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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Like you didn't see this coming...

Well, the minute I started blogging about heavy metal music, any reader who truly knows me would have expected me to lead off with a post about my favorite metal band of all time, Manowar. Gamma Ray was probably a bit of a curve ball for those folks. I didn't want to be too predictable, but I can't wait any longer to give Manowar their due.

Manowar was formed in 1980 in Auburn, New York, by former members of the bands the Dictators, the Rods, and Shakin' Street, along with newcomer vocalist Eric Adams. After recording a demo tape in 1981 a new drummer was recruited, making the new roster Adams, bassist Joey DeMaio, guitarist Ross "The Boss" Friedman, and drummer Donnie Hamzik.

Their debut album, Battle Hymns, was released in 1982 on Liberty Records. Their followup, Into Glory Ride, came out in 1983, as they left their label to sign a contract with Music For Nations (in their own blood, no less) with yet another new drummer, Scott Columbus. This album marked the beginning of the band's penchant for medieval battle and Norse pantheon themes. 1984 brought their album Hail to England, and Sign of the Hammer arrived only ten months later.

1987 saw Manowar's first major label release, Fighting the World, on Atlantic Records. It was through this album that I was first exposed to my new favorite band. In 1988 the band released their best-selling album worldwide, Kings of Metal. During their subsequent tour they parted ways with Columbus and Ross the Boss, recruiting new drummer, "Rhino," and new guitarist David Shankle.

In 1992 Manowar released their seventh album, The Triumph of Steel, and the heads of myself and my friends were fit to fully explode. Rhino and Shankle were welcome replacements, as this album (the first one any of us had purchased on CD) sounded so much more brutal than any of its predecessors. It did have a bit of a downfall though. The first track on the disc was a 28-minute long epic about the Iliad called "Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts." Jeez, I think in the 20 years I've owned that disc I've only listened to the entirety of that track no more than three times. Snoozefest, that one. Sorry, guys.

After a long tour Rhino departed the band to make way for the return of the mighty Scott Columbus, and Shankle left the band as well, leaving a space for new guitarist (and my favorite one of the bunch) Karl Logan. 1996 would see the release of one of my least favorite Manowar albums, Louder Than Hell. Over the next several years touring would take most of the band's time. Two double live albums were released in the interim between 1996 and 2002's return to the studio to produce one of their best efforts, Warriors of the World.

Warriors is a damn fine piece of metal. The first time I gave it a spin I told myself, "This is the record that they should have done after Kings of Metal!"

In 2003, Joey DeMaio created his own label, Magic Circle Music, which is now the band's permanent home. DeMaio also went hog wild with Manowar live DVD releases in the post-2000s, with a few EPs scattered here and there as well. Their next full-length studio album, Gods of War, was released in 2007.

In 2011, drummer Scott Columbus passed away at age 54. No official cause of death was announced, though rumor told of his battles with poor health throughout his on-again, off-again career with Manowar. Upon his passing, veteran drummer Donnie Hamzik returned to the band. This actually gives them the strongest lineup in the history of the band, in my opinion: DeMaio, Adams, Hamzik and Logan. KILLER. They re-recorded their debut album in its entirety, dubbing this release Battle Hymns MMXI, and finally came back to the U.S. for a very protracted tour schedule.

That tour was the second time I saw Manowar perform live, and it reaffirmed my faith that no band puts on a better live show. Period.

Manowar has been collaborating with famous German sci-fi/fantasy author Wolfgang Hohlbein over the past few years on their next outing, The Asgard Saga, which is scheduled for release this year. According to plan, it should coincide with related releases in literary, visual art and film formats as well. Not sure how that's going to work out, frankly. I'm just hoping for another great album.

So here's a taste of a song from Manowar's most recent EP. It's supposed to be a teaser for the upcoming album. The song is called "Thunder in the Sky," and it's on regular iPod rotation for me. Here's a live version:

...And my list of full-length Manowar releases, in order of favorite to least favorite:

1. Battle Hymns MMXI
2. Warriors of the World
3. Kings of Metal
4. Hail to England
5. Fighting the World
6. Gods of War
7. The Triumph of Steel
8. Sign of the Hammer
9. Battle Hymns
10. Louder Than Hell
11. Into Glory Ride