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Sunday, June 24, 2012

REVIEW: Manowar's newest LP hits some high notes

I have been in possession of Manowar's latest full-length offering, The Lord of Steel, for about a week now, and I've given it several spins in that time. I wanted to be able to give a fair review for this record; I'd say I'm pretty familiar with it by now, and I finally think I can do just that.

First, let me say I'm pleased that the band seems to have abandoned the horrible concept of their Asgard Saga. It sounded cool on paper, but once I saw those dreadfully cheesy video clips of medieval battles and a village being overrun I thought, "Odin, help me."

This album seems to harken back to the type of tracks you might find on 1996's Louder Than Hell. Now, those of you who have read my blog before should know that I don't have an extremely high opinion of that particular disc. Basically, a third of that CD, in my opinion, kinda blows. It's stale and recycled sounding, the songwriting kind of sucks, and the tracks do not take advantage of Eric Adams' insane vocal talents. The other portion, though, is pretty kick-ass, and including one of my favorite Manowar songs, "The Power," and the instrumental I'd like played at my funeral, "Today is a Good Day to Die."

This album is similar to me. There are a couple of real stinkers on the track list. Conversely, we also have two or three genuine treasures.

Track one, the title song, has a killer riff, punishing drum work by Donnie Hamzik, and the vocals are in line with their most recent stuff, though not quite allowing Adams to really shine and show off his power and range. It's a catchy tune in the vein of "Thunder in the Sky." The lyrics are fairly un-silly and straightforward. One of the better tracks.

Track two, "Manowarriors," is not only unnecessary, as we Manowar fans already have a solid and respectable theme ("Army of Immortals" from Hail to England), but the lyrics are downright laughable. (Sorry, Joey.) Get a load of this: "Never gonna change our style, gonna play tonight for quite a while." Wow. "Quite a while?" Boy, that's really in-your-face. And the chanting dudes are getting a bit old. We can sing along without the Kidz Bop for adults call-and-response bullshit. Second worst track on the album. Yep, sadly, there's one even worse yet to discover.

Track three is is the awesome song "Born in a Grave." It's fresh sounding (though reminiscent of "Gods of War"), lyrically unique, musically interesting, and not too repetitive. I'd like to point out that two of the tracks which immediately stood out to me as highlights on this disc were the only two tracks on which Joey DeMaio shared writing credits. I've been thinking for a few years now that part of the problem with this band is that it sometimes suffers from the well-meaning but massively overinflated ego of Joey DeMaio (liner notes: "all songs written, engineered, recorded, edited and produced by Joey DeMaio, [who plays] 4 string, 8 string, piccolo bass guitars and keyboards."). I think this album proves yet again that a little bit of new blood in the songwriting process would be beneficial to the band.

Track four is the other song on which Joey shared writing credits with Karl Logan. "Righteous Glory" is possibly one of the most musically beautiful songs Manowar has ever recorded. The vocal layering and power in the first chorus will bring you chills. It's not a new theme (Valkyries carrying slain warriors to Valhalla), but it's never been done quite like this... Except in "Swords In the Wind," of course. This one immediately stood out to me as the best track on the disc. It's the only one I listened to twice in a row during my first exposure to the album. Another testament to the idea that Joey needs to back off a bit and let some creative juices take the band wherever it should go.

Track five is DeMaio's writing highlight on the album and the third-best tune on it, "Touch the Sky." It is reminiscent of Louder Than Hell's "Number One," thankfully sans the stupid chanting crap. It's a solid track and a welcome addition to the Manowar catalog. I look forward to hearing it live even though it plays the vocals and lead guitars pretty safe all the way through.

"Black List" begins sounding like an instrumental, only an incredibly lackluster one. After two minutes in, I started thinking that maybe they forgot to mix in a vocal track or something. All it is up to that point is a plodding rhythm guitar and drums, perfect for adding vocals over but horrible as a standalone piece. Then it goes silent for a second at around 2:30 and the vocals kick in after the song starts back up. But it starts with the chorus. It feels very odd to have the chorus delivered to you after two and a half minutes of nothing leading up to it. Then we get a solo followed by a short bridge and two more choruses. WTF? This is a waste of seven minutes. I want them back. Worst decision since "Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts."

Track seven is "Expendable." This song was inspired by the brainless yet entertaining action movie The Expendables. This song could easily have been the theme song to that film, as they were both cut from the same cloth. Seriously, though, this is a pretty cool track. One of the better ones on the disc. And not a single mention of Norse mythology. Whew. On a side note, whoever spell checked the liner notes and lyric sheets should have their head removed. "...Your watching on the outside - Yea that's all you people know - So bring a knife or a gun - and I'll show you what their for..." and "...I will survive with no one left around me - cause your all gonna die..." Shame on you, Magic Circle. Hire me. I can proofread like a sonuvabitch.

The eighth track, "El Gringo," actually is the theme song from a movie. An independent, direct-to-video Western movie with a whopping budget of $7M. Christian Slater is in it. Third billing. You might recognize the top-billed star from his work in... Aw, never mind. Well, at least it makes for a cool tune. In keeping with the comparison of this album with Louder Than Hell, this is Lord of Steel's "Outlaw." Solid, with only a little bit of that Manowar cheese factor.

The penultimate track, "Annihilation," is a so-so effort that feels a bit empty. Some recycled lyrics pieced together from older songs. A confusing theme on this one. It starts out as a typical Manowar vengeance and justice vehicle, but at the end it seems to flirt with creeping into the metal anthem territory. At the last moment it seems to come to its senses and snap back into that "hand of justice" trope. I don't know. This song is actually kind of a mess.

By the time the final track rolls around, I'm ready to end it. It's rare that a Manowar disc ends with its worst track, but this is a fine example. This song just pisses me off. It's completely unnecessary, and it feels like an exploitation of their own work. Crafting an entire song out of the titles of previous songs is hard to do and make it not sound retarded. They already did it successfully with the classic, "Blood of the Kings," so why even attempt it again? This is just shit. Possibly one of the worst songs they ever recorded. It's a shame. When a band has the ability to round out an album with a barrage of bad-assedness like on Warriors of the World or Fighting the World, to fizzle out with a piece of shit song like this should be embarrassing.

Overall, I place this album somewhere near the bottom of my fave scale, which I included in my comprehensive post about Manowar back in February. Probably right above Louder Than Hell. That would make the updated list:

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. The Lord of Steel
11. Louder Than Hell
12. Into Glory Ride

Note, though, that these are full-length releases only. 2009's Thunder in the Sky was technically an EP, but I'd place it pretty high on the list if I could, probably right below Kings of Metal. I think it's some of their finest work of late. If you could take the entirety of Thunder in the Sky and combine it with three of the strongest tracks from Lord of Steel, you'd have one hell of an album.

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