking love it. For some reason, this is the Manilla Road album I go for every time I’m really in the mood for the band in general, even though all of their albums that I’ve heard have fit the criteria I listed above. This is the one that I would now call definitive of the band in question. What is it about this album? Is it the swirling, enveloping guitars, drawing the listener in with their immense retroactive charm? I mean, they sound like they were recorded in a cave in a desert in Middle Earth; it’s just cool as hell. This is an immense, organic sounding album with deep-running lines of pride and knowledge of arcane musical magic buried within its corridors. These guys really knew what they were doing - they still do today - and it shows with every riff, every lead, every chorus.

The songs on here flow excellently, and while none of them stand out among the rest, I don’t find any of them weak, either. There’s a good balance between classic bashers like “Metalstorm” and the more esoteric ones like “The Ninth Wave,” with most of the songs falling in between those two extremes. They have this ethereal timelessness, crawling out of the darkness with neanderthalic riffing and a primitive dedication to everything anti-modern, soon exploding into leads and solos as gorgeous and encompassing as the ancient pyramids of Egypt, or perhaps the snowy caps of the Himalayas. Just listen to Shelton’s leads. Take them in in all their strange, noodly, majestic glory. Many of these songs are composed with leads taking up about a quarter of their length or more; just listen to tracks like “The Ninth Wave” or “Hour of the Dragon,” or…fuck, any of them, really. The leads and solos on this album are all great, and you will find yourself lost in their rich textures and elaborations once this album sinks in.

And his vocals themselves are pretty much this band’s defining point – listen to no man who tells you that Shelton is untalented, for he knows not even one thing of greatness. Shelton’s voice is just a powerhouse, even if it doesn’t appear that way at first. His low, soothing rumble of a voice is perfect for this band. He knows how to sell a song with great hooks and he always keeps you interested in what’s going on in the song in question with his powerful, ready dynamic. It’s really only the nasally quality of the sound of his voice that puts people off. In reality, his dark, epic intonations are part of what makes this so magical and enchanting.

You will facepalm to no end once Open the Gates, er, opens its gates for you. You will feel silly that you doubted this band to create something wonderful and artistic out of metal’s already great palette of resources. It is subtly complex but also honest, prideful music from a band that exemplifies everything good about Metal to begin with. Open the Gates is nothing less than an expression of pure joy and ecstasy for the seasoned metal listener in aural form. Listen to it, but don’t be put off if you don’t like it right away. I had to listen to this about four or five different times over a period of a couple years for it to really sink in. And now I’m writing a pretentious review about it; isn’t life grand?

I just love the sense of mystique this fills me with, that otherworldly crunch that dawns on you like a fucking end-of-the-world prophecy after you play it enough times, and in the right circumstances. This is about a million times larger than the sum of its parts, but that’s true of every Manilla Road release. The churning, boiling guitars crash like molten waves against the rumbling of the bass, the drums are more like militaristic war-marching, pounding down on crumbling soil, and Mark Shelton narrates in his stuffy tenor over the whole thing with a ferocious attention to detail – and there is still something more, some kind of draw or force that makes you look up at the sky and question the very nature of things, until the world seems upside-down and there’s a portal over your head leading to parts unknown. There are times when a really good set of riffs comes in with that ultra-cool tone, or a solo draws out to a particularly mesmerizing finish, or Shelton’s wondrous voice recites a particularly soul-searing passage, and those are the times I’m talking about here, and the awesome lyrics do not hinder this – let it all come together. Climax; ultimate escapism and fantasy embodied right here in this album’s fifty-odd minutes of blazing glory. This record is pure magic. I don’t need to make any more puns about the title of the album being indicative of what happens after it grows on you, do I? Go get it.

A slight dip in quality, but a classic nonetheless - 92%

failsafeman, February 14th, 2008

The reviews I read prior to purchasing my first Manilla Road album did very little to prepare me for the real thing; the first time I put on Crystal Logic, I was blown away, and only after quite a few subsequent listens did I recover. Really, the only things I got out of what I read that actually did help prepare me were a warning, and an encouragement. The warning was that Manilla Road’s albums were weird, and not just your garden-variety weird, either, but really weird. The encouragement was, that if you could swallow the weirdness, that Manilla Road’s albums were good, and not just your garden-variety good, either, but really good. The band has thirteen albums under their belt, and those two things have applied to every one of them. In a couple weeks, there will be a fourteenth, and I don’t doubt they will apply to it as well. If you’ve never heard Manilla Road, and are trying to get an idea of what they’re like and if you’ll like them, no words can possibly convey what they are if you haven’t heard for yourself. Take the warning, and the encouragement, and go buy Crystal Logic, which is the best place to start in their discography. Those who are just new to this particular album, or those who aren’t but are looking for another perspective, read on.

Manilla Road’s response to the challenge of writing Crystal Logic Part Two was, wisely, to not even try. Fortunately for us, they have proven themselves to be one of the only bands that can change significantly while remaining essentially the same; like a man changing clothes, Manilla Road’s appearance may be altered, but it’s always the same band underneath. So, on Open the Gates, we see a bit of thrash creeping in (but just a bit, so far). Maybe a big pair of sneakers or some ripped jeans appear on our metaphorical “Manilla Road Man”. This was clearly a transition album, and they didn’t really get the thrash thing down until their next one. But even though a thrash riff could be picked out here and there on this album, and more often as time went on, Manilla Road never really sounded to me like they were actually playing thrash songs; rather, it’s always been Manilla Road playing Manilla Road. Even though one could accuse them of jumping on the thrash bandwagon (or perhaps the USPM one, if that subgenre had ever been popular or lucrative enough to afford such a wagon), I feel that such an accusation would be unfair. Their three previous albums were already getting progressively heavier, more metal, and more aggressive, so their gradual absorbing of some thrash trappings is just a logical continuation of that pattern. After all, it’s not like any metal fans of the mid-80s, even ones in Kansas, could possibly be oblivious to thrash without living under a rock of colossal proportions. Rather, it’s a testament to Manilla Road’s integrity and strength of vision that they were able to absorb any influence at all from a movement as big as thrash without drowning in it.

An important factor that contributed to and may well have influenced Manilla Road’s heavier sound on this album was Rick Fisher's replacement with the appropriate nickname, Randy “Thrasher” Foxe, who drums in a manner completely different from his relatively understated predecessor. To me, Foxe seems to play the drums the same way Mark Shelton plays his solos; messy, all over the place, and completely awesome. With his muscular style Foxe pounds his way tirelessly through the whole album, and is definitely a highlight. Even on slower, quieter songs, like “The Ninth Wave”, he never relents for long. The energy he conveys behind the kit is just amazing; again, the same way Shelton is with his solos. The production is also noticeably heavier, with the guitar tone being much fuller than on Crystal Logic. Finally, Mark Shelton’s aggressive growl, only appearing occasionally on the previous album, is far more prevalent here, and really contrasts well with his clean singing; “Astronomica” is a prefect example of this, with the clean intro, roaring verses, and soaring chorus. A minor anecdote: apparently, during the recording of Open the Gates, Mark Shelton was sick as a dog, and when he finally got up to recording the vocals, he wasn’t even better yet and had only one day left to do it in. Now, there are a couple of places here and there where I can almost believe it, but throughout most of the album, he’s as strong as ever. If I hadn’t heard the story, I’d have never known. One possible casualty of this time crunch, however, is the multi-tracked vocals, which were used to such great effect on the previous album; they are sadly wholly absent from this one.

Yes, all is not well with Open the Gates. Manilla Road were clearly not yet quite comfortable with their new, more aggressive sound, and some songs simply do not work they way they should. The opener, “Metalstorm”, is in my opinion a perfect analogy for the album as a whole. After an unspectacular intro, which doesn’t hold a candle to the atmosphere of the one for Crystal Logic, the guitar kicks in; at first the song is decent, and rides a good-but-not-great main riff, and the verses are mediocre with a melody that just doesn’t really go anywhere. But then the chorus comes in right about smack-dab in the middle, and everything clicks; all of a sudden the song is simply fantastic (“In the wake of Metalstorm!”), and it just gets better as it goes on. In the same way, the album is a bit shaky at first, with its new, more aggressive style resulting in some parts that lack atmosphere and are not up to the band’s standard. However, just as the song does, as the album continues, things tighten up, and the final half is uninterrupted greatness. That final four-song sequence I’d rank right up there with the best parts of any Manilla Road album.

The title track is, unfortunately, a failure. Many like it, but I simply don’t. It’s another plodding Manilla Road song that doesn’t particularly go anywhere, like “The Ram”, but unfortunately it’s nowhere near as good as that song. It’s not totally horrible; even a mediocre Manilla Road number like this one is still not without a redeeming merit or two, but it’s just clearly not up to their standard. Lucky for us then that it’s also very short, and followed by one of the best songs on the album. “Astronomica” starts with a soft intro, before the pounding riff and roaring verse come and bludgeon us into a happy pulp; then the chorus soars up into the stratosphere in classic Manilla Road fashion. Discounting the drumming and aggressive vocal style on the verses, this sounds closest to Crystal Logic’s style of the whole album. It’s got a similar kind of spacey atmosphere found on “The Veils of Negative Existence”, and with a bit of tweaking, would fit quite well between it and “Dreams of Eschaton”.

“Weavers of the Web” is the total opposite of “Metalstorm”, with a fantastic main riff that gets right to the point, a fine verse, but an uncharacteristically weak and uninspired chorus. That main riff, however, is notable not only for being excellent, but also for being Manilla Road’s most thrash-influenced up until this point. It’s a decent song, and certainly worth listening to, but not one of their best. Next comes the requisite lengthy epic of the album, and though I’m not sure it wouldn’t be better placed at the end, like Crystal Logic’s was, it’s unquestionably fucking awesome. It’s got a very open sound, with slow, drawn-out riffs and hypnotic tom-pounding, almost like heavy rain falling on a rooftop. Shelton’s delivery is very laid-back as well, contrasting with most of the other songs on the album, and the whole thing is very atmospheric, possessing a dark majesty fitting for Arthur rising again to lead Britain to glory. And he’s joined by the Einherjar. Yes, Shelton mixes mythology all over the place on this album to great effect; there’s Arthurian, Norse, Greek, and Christian myth, and possibly even some more I’ve missed. This is a new thing for Manilla Road, but something they would continue to do on this album (“The Fires of Mars”, for example) and carry over into subsequent ones. Yes, Manilla Road are too epic to be contained by one mythology at a time, and must fuse the best elements of many.

And then, well, there is “Heavy Metal to the World”. It’s the worst song on the album, by a large margin, and I’ll give it to you straight: it has no redeeming characteristics. As far as the context of the album, it seems to me it was trying to be another “Feeling Free Again”, i.e. an intermission right in the middle, to provide a bit of relaxation and casual fun between the two halves of the album. However, where “Feeling Free Again” was relaxing, fun, and catchy (though still a rather silly single attempt), “Heavy Metal to the World” is none of the above. It’s just the same kind of stupid “metasong about rock/metal” that countless other bands in the ‘80s put out, and like the most part of them, this one is terrible.

But then, glorious day, we have “The Fires of Mars”! This track does everything right that the title track messes up; the riffs are great, the verses are great, and the chorus is the best of the whole album. “WARRIORS AT THE END OF TIME, MASTERS OF LIGHT!” Again here mythology is mixed to great effect; as with all the best Manilla Road songs, understanding the lyrics just increases the enjoyment that much more. Does the “Mars” of the title refer to the planet, or the Greek god? It’s not quite clear, but personally I prefer to see it as both; the image of these heroes fighting on the red soil of Mars, while lighting the god of war’s sacred fires…the song does mention “golden wisdom from the stars,” so being on another planet doesn’t seem too far-fetched. The lyrics are certainly open-ended enough, so maybe it was even intentional? Going from strength to strength, the next song is the energetic “Road of Kings”. It’s a faster, more straightforward number, which focuses on a riff “theme” and its variations. The verses slowly build tension to the choruses, with the drumming getting slowly more intense as the riff below it repeats, until it’s released into the rocking chorus. It’s certainly a less complex and serious song than the previous, but it serves as a nice relief from it (though not at all in the same way “Feeling Free Again” was, or “Heavy Metal to the World” should have been). Without relenting in quality, we’re hit with “Hour of the Dragon”, which displays unquestionably the strongest thrash sound yet evidenced. It’s very good, and for a band only displaying minor thrash influences here and there in the rest of the album, it’s surprisingly well-formed; this one could easily appear on The Deluge or even Mystification.

And finally, there is “Witches Brew”, a Manilla Road classic, and an album-closer that can even compete with the mighty “Dreams of Eschaton”, though it’s definitely of a different sort. From the soft, eerie intro, to the howl that heralds the crushing main riff, Open the Gates ends with a bang. The lyrics continue the mythology-mixing of previous songs, and describe the Einherjar rising from the dead to drink the brew of life. The atmosphere is just perfect, and a definite highlight is the outro; it mimics the previous album’s, with the two guitar solos tracked over each other slowly fading out, and the final words spoken by the pitch-shifted voice…perhaps not quite as perfect as the chilling sound of a nuclear explosion ending Crystal Logic, but it’s certainly a strong end to a strong album.

In the end, after all its ups and downs, a Manilla Road album is just like a great fantasy novel. Sure, there are epic parts, there are gloomy parts, there are majestic parts, there are head-banging, fist-pumping parts, and they’re excellent; but what sets a truly great fantasy novel –and Manilla Road– apart from the rest of its kind is the sense of sheer wonder it instills in the listener. When the music plays, it’s as if there’s a whole new world just beyond the horizon, but yet within reach; Shelton is standing up ahead where he can see it, and he beckons you onward. Maybe, during the most transcendent parts, you even catch a glimpse; the chorus in “The Fires of Mars”, that intro to “Astronomica”…inevitably, you descend back into yourself, but that glimpse is burned into your memory like a shining star. Of course it’s pure escapism, but what’s so bad about that? As Tolkien replied when accused of it: “Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?” An important part of this sort of escapism is to exhort the ideals these epic heroes embody: bravery, honor, integrity, loyalty, etc., and the beauty their ancient cultures (both fiction and non) exemplified. Who the hell wouldn’t want to see Atlantis, or Necropolis, or any of the other locations Manilla Road describe to us? But on a higher level, it’s about escaping to a world of meaning; no, good and evil are not suddenly black and white: the cuckolded King Arthur sentences Queen Guinevere to death, for though he doesn’t want to, he must nonetheless show that even kings should not be above the law. Rather than naive simplicity, this fantasy is an escape from triviality and blandness; all actions are great, and have great consequences, both deserved and undeserved. It’s not the maudlin mantra “everything happens for a reason,” that religious types are so fond of saying. No, just as Loki’s trickery and deceit are often helpful to the Aesir, so does Hector’s bravery and honor meet with death and shame as his corpse is desecrated before his father’s eyes. The moral behind these myths is that anything truly worth doing is worth doing for its own sake, rather than for hope of reward or fear of punishment, whether financial, judicial, or karmic; and the point of describing this ideal world of beauty and significance, of course, is so that we can then try to make our own ugly, petty world more like it. Hell, Shelton all but comes right out and says so directly, in the intro to “Astronomica”; it’s a bit metaphorical (he’s not actually talking about that stuff magicians do or the kind of soul the bible talks about, folks), but it’s pretty damn clear what he means:

The future's not so cold, just trust the ways of old
Magik can save the soul, and set the spirit free
It's not just fantasy

Unreal...Just Unreal - 95%

brocashelm, April 18th, 2006

The Midwest rises again with another superior effort from eternal underdogs Manilla Road, and this time with their toughest, meanest sounding album yet. Continuing their mythic and signature style, the band wield another bunch of battle ready metal here, and the more I listen to these once long lost albums, now back to haunt us on CD, I find it harder and harder to believe how un-revered Manilla Road was in their day.

But never you mind, because once the hard charge of “Metalstrom” hits your ears, you’ll marvel at the strength and power so evident here. And more, convincingly, this band wrote truly memorable songs that are the work of people who truly gave a damn about the quality of the music they were crafting, a fact that the doom-ridden (a kinda Pentagram style of riff here) title song makes evident. In fact the downright compelling sound of “Astronomica” which mixes melody with brute riffs sounds like the work of a far more mature act (this was their fourth album, but their style is so unique it might as well be their tenth!). More ominous tones give “Weavers Of The Web” it’s dark feel, and Mark Shelton’s voice is a fearful proposition, clear but eerie as it is.

And it just wouldn’t be a Manilla Road album without at least one epic on board, and “The Ninth Wave” holds that position well here, a sword and sorcery enhanced tale with regal riffs and vigorous performances. The anthemic “Heavy Metal To The World” is pretty predictable given it’s fist-pounding title, but the album’s mythic remainder dive back into the more considered side of the band, with “The Fires Of Mars” and harrowing “Witches’ Brew” standing tallest.

Hey, I just thought of something! You know how shallow and desperate modern power metal tends to sound compared to the quality work of its earlier exponents? Well if today’s dragon-humping, beer-swilling, metal hailing throng were one-tenth as creative and honest to themselves as this band, I wouldn’t have nearly as much to complain about. Seriously, this is the real deal when it comes to real metal.

Classic US epic metal - 95%

Axecrusher, March 8th, 2004

It is impossible for Manilla Road to make a record that blows away the highlight Crystal Logic. Open the Gates is the follower and indeed can't be compared with the masterpiece, although it is an excellent follower.

After a little intro the great and mighty "Metalstorm" which features a fantastic riff, awesome drumming by my favorite drummer ever, Randy Foxe is the name, and raw vocals by mister Shelton. During the recordings he was ill, but still managed to do a very good job with his throat (I love this rawness!). The second song is one of the most famous Manilla Road songs, but also one of the shortest. It is the great headbanger "Open the Gates".

After these two songs we can state that Manilla Road sounds a lot more aggressive and also faster. This is without doubt their purest metal release, still with wonderful epic influences. On the song "Astronomica" for instance we can enjoy these ingredients again, and the vocals sound so unbelievable 'mighty'. It really gives you a sense of power. The very long, mystic and epic The Ninth Wave never has been my favorite song from this album, and "Heavy Metal to the World" is totally misplaced. But "The Fires of Mars' is a hell of a song again. You'll forget about the previous song immediately! Once again the riffs strike down like thunder and the vocals create a very king of 'dreaming' atmosphere. Road of Kings is somewhat more melodic, but still is a very good song.

On the re-release there are two bonus tracks, the great Hour of the Dragon and the fantastic epic metal hymn "Witches Brew". Like I said, this album cannot be compared to a masterpiece like "Crystal Logic" but it is a very worthy Manilla Road album! Up the hammers!!!