Open the Gates - Manilla Road, Black Dragon Records 1985

"Open the Gates" is the fourth official release from the Wichita, Kansas
band Manilla Road. This album marks a couple of significant changes for
the band. The first is support from a label. The first three albums were on
the band's own label, Roadster Records. But "Open the Gates" is being released
through the French label Black Dragon Records.
The second is a change of personnel. Rick Fisher, the drummer on the three
previous albums, is replaced by Randy "Thrasher" Foxe. Fisher, however,
remains a contributor to the project as an assistant producer.

The cover art work is amazing. My impression of the imposing figure is a
"negative" Elric. One can hope that the figure gets a name and becomes
something of a mascot for the band. Inside, one can find a sword stuck in
an anvil reminding one of Arthurian legends. The sword seems similar to the
one displayed on the band's first release "Invasion" and has the Viking skull
of "Cystral Logic" on its pummel. Clearly, the band is setting up for some
repeated imaginary in future releases.
Described below are the songs from the album. Each song is reviewed for
arrangements, vocals, and lyrical content. Concluding the individual song
reviews is an overall impression of the album.

Metalstrom - I tend to like progressive music. While the rhythm stays
consistent throughout the song (reminds me of something from the "Metal"
album), the guitar playing adds the spice that I like about progressive
music. The vocals are a bit varied (something else I like) with the verses
having a clean, but rough edge to them, and the choruses are clean. The
lyrics contain a number of references to Arthurian legend, Conan
and a quick glimpse of Greek mythology.

Open the Gates - This song is worth of having the album named after it.
opening riff locks you in for the duration of the song as Shelton and Park
work seamlessly together until Shelton starts running off on a tangent.
The vocal sets the tone for the imagery you get from the song. Literary name
dropping is rampant in the song, but you can sense its attitude. You can
picture yourself standing in a cross between drizzle and rain in your
leather jerkin (because you aren't important enough for chainmail) hearing
your captain rally you and your troops for the final siege. I'm usually
not one for shorter songs, but this one sets the benchmark.

Astronomica - This is the closest to a ballad style song that one will
find on the album. Shelton conveys a lot of emotion within the chorus. With all
that said, my preference for progression seeps in. The opening, closing,
and chorus provides enough variance, but something inside says the song is too
long for the set rhythm (which worked well for the shorter "Open the
Gates"). Now if I can only find the literary work that provided the
inspiration for this song, so I can appreciate the song a lot more.

Weavers of the Web - For some reason, this song strikes me as rather
The constant rhythm, without variation, is probably why I feel this way.
> yet, I feel like I should be moved by Shelton's guitar playing, but I'm
not. The vocals fit the atmosphere of the song and the lyrics. As for the
lyrics, I also find them bland. I like the idea of the title of the song, but I
must be confusing myself when dissecting the words. At first, it seems like the
weavers are political leaders, fabricating the lies within politics that
only lead to violence. Yet later, it seems the weaver is Christianity,
bringing new beliefs and the lack of tolerance it had for older faiths. In
either case, I don't see that the lyrics develop these thoughts enough.

Heavy Metal to the World - What can I say? It's a rock anthem. I'm not
particularly fond of music about music. I can turn on the radio to hear
music about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but I like my music with> sustenance.

Unfortunately, my dislike for the lyrics clouds any opinion I
could form about the arrangement and vocals (which I do think fits the
song). Clearly, this is my least favorite song on this release.

Fires of Mars - While I raised this criticism with "Weavers of the Web,"
the repetitive rhythm here does not disturb me here. The reason for this might
be the variance of the vocals. Or the reason might be that the rhythm fits
the theme of the lyrics. The Nordic warriors are marching to what could be
their final fight. The warriors know some might not make it back, but a
victory saves them all. So in the constant rhythm of their marching (the
rhythm of the song), they prepare. What I do like is that within the song,
Shelton peels off that rhythm at an unexpected time to start his solo. He
doesn't wait for the verse to end, but begins early. I like variances like that.

Road of Kings - For those looking to a story about that grand highway in
the Conan stories, you are going to be sadly disappointed. What I surprises me
is how light and uplifting this song seems to be in comparison to the
sounds of the rest of the album. The vocals reflect this sound as the
rough edge is non-existent here. The lyrics themselves inspire hopeful patience.
Sometimes, that first verse hits too close to what I experience in a day.

Hour of the Dragon - I like the pattern of this song. The non-vocal parts
have one rhythm sound; each filled with different guitar playing. The
verse parts have a different rhythm and the chorus is yet another. But the flow
in-between is not disruptive. The lyrics seem to continue the story from
"The Fires of Mars" (so I don't know why "Hour" did not follow "Fires").
The warriors have reached their destination, the battle has started, and the
warriors see their opportunity. Now is the time to strike.

While the album seems short, "Open the Gates" does contain an EP to make
it complete.
Ninth Wave - Manilla Road never lets its fans down without including some
epic song on its releases. "The Ninth Wave" is the one for "Open the
Be sure to be up to speed on your Arthurian legends and Nordic theology or
the lyrics will go over your head. The song itself is different from the
rest of the album. It is moodier, slower, and full of doom. The music
sounds cleaner as well. The drumming stands out here. The vocals are clean with a
rare rough edge during the "shouting" parts. My only concern is the lack
variance in the rhythm. For a long song (over nine minutes), the rhythm is
constant with only a slight variance at the end. I think I tend to
overlook it here because of the lyrics, the way the lyrics are sung, and the guitar
jams sessions.

Witches' Brew - This song is a classic. The song has all the elements that
I like. A slow melodic start with slow melodic vocals. A shift into a hard
riff with that rough edged vocals. A short melodic chorus with matching
vocals. The arrangement has that variance which keeps you entranced. And
the final jam keeps you on the edge. When it sounds like it going to die, it
just picks right back up. The lyrics have blatant Nordic theology
included, another bonus. Nothing like toasting the gods in their honor. I just wish
I could figure out the closing words.

Overall, the album keeps your attention throughout its playing. If the
faithful do not rise to the sword with this album, something is wrong with
them. Additional notes: In 1990, Black Dragon released "Open the Gates" on
compact disc. In 2001, Dragonheart records re-issued "Open the Gates" after the
lapse of the contract with Black Dragon. While it is said that the bass is
mixed higher on the 2001 release, I cannot hear the difference. However,
for those who did not get the Black Dragon release of "Live Roadkill," live
versions of "Open the Gates" and "Witches' Brew" are included as bonus
tracks (songs which I had considered the best on this album).


After Crystal Logic we have heard nothing of Manilla Road for a long time. When Open The Gates came out it was the BIG event. I was the first to get a copy and I remember putting it on the stereo of my parents (funny how people who hate loud music often have the loudest stereo-sets). My brother was there, my girlfriend, and a friend. We all loved Manilla Road and were really excited and kept on saying to each other things like: 'this is how it should be done!' and 'this is what metal is all about!'. The excitement of that day is forever linked to this great album.

The first thing I noticed when I bought this record was the new drummer. Now I am pretty faithfull to my heroes and Rick Fisher was defenitely one of them. I kinda feared this would not be 'my' Manilla Road anymore (off course, now I know better). The first sounds of the introduction made my skin crawl, Yes!! It was the sound with which Crystal Logic had ended. I felt a little better, I expected the music to go on in the direction of Crystal Logic... But when the drums kicked in I knew Manilla Road would never be the same again! This was much heavier and more agressive than anything I have heard from The Road before and I liked it! Metalstrom is one of those songs you will never forget and never get tired of listening to. I don't know where They found Randy Foxe but he plays like a maniac, the rolling double-bass, the razor-sharp snare-fills; I was blown away by this guy. 

If I had to choose my favorite MR album it would be Open The Gates. I think the lyrics are just brilliant, in the spirit of Crystal Logic but more agressive. I read somewhere Mark was ill at the time he recorded the vocals but I just love his voice on this album. There is so much emotion and some of the beautifull melody-lines really bring tears to my eyes. I also love the production, the way the bass and guitar melt into one monstruous sound. Let me tell you, I don't listen with my head, but with my heart. I don't care if the production of a record is perfect or for the virtuosity of the musicians. I just want to feel something when I listen to music and a so called bad production often grabs me more than a smooth and clear sound.

I think Scott Park had his day here, he is really dominating the sound and is playing impressively well. But the greatest achievement of Open The Gates lies in the compositions and in the guitars. I love their shorter songs but Manilla Road really makes their best compositions in the longer, epic ones. Songs like Astronomica, Fires Of Mars, Ninth Wave really stand out. The rhythm guitars on Open The Gates are so much better than the previous albums. There is more agression, the sound is deep and scary. But most of all the riffs and melodies on this album are very special. The way the guitar parts in Astronomica and The Fires Of Mars are constructed is sheer genius. In the Ninth wave Manilla Road shows how strong they are in making a long composition work with just a few melodies. I also love the unorthodox composition of Road Of Kings. 

In the guitar-solo department this is one of my all time favorite albums. The way Mark makes his guitar growl, just creating noise by bending and stretching the strings has stolen my heart forever. The solo's are great, every single one of them. In the case of Weavers Of The Web the second solo even saves the song from being 'just' an average Manilla Road song. 

I can only think of one negative point on this album: Heavy Metal To The World. Musically It sounds like Motorhead on speed, which is not bad, but I feel the lyrical content of the song just does not fit in with the rest of the album. Not that I don't like songs about Heavy Metal; Dig Me No Grave on Courts Of Chaos really touches me emotionally. The lyrics of Heavy Metal To The World are just not in the same spirit as the rest of the album, I think.

The best song on Open The Gates, in my opinion, is The Fires Of Mars. The composition is perfect, building the tension up and never really releasing it. The lyrics are great, here is wisdom, emotion and integrity, this is what Manilla Road has always meant to me. The last verses bring tears to my eyes, beautifull work, Mark! 
If I had to vote for a best guitar solo the one in Fires Of Mars stands a good chance, this solo really complements the lyricall content and keeps the tension strong. This is one of the best guitarsolos ever. And maybe MR's best song? I'm not sure, I think for me that would be Friction In Mass.

All in all, Open The Gates is a timeless classic and certainly one of my favorite albums of all time. Music of the Gods.