If ever a band was beyond parody, it’s Manowar. As self-appointed Kings Of Metal, these valiant, muscle-bound, loincloth-wearing power metal warriors have acted as standard-bearers for ‘True Metal’ for all of 30 years, their missionary zeal impervious to ridicule. “Death to false metal!” is their battle cry – and by Odin they mean it.
Manowar formed in 1980 after a chance meeting of Americans Joey DeMaio and Ross ‘The Boss’ Friedman at Newcastle’s City Hall. DeMaio, an aspiring bass player, was working as a roadie for Black Sabbath, and Friedman was the guitarist for Sabbath’s support act, Shakin’ Street. Vowing to create what DeMaio called “the hottest rock group in the world”, the pair reconvened in the US to launch Manowar, with singer Eric Adams and Rods drummer Carl Canedy who also produced their first demo.
Manowar’s debut album, 1982’s Battle Hymns (with full-time drummer Donnie Hamzik) set the tone for their entire career. Pure heavy metal thunder, built to a blockbuster scale, it featured narration from Hollywood legend Orson Welles
– the only man with a voice big enough for Manowar – and a keynote message in Metal Daze: ‘Only one thing really sets me free/Heavy metal, loud as it can be!’
Band members came and went (DeMaio and Adams are the only constants), but DeMaio’s vision has remained acutely focused. No band has written more songs about heavy metal than Manowar, whose titles include Brothers Of Metal, Die For Metal and of course, The Gods Made Heavy Metal.
Manowar have even set new standards for human achievement in the name of True Metal, entering the Guinness Book Of World Records on four occasions: three for loudest performance (129.5dB) and once for the longest heavy metal concert, a five- hour marathon played in Bulgaria in 2008.
Manowar have continued making albums, the most recent 2014's Kings Of Metal MMXIV. After a line up change following unsavoury revelations about former guitarist Karl Logan, the band are currently on tour across Europe – a testament to the unwavering self-belief that has driven this extraordinary band to create some of the most heroically OTT heavy metal albums of all time.
In the words of their vainglorious anthem Kings Of Metal: “Other bands play; Manowar kill!”
Battle Hymns (Liberty/EMI, 1982)
On the simplest level, Manowar’s first album is loud and proud all-American metal at its best. But it was here that the band forged their own mythology via a quartet of iconic, career-defining songs.
The first four tracks have a raw, streetwise vibe embodied by the abrasive riffs and Vietnam-referencing lyrics in Death Tone and Shell Shock. The crusading title track and Dark Avenger established a tradition for grandiose fantasy epics, Manowar set out their warrior code, and William’s Tale was a ritualistic show of strength.
More than just a great heavy metal album, Battle Hymns was a declaration of war.
Fighting The World (Atlantic, 1987)
Having parted from two major labels in four years, Manowar bounced back by signing to the illustrious Atlantic Records.
Nevertheless, a siege mentality prevailed in its belligerent title track and in the MTV-bashing Blow Your Speakers. As these defiant and brilliantly gonzoid heavy metal anthems proved, Manowar thrived on adversity.
Also included on this album is the seminal Black Wind, Fire & Steel, a key influence on modern European power metal and battle metal, plus a reworking of 1983’s mighty, quasi-mystical Defender, again featuring Orson Welles – the old stager’s last great performance.
Hail To England (Music For Nations, 1984)
England holds a special place in the heart of Joey DeMaio. It’s where Manowar was conceived and Black Sabbath were formed – the only other band that DeMaio deems ‘True Metal’.
The exultant title track on Manowar’s third album was DeMaio’s homage to the band’s spiritual birthplace, its lyrics portraying an English tour as a pilgrimage to the holy land. This epic quality echoed throughout the album, in the Nordic war tales of Blood Of My Enemies and Kill With Power, in the brothers-in-metal clarion call of Army Of The Immortals, and in the Biblical fury of Black Arrows, DeMaio’s solo assault on ‘false metal’
Kings Of Metal (Atlantic, 1988)
Self-esteem has never been lacking in Manowar, but with this album’s title they really had to deliver. They did so emphatically. Matching the spectacular artwork by Ken Kelly (illustrator of classic Kiss sleeves and Conan The Barbarian book covers), it’s a truly epic heavy metal album.
Indeed every track is an epic in itself, from the deaf-before- dishonour title track to stentorian ballad Heart Of Steel, from spoken legend The Warrior’s Prayer to bloodthirsty call to arms Hail And Kill.
Sadly, Kings Of Metal was the swansong for guitarist Ross The Boss, but he bowed out with head held high.
The Triumph Of Steel (Atlantic, 1992)
On their seventh album, Manowar created arguably the most monumental heavy metal song of them all, the 28-minute odyssey based on Greek mythology, Achilles, Agony And Ecstasy In Eight Parts. For artistic endeavour and sheer endurance, it’s an astonishing feat.
This is the only Manowar album to feature drummer Rhino and guitarist Dave ‘Death Dealer’ Shankle, whose titanic performances secured their place in Manowar folklore alongside this album’s other masterpiece Metal Warriors – indisputably the greatest song ever written about heavy metal.
Warriors Of The World (Nuclear Blast, 2002)
Eric Adams is truly the Pavarotti of heavy metal, so it made perfect sense when Manowar recorded one of great tenor’s signature pieces: Nessun Dorma, from Puccini’s opera Turandot.
Adams sings it magnificently and with real emotional weight; it was his tribute to his late mother. And he’s equally adept on this album’s second surprise cover, a bombastic remake of An American Trilogy, the folk medley immortalised by Elvis Presley.
Overall the album boasts plenty of Manowar’s trademark heavy metal power. But it’s the two covers that make it their bravest and most left-field one.
Into Glory Ride (Music For Nations, 1983)
The commercial failure of debut album Battle Hymns led to Manowar parting company with record label Liberty, manager Bill Aucoin (the man who guided Kiss to megastardom) and drummer Donnie Hamzik.
Having replaced the latter with Scott Columbus, Manowar secured a new record deal. The contract was signed in the band members’ blood – a fitting metaphor for the belligerent tone of this, their second album.
Opening track Warlord is the best of Manowar’s many biker anthems, while on Secret Of Steel Eric Adams proved he was up there with the likes of Ronnie James Dio as one of the great heavy metal singers.
Louder Than Hell (Geffen, 1996)
For their eighth album, Manowar welcomed back drummer Scott Columbus, blooded a new member of the brotherhood in the form of now-disgraced guitarist Karl Logan, and switched to the Geffen label.
But the Manowar manifesto remained unchanged. That much was clearly evident on The Gods Made Heavy Metal, yet another mission statement.
Nothing on Louder Than Hell is as gigantic as the previous album’s Achilles..., but it boasts a grand finale of epic proportions, a magnificent triptych comprising two portentous instrumentals – Today Is A Good Day To Die and My Spirit Lives On – and the all- guns-blazing climax The Power.
Gods Of War (Icarus, 2007)
In the world of Manowar there is no such thing as metal fatigue. Their tenth studio album, released 25 years after the first, was their most ambitious to date.
Gods Of War was the band’s first full concept album, based on the legends of pagan Norse deities Loki and Odin. And, in tune with the European symphonic metal of the time, it incorporated orchestra and choir to powerful and dramatic effect, notably on the thunderous King Of Kings, the stirring Blood Brothers and Hymn Of The Immortal Warriors.
In classic Manowar style, their ambitions ran wild with this one – it was meant to be just the first in a cycle of theological concept albums. Sadly, the subsequent albums in the series were never released.