Manowar: Hammer Of The Metal Gods

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Manowar is metal you want to fuck to. It’s been that way for a long time, and in the case of a lot of UK fans, it goes back to an evening’s enchantment also known as the ‘Bonfire Night Wreckage’ which took place at the (then) Hammersmith Odeon on November 5, 1984…

For this London show, the Mannish Ones had brought in twice as much PA equipment as on their previous visit, so the wimps and poseurs lurking in the shadows, the crook-backed followers of the false metal path, were left with no choice but to leave or suffer in earshredding pain. Happily, the Gods kept most present steady of nerve at the soul-jarring booster-thrust from the speakers – the legendary ‘Black Wind’.

Back then it was easy to be a Manowar fan thanks to their 1982 Battle Hymns debut, a thrilling album that would go on to be an all-time metal classic. But much time has passed since those heady days, and it would have been impossible to have known then that they would go on to subject their most dedicated English fans to such an extended absence from these fair shores of ours.

It’s been over 10 years since Manowar have brought their battle-soundtrack to England in 1994, but – and the fainthearted among you should probably take a seat – 23 years after their Hail To England album sealed their bond with UK audiences, Manowar are at last looking hard at renewing said bond in support of their 10th studio outing, aptly entitled Gods Of War. Yes, you read that right. A little bird (actually, a mighty stone eagle) is saying that this could be the year Manowar return to England with conquest on their minds.

The Mannish Way; a ‘fight the world’ philosophy that has shifted not a jot over the past 20 years, save for The Vision – essentially that of bassist and band leader Joey DeMaio – increasing from a mere mighty oak to an entire Patagonian rainforest!

“When we go out this time,” DeMaio continues, referring to the ‘Demons, Dragons And Warriors’ tour, which kicked off in the Czech Republic on March 14 2007,“we’ll be taking out 100 people, plus eight buses and eight trucks. The venues are all 10-12,000 capacity, and we’re just working out the set-list now. We’re hoping to give the fans some songs they’ve never heard live before!”

For Joey and the guys (that’s vocalist Eric Adams, guitarist Karl Logan and drummer Scott Columbus) how to conduct themselves has always been refreshingly clear-cut; on one side, there are great ground-breaking bands of yore (early Black Sabbath, for instance), and on the other, a cavalcade of weak-ass musicians with no mastery over their medium, no respect for their audience, and frankly, no right to be (Die! Die! Die!).

And of course it’s not just the music that matters – there’s the whole imagery side too, ‘The Spectacle Of Might’ in Man-o-speak. Right from the start, the music, the message and the accompanying imagery (now based around the magnificent art of Ken Kelly) have been lashed together with a limitless zeal, often in the face of less-than-friendly fire. For some, many of whose heads can now be seen on spikes, the band have always been too serious. “Where’s the humour?” would come the cry. “Are these guys for real?!”

Well, yes, they are. You’d hardly bring a dagger to sign a contract (as Joey & Co. did in 1983 when they bled on the dotted line with US label Megaforce) if you weren’t taking things seriously. Which isn’t to say that the Manowar camp is a chuckle-free zone, far from it.

But the fact remains that if the band themselves weren’t fully committed to The Cause, tiger-eyed to a man, they’d never have become the festival-headlining, gold-selling, chart-prowling heavyweights they are today. Whilst many of their peers have long-since perished, swept over the cliff by the icy winds of change, this curry-loving contingent have steered their longboat through some 30 different record companies and an often turbulent sea of trend.

Was there ever a chance of them ‘going grunge’? Or ‘nu-metal’? No. Fucking. Way. It’s like this, y’see: bears shit in woods, the Pope is a Catholic and Manowar play true heavy metal. As long as these simple facts hold sway, babies everywhere can suckle safely at the breast.

For fans, and the number is not only considerable but swelling by the album, it is this fact, the refusal of Manowar to compromise to fi t in, that makes them special. Unique. Four Sons Of Odin blessed with the Beserker Rage, and woe betide any manufactured metaller who jostles their elbow at the bar. Die! Die! Die! So be it.

“Have you noticed how bad the sound is on a lot of the big new metal releases?” asks Joey, sounding genuinely annoyed, “it’s shocking! And the same is true on the performance side. You see these filthy rich bands fucking the fans by going out with PA systems that look like their mother’s microwave. Where’s all the money going?!”

For Manowar, the challenge of being both loud and clear, in the studio and onstage, is something they devote themselves to daily, which is why for shaping the sound of GOW there was only one possible location: Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium. The Holy Grail of pin-drop recording. Here, in buildings finely balanced on springs, the full 73 minutes of music was mixed by Ronald Prent and mastered by two-times Grammy Award-winner Darcy Proper. Result: an album that, in a remarkable feat of sonic contortion, can kick your ass and box your ears at the same time…

“Galaxy is the highest quality recording facility in the world in terms of sound isolation,” explains Joey. “They regularly do a demonstration where they fire a gun in the recording studio and guests the other side of the glass can’t hear it! Pick any of the, quote unquote, ‘top bands’ and compare their album to one of ours. We invite that comparison!”

As well as being the Manowar release most likely to register on the Richter scale, Gods Of War – a paean to that javelin-handed bringer of victory, Odin – is also the most ambitious. Yes, the band have called upon the services of choirs and orchestras in the past (the 1988 Kings Of Metal outing, for instance), but with _GOW _being a fully-rounded concept affair, an outrageously daring fling of the gauntlet, it’s clear that the ‘Supersize’ button has now felt the sharp end of Thor’s hammer…

Speaking of which, the original GOW idea was even more ambitious, to do a double album telling the stories of Odin and Thor. However, wanting to keep the pricing as fan-friendly as possible, it was eventually decided to just run with the former.

There’s still more than enough here to stir the senses and shake the bones, including a sub-plot concerning The Quest Of The Immortal Warrior, which will be brought to life onstage…

“You know, I think this could be the first of many albums dedicated to mythology and Gods of war,” muses Joey, “although they won’t necessarily come one after the other. These are great positive stories that have stood the test of time, and above all, they were created so that people could inspire themselves.

“All of the figures have incredible qualities and powers, but we have those powers as well; OK, so we can’t fly through the air, but we can improve ourselves through heroic deeds. The fireman going into the burning building, he’s a hero; and I saw a TV programme the other day about a kid who actually ran a marathon using artificial legs – he’s a hero too.”

As far from a conventional record as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is from Winnie The Pooh, _Gods Of War _is a work of Wagnerian grandeur best soaked up in a single sitting – 15 seamlessly-joined tracks with choirs, orchestras, narrated passages and all manner of epic instrumentation used to tell the tale. Naturally, the ability of the band to rock out when required remains intact – like on Loki God Of Fire – but what places GOW on a different, loftier pedestal is the more conceptual fare.

The Morricone-esque moments that make you wish you were erecting a pyamid rather than simply putting up shelves in the spare room. From the opening overture onwards, this is a panoramic sweep of music that seems for all the world like the soundtrack to a film directed by John Milius (of Conan _T__he Barbarian _fame) and starring Charlton Heston in his ‘sword and sandals’ prime. There’s even a bonus feature, Die For Metal, a more traditional Manowar call-to-arms which stands outside of the concept of the album, and will also serve as the lead track/video. With its chorus chant of, ‘Hold your head up high/Raise your fist up in the air/Play metal!’, ‘Die For Metal’ (premiered by The Four on German TV as part of a major boxing event) is a track you’ll either love or hate – and the same holds true for Manowar. Through the years, however, the critical pen has certainly not proved mightier than the Manowar sword, with fans (the ‘Immortals’) proving increasingly loyal to a set-up ever keen to provide entertainment that doesn’t break the bank. In the Kingdom Of Steel, it’s no slip of fate that VFM stands for ‘Very Fuckin’ Metal’ as well as ‘Value For Money’.

“At the moment, the worst two words you can say are ‘Rock Festival’,” Joey points out with disdain. “The money at these events is literally stolen from the fans; they’d probably get better treatment at a maximum security prison. It’s really hard to keep a smile on your face when you’re being charged $14 just for a bottle of water!”

Be you longstanding supporter or just curious observer, it’s encouraging to know that you won’t have your pocket picked when this band (who, ‘_met on English ground_’, remember) finally return to our shores, having played their last show here in 1994. In the early-to-mid 80s, Manowar were a front cover act in the UK, and then suddenly the perception shifted. So what happened?

“I can only tell you what Ian Gillan told me,” reflects Joey. “Back in 1984, we put out the Sign Of The Hammer album and we were on the cover of two major UK mags. We were having a beer with Ian, when he said, ‘Enjoy it, it’s all downhill for you now!’ I thought he was kiddin’, but he explained to us how the journalists in the UK loved to find an obscure band, build it up, then tear it down. Not to be malicious, it’s just the way that things work, so he warned us to buckle up tight!”

Add to this what Joey describes as, “all that Seattle dogshit,” and you start to understand why Manowar have spent the past 13 years building their profile elsewhere. In Germany their last album Warriors Of The World charted at No. 2. But change is in the wind.

“We’ve decided that our UK fans should no longer be fucked over by the assholes who are out there, so we’re making preparations to put on the kind of show they that deserve.”

Which should involve 450,000 watts of lighting, 150,000 watts of PA power and 40,000 watts of stage amplification.

“In the early days, we were out to prove ourselves as musicians, so we didn’t want to distract our audience. Of course, most bands like the distractions because they’re born losers with no real talent, but we were keen to show exactly what we could do. But it’s got to the point now where we’re comfortable using production to take the whole experience to another level. Like Pink Floyd did things live that enveloped the listener, so we’re going to do that for heavy metal!”

Manowar: you’ll believe a band can fly…

This was published in Metal Hammer issue 165

Read how Manowar became the loudest band in the world