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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.