Very few “pure” heavy metal bands have received the same amount widespread acclaim that Manilla Road have without garnering massive amount of attention in the process – I believe it is high time to change this. Being from the American midwest can be a death sentence for music that isn’t always deemed the most popular and Kansas is one of the last places one might look when it comes to heavy metal; a curse of location one might speculate. Yet through all of this guitarist and vocalist Mark “The Shark” Shelton has persevered for over 35 years with a 2 year hiatus in between and 16 full length albums, the latest of which was released by the stellar Shadow Kingdom Records earlier this week, called Mysterium. The 2 albums that fans go back to would have to Crystal Logic as well as the topic of today’s column; Open The Gates. What makes this relatively unknown band so great? Just read on and listen.
Following all of this is “Astronomica” being the astrological journey through the stars that once again features excellent leads and solos that exemplifies what classic and true heavy metal means to so many fans. Top all of that off with lyrics like “Astronomica! The laws that bind us all To keep us from the fall Unto the stars we gaze And pray” and the songs hit the mark both musically and lyrically. The heavy chug of “Weavers Of The Web” urges us to “…change our ways” as we never know quite what is lurking around the corner and to make the most of what life has to offer. “My soul calls out to all of life, To stop this hell and end the strife.” Is an expertly written lyric and can be applied to just about any negative situation and shows us just how much of a well-oiled machine Manilla Road was, and still is.
Opening with “Heavy metal in my ears, Is all I ever want to hear, Before the sands of time run out, We’ll stand our ground and all scream out!” on “Heavy Metal To The World” how could anyone ever dislike this band; I would also have to venture a guess to the fact that heavy metal purist and Darkthrone front man Fenriz would deem the band not only acceptable, but mandatory listening for songs like this. Slowing things down a bit is “Fires Of Mars” which drudges through through the mires and pays homages to epic warriors and their battle spirit further cementing the band’s place as epic metal royalty. The song also showcases the band really feeling out their instruments while Shelton belts out battle cries “Feed the fires, storm the gates, It’s not too late.” Nor is it too late for this band to gain the name for themselves that it rightly deserves.
As we head towards the end of battle, I mean the album, we take a ride on the “Road Of Kings” which asks the question “What do you see inside your mind? Is it your dreams or just the torment of life? Break away from your anxieties today Don’t ever let them drag you down.” a truly excellent world view from a band who may know all too well what slings and arrows life may throw in their general direction. It may be the most fully realized song on the album as the band varies tempo constantly and the main riff bores its way into your subconscious. Ending the analysis I have chosen “Hour Of The Dragon” to pummel you to the finish line and conclude with a song about slaying the proverbial and literal dragon. The tempo once again changes to suit the particular section of the song for the galloping nature of certain sections imagines an epic charge and fight to finish off the mighty beast before it is too late. It is however never too late to point out the excellent guitar work by Shelton as on repeated listens his talent becomes more and more obvious and makes Open The Gates a tough album to forget.
Manilla Road have benefited from the massive explosion of the internet age, as have many bands who languished in relative obscurity for far too long, and for those who managed to find the band before then, to the victor goes the spoils. Fortunately for those lucky enough to get tickets to Maryland Deathfest XI they will have the distinct pleasure of seeing the band live along with fellow obscure metals such as Pagan Altar. Mysterium is another fine slab of heavy metal and should be sought out by fans of classic metal and anybody who could use a history lesson; but I would start at Open The Gates if I were you as it continues to pay dividends 28 years later. Feel free to drop me a comment about a band you’d like to see covered, or just leave one as a sign of good faith. For what I’m currently listening to you can always check out my Last.fm page. More epic metal to follow. Until next week.