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Manowar: Battle Hymns - Album Of The Week Club review

Manowar's debut album Battle Hymns laid out the band's future path in an early, loinclothed manifesto: Death to false metal!

Manowar - Battle Hymns cover art
(Image: © Liberty Records)
Manowar - Battle Hymns

Manowar - Battle Hymns cover art

(Image credit: Liberty Records)

Death Tone
Metal Daze
Fast Taker
Shell Shock
Manowar
Dark Avenger
William's Tale
Battle Hymn

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 – on Dark Avenger, and a keynote message in Metal Daze: ‘Only one thing really sets me free/Heavy metal, loud as it can be!’ 

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. 

In 2010 the band re-recorded them album as Battle Hymns MMXI, with a stated aim to make it "make it as loud as we possibly can". With Orson Wells gone, actor Sir Christopher Lee was hired to voice the Dark Avenger narration.  

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Other albums released in June 1982

  • Private Audition - Heart
  • Pictures At Eleven - Robert Plant
  • Built for Speed - Stray Cats
  • Chicago 16 - Chicago
  • Screaming Blue Murder - Girlschool
  • Killers - Kiss
  • Beat - King Crimson
  • Mirage - Fleetwood Mac
  • Daylight Again - Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • Eye Of The Tiger - Survivor
  • Animation - Jon Anderson
  • Eye In The Sky - The Alan Parsons Project
  • Good Trouble - REO Speedwagon
  • Nugent - Ted Nugent
  • Sunshine Dream - The Beach Boys

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What they said...

"Aside from that song and Dark Avenger (structurally resembling the song Black Sabbath; slow doom before erupting into a frenzy), the rest of Battle Hymns are standard early 80s slabs of metal. Fast Taker being the most lethal. Production wise, this album might seem like it suffers from usual first album inexperience, but at least you can easily distinguish what's a guitar and what's a bass on this album, unlike the next two records." (Encyclopaedia Metallum (opens in new tab)

"The lyrics "Raping the daughters and wives/in blood I take my payment in full with their lives" characterise Manowar's attitude to song-writing, but outside of the pillaging and invasion-based penmanship, there's some very forceful and energetic guitar-work with a profusion of impressive drumming." (Sputnik Music (opens in new tab))

"Battle Hymns is the début album by the four piece Conanic metal band from New York. It is also Manowar's humblest album in terms of posturing, feel and attitude. This may well be attributed to the fact that Manowar still were a rather young band trying to find their niche, but as Joey DeMaio's bass solo William's Tale will attest the band members themselves were anything but modest." (Metal Storm (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Gary Claydon: WOARRGH!

No, that wasn't a comment on the music, it's just that I think I used too much starch on my loin cloth which isn't very pleasant, particularly since I've spent the past week in the company of the mighty Manowar, purveyors of prime power metal. This is manly metal for manly men doing manly things. While wearing loin cloths.

OK, so it's easy to take cheap shots at Manowar but, let's be honest, they tend to invite a lot of it on themselves. I've always found it difficult to think of them as anything other than a band who's career descended, quite quickly, into self-parody. I've also never quite figured out whether that's because they took themselves and their shtick way too seriously or not seriously enough. Whatever, there was a fine band in there somewhere. I lost patience with them after the first two or three albums but the occasional dip into their work down the years would reveal the odd gem in among all the cheese and pretentiousness.

For me though, they never bettered their debut.

Battle Hymns is very much a game of two halves. Side One is straight-up, metel-edged hard rock. My first criticism is the choice of opening track. Death Tone is suitably heavy in nature but it's a bit of a plodder & lyrically it's slightly risible, even by Manowar standards. No, Battle Hymns should have kicked off with Metal Daze. Sure, it's corny as hell but that's the nature of the beast with this type of punch-the-air metal 'anthem' and it hits the mark with Eric Adams' high - range, over the top vocals and some nicely dirty guitar from Ross 'The Boss'. 

Fast Taker rocks hard and is aptly named as it's the fastest track here and my personal favourite. There are shades of '70s Judas Priest as there are elsewhere. A slightly sinister sounding riff underpins the 'nam casualty tale of Shell Shock. I've always regarded these three excellent tracks as the 'engine room' of Battle Hymns.

Side two veers into the power metal that would become Manowar's trademark. The autobiographical Manowar is nicely paced. I could live without the Orson Welles narration in Dark Avenger but if you put that and some questionable 'rape and killing' lyrics aside you've got a nice slab of Sabbath/Priest influenced heaviness. William's Tale is a waste of time but the album closes with the ultimate, stirring, Manowar-march of the title track.

The album production is a little lacking - maybe due to inexperience? Having said that, I like the 'dirty' quality of the guitars and the vocals have clarity as does DeMaio's bass although it could do with a bit more 'oomph' as could the drums.

Overall Battle Hymns is a mighty fine debut-effort. Now you'll have to excuse me, I'm off to join Eric and the boys on the march against False Metal. WOARRGH! (sorry about that, I just dropped my Broadsword on my foot!)

Brian Carr: I know my musical tastes have changed over the years, and there is plenty of cheesy music out there that I like. But Manowar is so over the top bad, they remind me of Spinal Tap. But with Tap, you know it’s satire and it’s hilarious. I rated Battle Hymns a four, primarily for being a short album.

Chris Elliott: They were awful - time hasn't changed my opinion. Spinal Tap without the humour

Kaa Gee Walsh: So I went back in time to listen to this album again. I wasn't a big fan of it or really the band. My opinion hasn't really changed. I was more into the Canadian band Anvil, who I still listen to quite regularly. To me, it's just OK.

Mike Canoe: To my mind, there are two different versions of Manowar on their albums.

There is the Manowar that is thoroughly in the modern world and sings about biker life, jailbait, scaring the squares and sticking it to the man. That basically covers the first five songs on Battle Hymns.

One of Manowar's favourite things to sing about is, well, Manowar and how they are kings of metal who play on ten and are fighting the world to blow your speakers. With Manowar (the song), we get the band's origin story which references when Black Sabbath bass tech, Joey DeMaio, met "Ross the Boss" Friedman, the guitarist for support act Shakin' Street, backstage and the two decided to form the most metal of metal bands.

This version of Manowar is usually about good times, but it's not always good times. There is a strong current of anger running through songs like Fast Taker, Death Tone, and, especially Shell Shock. The latter two are essentially raging metal versions of Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA or Billy Joel's Goodnight Saigon - neither of which had been released yet. Manowar are more influential than I thought!

Then there's the other Manowar. The Manowar that is like one of Frank Frazetta's Conan paintings brought to life through heavy metal. Battle Hymns only has a couple of these. Dark Avenger, with its unfortunate Orson Welles narration and even more unfortunate references to rape, doesn't do it for me. Battle Hymn, on the other gauntleted hand, is everything that's awesome about Manowar: rising drama, great imagery, Wagnerian choirs, and a peerless vocal performance by the amazing Eric Adams.

I appear to be in the minority here but what I hear on Battle Hymns is a good start but definitely not Manowar's best. I think Fighting the World, Kings of Metal, and Louder than Hell are all pretty spectacular. At the very least, check out the one-two punch of Hand Of Doom and House Of Death off of 2002's Warriors Of The World to hear how their battle hymns evolved. Game of Thrones was rarely this thrilling.

Matt Jenks: Never listened to a Manowar album until today. I think this album is unique AF. The recording quality is low which I usually like on a first album. It has bluesy riffs metal riffs, high pitch screams and metal anthems with an added antiwar political twist I think it's a banger and a definite classic glad I listened.

Uli Hassinger: I'd have suggested this album too because it’s a great testimony to early heavy metal. I love that album and consider it Manowar's best.

Their albums from 1987 to 1992 are even greater but it's more sophisticated, cleaner metal, lacking the raw power of their debut. Sign Of The Hammer comes near when it’s about pure energy.

Eric Adams shows that he is one of the best shouters around. His screams are brilliant. Ross the Boss and DeMaio aren’t slouches too.

Battle Hyms belongs with the best heavy metal songs ever. The dynamics of the song are just breathtaking. Shell Shock and Dark Avenger also belong to the finest songs the first half of the 80s have to offer. The rest of the songs are very good too. Throughout, a brilliant album. Even the bass solo song kills. On latter records DeMaio exaggerated that feature every now and then.

The sound is authentic early-80s. In my opinion this album deserves the full score.

Evan Sanders: Battle Hymns is another pleasant surprise from this group, as I don't know why I had never heard it, given that it was released during my prime heavy metal listening years. With that said, listening to the album now makes me feel it is ok, not great. 

None of the songs are bad, but none of them stand out compared with many other heavy metal albums that were released around the same time. And some of the lyrics are almost a Spinal Tap-style parody, as I kept thinking "heavy duty music brings out the duty in me" when listening to Metal Daze. They would have been fun to see in a bar back in the 1980's. 5/10

Andrew Bramah: Battle Hymns is a "Marmite" album. Are they serious or are they very cleverly fooling us all?

Whichever it is, it's a great heavy album with churning bass, thick guitar, thumping drums and operatic vocals. It shows how good it is that the remake doesn't come anywhere near it. Manowar peaked on their first album and they spent years trying to rediscover the formula.

Adam Ranger: Errr... their slogan "death to false metal". Is that ironic? I am never too sure

This album is difficult to listen to for a couple of reasons.

Firstly the recording quality is not good. Bass and drums muffled, guitars a bit clearer but sound like they are recorded elsewhere, vocals really clear... and that is second problem. The lyrics are just plain awful and don't really scan. Although Eic can sing the delivery is awful and stilted to my ears.

I know dodgy lyrics haven't always got in the way if a great metal album, but I can't get past this here. It all sounds like a Broadway musical version if a big bad metal band, the soundtrack when the "baddies arrive on stage.

It's perhaps never more dull than the wannabe epics of Dark Avenger and Battle Hymn. It's not threatening, edgy or exciting in anyway to me.

The when album just bored me and made me laugh. A better mix may have changed that opinion, but on this listen I have to say I won't be in a hurry to listen again. Sorry, I know they have a cult following, but I won't be joining.

Brett Stewart: The only Manowar album that matters. Utterly unique.

Adam McCann: Top album. Time for the wimps and posers to leave the room!

Debii Marie: Love this album. Takes me back. It’s cheesy, clichéd but is the reason why I love metal.

Drew Martin: Ross the Boss absolutely kills on the record and Joey DeMaio's bass tone is phenomenal. The only thing that rivals Eric Adams vocal performance on Dark Avenger are the baritone pipes of Orson Welles. There’s never been a more deliberately intentional metal album ever recorded. It takes real balls to lean in on every single metal cliche like that. Metal for the sake of metal. It’s almost BOC/Dictators kind of sublime.

Michael Møller Nielsen: It a fine album but I prefer the 2011 re recording. Now that is a killer.

David Heaton: Real men can't count to 10. Death to false titties. Sonically not great, but side two is metal at its most cheese-tastic. If the final verse of Battle Hymn (Eric Adams in his upper register singing "Sound the charge, into glory ride...") doesn't make you want to throw the horns, there's something wrong with you.

James Last: The best way that can describe this album is a lost Kiss album on steroids! Some will disagree and others will put it far more (or less) eloquently than I can. Some will laugh and others likely deeply offended at the description.

But in short I like this album. Probably in the same way I like Def Leppard's first album, it's got that kind of vibe compared to what came after. Read into that what you like.

Martin Bailey: The album that showed what they could do. With more vision and less formulaic macho bollox they could have been up there with the biggest names. I've yet to hear a better singer.

Rick Gillyon: The production and the bass solo, ugh. Awful. But as a whole, this is amazing. Sure, it's a first album and they weren't really in their stride yet, but the songs, musicianship, voice and attitude are remarkable. And Battle Hymn is just, well, classic Manowar before they became a parody of themselves.

Daniele Purrone: The first four albums were their absolute best. The title track (well, almost) here is a fantastic metal classic, but the whole record was great: revamping the tradition of Grand Funk and Kiss, reviving them under the influence of the music coming from the UK, and with a unique epic flavour.

My favourite Manowar album is Sign Of The Hammer, but, as said, I love the first four. And I still like them up to Kings of Metal. After that, a few great songs, but also too much crap.

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Final score: 6.41 (62 votes cast, total score 398)

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