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.
"The Ninth Wave"
"The Fires of Mars"