Getting Into: Manowar
The articles in this series begun by our own Baz Anderson are designed to give a brief overview of a band's entire discography, so as to provide a clear point of entry for the uninitiated. It offers a different approach from the typical review format, for the curious newcomer to a well-traveled band.
Manowar helped kick off the American power metal scene back in the '80s with their self-referential bombast and overdriven melodic metal. While their fame stems as much from their seemingly-blissful goofiness (and… 'memorable' artwork) as from their music, if not more so, their catalogue holds the resources to back up the years of shameless chest-pounding.
|Battle Hymns (1982)|
Battle Hymns is only about 50% truly Manowar. It features the first in Joey DeMaio's series of ridiculous bass solos and narration from the legendary Orson Welles on the powerful classic "Dark Avenger" - yet this album, for the most part, has more of a rock'n'roll feel than a heavy metal one. It's almost quaint, in a way; the tin can drums, chunky, fuzzy guitars, and youthful exuberance make it slightly silly in a different manner from their later efforts. Still, while it is the most uneven of their 1980s releases, the rawness and energy make it a fun album, and the title track transitions well into their future sound.
Standout Tracks: "Fast Taker," "Dark Avenger," "Battle Hymn"
|Into Glory Ride (1983)|
Into Glory Ride boasts a much more recognizably heavy metal sound, as well as vastly more complex songwriting and the dawn of a uniquely Manowar style. While still somewhat rough, it is much tighter and stronger than Battle Hymns, and hosts several classic Manowar staples. It is also much more ambitious, and remains one of the artsiest (even proggiest) entries in their catalogue. The flexible, heavily-distorted guitar-and-bass tag-team that would go on to define the sound of 1980s Manowar makes its debut here, as does drummer Scott Columbus - a former blacksmith notorious for pounding his drum kits into oblivion.
Standout Tracks: "Gloves Of Metal," "Gates Of Valhalla," "March For Revenge (By The Soldiers Of Death)"
|Hail To England (1984)|
Hail To England may easily be spoken of in the same breath as Into Glory Ride; it stands as a refinement of the style broached by Manowar on their second album. They shed the last vestiges of rock'n'roll influence and stripped away unnecessary layers (except for "Black Arrows," another solo bass piece), leaving much shorter songs and their most dynamic, accessible work up to that point. This means less virtuosic interplay, but the assault of two different lead instruments through very melodic lines still creates a powerful effect. Many consider this to be the apex of Manowar's career, and with the sheer, exorbitant power behind these songs, that's not an unfair assertion.
Standout Tracks: "Blood Of My Enemies," "Kill With Power," "Hail To England," "Army Of The Immortals"
|Sign Of The Hammer (1984)|
Sign Of The Hammer brings more of the same simplified power, though it doesn't achieve the same success or consistency as its predecessor. It begins to decline after "Thor (The Powerhead)," one of the quintessential Manowar songs, and feels largely overshadowed by the albums which bookend it. While still a good listen, this album might best be left until later on, as it has less to offer someone not already familiar with and a fan of Manowar.
Standout Tracks: "Thor (The Powerhead)," "Guyana (Cult Of The Damned)," "Animals"
|Fighting The World (1987)|
While clearly only Manowar could have wrought this, Fighting The World stands apart somewhat oddly from their other albums: a bit poppier, more varied in structure, consumed by a reckless disregard for its own pretensions, and transcendent in a way that seems almost accidental. It sounds almost like a strange combination of the bright, self-assured youthfulness exhibited on Battle Hymns and the darker, heavier anthems of the albums in between. This album's true quality is difficult to quantify, and on the surface it remains another silly work of self-aggrandizing sing-alongs, but it can hold a great deal of power.
Standout Tracks: "Fighting The World," "Carry On," "Defender," "Black Wind, Fire And Steel"
|Kings Of Metal (1988)|
Kings Of Metal is Manowar's flagship album, if there were such a thing, and probably the best place to start for a curious listener. It contains a number of their signature works and some of their strongest songwriting, if perhaps also the least consistent. Distracting, obnoxious interludes and a purely absurd bonus track inexplicably inserted into the middle of the track list detract from an otherwise excellent album, proving that nothing is ever simple with Manowar. Yet amongst the chaff lie multiple classics, making Kings Of Metal, if difficult at times, impossible to ignore.
Standout Tracks: "Kings Of Metal," "Heart Of Steel," "Kingdom Come," "Hail And Kill"
|The Triumph Of Steel (1992)|
The Triumph Of Steel bridges the gap between Manowar's classic lineup and what would become their next longstanding lineup, with David Shankle and Kenny "Rhino" Edwards replacing Ross the Boss and Scott Columbus, respectively. It therefore has a different sound from the previous releases - tighter and cleaner, but also in some ways thinner and more lifeless. The album opens with a pointlessly overblown 28-minute epic, a poor choice in many ways. While it has some good concepts and is worth a listen or two, it does not justify its own length by any means and only serves to scare off inquirers. Push past and The Triumph Of Steel holds many virtues that, for all the differences, make it a strong album nonetheless.
Standout Tracks: "Metal Warriors," "Spirit Horse Of The Cherokee," "Master Of The Wind"
|Louder Than Hell (1996)|
Louder Than Hell offers one of the strongest openings in Manowar history, but little else. The cracks finally start to show on this album, with most of the songs sounding passionless, recycled, or stale, despite the return of Scott Columbus and addition of current guitarist Karl Logan to replace David Shankle. While it might be worth having for "Return Of The Warlord" alone, Louder Than Hell otherwise serves as an unpleasant reminder that even Manowar age, and not always gracefully.
Standout Tracks: "Return Of The Warlord," "Brothers Of Metal"
|Warriors Of The World (2002)|
Warriors Of The World provides a refreshing breath of air in between a few lackluster releases. Its familiar bombast, rejuvenated presentation, and surprisingly strong songwriting hearken back to a time when Manowar were at the top of their game. It might accurately be called the last Manowar album truly deserving of the designation. While more symphonic in tone than past releases and a bit stiff at times, with this return to power also still suffering from the lack of Ross the Boss and Scott Columbus, Warriors Of The World remains the strongest and most consistent Manowar album of at least the last 20 years.
Standout Tracks: "The Fight For Freedom," "Warriors Of The World United," "Hand Of Doom"
|Gods Of War (2007)|
Muddled by onerous segues, narrations, and superfluous transitions, Gods Of War spends too much time building up what is essentially a collection of straightforward, if admittedly catchy, heavy metal tunes. Like much of 21st-century Manowar, it has an unfortunately flat, compressed sound, though the undeniable hooks save it from sounding completely lifeless. The choral piece "Army Of The Dead, Part 1" is one of Manowar's more interesting compositions, and the capstone "Die For Metal" encapsulates everything that was ever great about Manowar. What lies in between can often be worth the weathering, but note that it is a dense and often dull installment. Unfortunately, this was the last album to feature Scott Columbus, who departed the band afterwards and died in 2011.
Standout Tracks: "King Of Kings," "Army Of The Dead, Part 1," "Sleipnir," "Die For Metal"
|Battle Hymns MMXI (2010)|
Re-recording an entire album is rarely a good idea, and Battle Hymns MMXI is no exception. While their debut was indeed a rough recording and might benefit from modern production technology (which was Manowar's excuse for this little venture), it was also not exactly their strongest album, and relied heavily on that "first album smell" to keep it flowing. Ultimately, it fails to make a compelling case for its existence, and while Sir Christopher Lee steps in to fill the void left by Orson Welles in a narrative capacity, there isn't much else of interest to be found.
Standout Tracks: None, really. Listen to the original release.
|The Lord Of Steel (2012)|
Yet another unfortunate example of Manowar ruining their own great album for everyone, The Lord Of Steel does not lack in the songwriting department. The quality falls off in the second half, as with many albums, but overall it could easily be a standout album in their discography. The problem lies with the production, which is about the worst you will ever hear inflicted upon an album outside of black metal. Whatever bass …And Justice For All lost, The Lord Of Steel found. The album has its definite gems, and is well worth a listen - provided you can stand a full minute of the production.
Standout Tracks: "Born In A Grave," "Righteous Glory," "Touch The Sky"
|Kings Of Metal MMXIV (2014)|
Another re-recording, and an even more pointless abomination than the last one. Buy it only for the purpose of burning it.
Standout Tracks: "The Warrior's Prayer," ironically one of the skippable narrated tracks from the original, but this time around presented by Brian Blessed and therefore the only piece worth listening to.
While at present Manowar has left off on an impressively bad note, quality material is truthfully not hard to come by. Often it is hard to look past the sheer absurdity that dogs much of Manowar's career, especially if you don't have the stomach for that sort of posturing. Despite this and the preposterous self-detonation they have been experiencing in recent years, Manowar have put a lot of worthwhile records on the wall, and cannot be discounted as an influence on the power and heavy metal scenes of subsequent generations.
||Written on 29.03.2015 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.|
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