By Nico Grymnir Davidson (of Valkyrian Music)
Manowar. A band that is both underrated and overrated and the band that have been mistakenly described to have influenced the epic, grandeur sound of Bathory's metamorphosis into a genre known as "Viking metal". Manowar seem to be somewhat rejected by the more mainstream metal fans yet still possess a fan base as loyal as any patriotic American.
The year is 1982, the same year that Number of the Beast [Iron Maiden] and Black Metal [Venom] were released, the former proving to be more commercially successful than the latter. The NWOBHM was going strong yet from the metal scene of the US came Manowar’s debut Battle Hymns; an album that any Manowarrior, young and old, knows well. Beginning with the almost biker-like anthem, Death Tone, the use of roaring bike engines and powerful, somewhat hard rock-esque riffs seem to go hand in hand together. The lyrics paint a beautiful image of living life on a bike, something that seems to go well with most metal acts from the 70s and 80s. The riffage is certainly one of the finer pieces of guitar work in Manowar's long career. The high pitched wails provided by Adams are so typically 80s, bringing to mind the vocal workings of the likes Halford and Dickinson.
Metal Daze provides a more raw and technical sounding metal anthem for the 80s with the bass twanging through, adding attitude to the track, fending off the bland off of the bands later material. The gang vocals offer up a succulent portion of energy, bouncing off The Boss's riffs and Adams' vocals like a child jumping on a mattress. This is definitely one of the tracks that, not only rings out on the album but also through the band's discography. The third track, Fast Talker, feels like a more drum orientated song at the beginning before riff of Ross the Boss dominate. The lyrics are all about living hard and fast and taking risks, an almost metal take on life, which is no surprise for the self-proclaimed kings of metal. The solo is one of the more entertaining aspects of the track, screaming through the speakers like a deranged banshee.
Americans seem to have a habit of producing media based on the glorification of war and Shell Shock is no different, fortunately without the egotistical heroic portrayal. The introductory riff borders on being a slowed down edition of Metal Daze whilst the lyrics concern 'Nam and shell shock. The solo is choppy and sounds like a guitar being horribly smashed to pieces whilst still plugged in. Self-titled songs and bands seem to go hand-in-hand like fish and chips. Such is the case with Manowar, a hard rock sounding song that tells the listener what Manowar is all about. The song itself feels like a B-side that should have been left on the floor of the studio.
Dark Avenger, for me, is the highlight track of the album. The lyrics tell of an unnamed Greek hero who is wronged and executed and comes back, with the blessing of Hades, to seek vengeance on those who wronged him; regarding the fantasy elements of the song, it’s a fairly typical story for metal. One thing that makes track stand out is the early power and thrash metal sounds, mixed in with guest narration from none other than Orson Wells, who adds a certain majestic character to the song that only a few people can ever achieve. The guitar work in the latter half of the track is unreal in terms of the soloing.
William's Tale is a nice little interlude, being the metal rendition of the William Tell Overture which leads into the slower, melodic and somewhat symphonic anthem that is Battle Hymns. The song, itself, embodies Manowar's true early sound, mixing the early power and symphonic metal sounds of today's newer bands with an old school attitude of holding your ground and giving no quarter, something seriously lacking in a lot of modern "metal" acts. The choir sections and wailing vocals conjure subtle feelings of grandeur and nostalgia while the riffs and drum work enforce a soft yet devastating force of unrelenting sounds.
For better or for worse, Manowar have carved a legacy in blood throughout the power metal scene and have even influenced it. Though their newer material is as bad as Oli Sykes' haircut, you cannot deny their influence on today's power metal outfits such as Virgin Steele and Blind Guardian. Battle Hymns might not have seen the commercial success of albums like Number of the Beast or British Steel but it was one of the starting points for power metal, extra cheese included.
Devil Horn Rating (out of five): \m/\m/\m/\n