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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Lord of Steel rises to the throne

OK, so this is the last I'll blog specifically about this album. Please indulge me one last time, and I swear you'll never need to hear one more time about The Lord of Steel.

I finally got hold of the retail version tonight--not gonna say where, but let's just say it was a great deal. (And not a SPECK of guilt, mind you.) Let's give it a spin:

1. The Lord of Steel - Still a quite solid track. Great mid-to-fast tempo, almost thrash-type song (reminiscent of "The Power") with an incredible riff that really grabs you. The lyrics are among the least silly on the album. Makes a decent title track and introduction to the album's direction.

2. Manowarriors - Definitely sounds better with this mix, that much is undeniable. Once again, Joey's fuzzy bass is appropriately buried, popping out every now and then for the spotlight. I still dislike the song, but not as much as before. I just really hate that one line, "Never gonna change our style, gonna play tonight for quite a while..." Oh, and I'm not crazy about "We come from different countries with metal and with might, we drink a lot of beers and play our metal loud at night" either. This song seems more camp than metal anthem. As an offhanded aside, Karl Logan's solo reminds me of Vinnie Vincent (what ever happened to that guy?)

3. Born in a Grave - HOLY SHIT! YES! The intro alone is a major improvement. I wish they'd have hit that single clock strike a bit harder after the whispered intro, and of course they drag out the chorus a few too many times at the end, but everything else about this tune is EPIC. This is what I'm talking about! ...And they finally figured out a decent way to end the song too. Perfect!

4. Righteous Glory - I loved this track before, when it was on what I declared an inferior album. This mix is simply amazing--fuller, more emotional, more raw, and more beautiful than just about anything they've ever recorded. This is just the most fantastic and personal song about Valkyries carrying a dead warrior into the sky ever. It's literally haunting, and the final 30 seconds actually brought tears to my eyes and a chill down my spine. This is the band I have grown to adore over the last 25 years.

5. Touch the Sky - Another good track turned great. The new mix is so much more balanced than the previously released version. I don't really care for the breakdown they implemented around 2:15 in the song, but I can get used to it. Being only 3:46 in length, I feel like a bunch of chorus repetitions wouldn't have hurt this song like it affects some of the others. They should have just let the momentum carry it out until the natural end. Still, a wonderful tune.

6. Black List - One of the two tracks I was not looking forward to listening to again, in any form, no matter the mix, especially after seeing that it's still 6:47 in length. It feels like perhaps Joey was unable to compromise on this one with the remixing team, and they left it more or less as-is to satiate his ego and insistence on having a bass-heavy, mostly instrumental song on the album. Whatever happened, at least the mix sounds more full and less tinny and cheap. I still don't "get it" in general, and I continue to dislike the song. I'll be skipping this one every time.

7. Expendable - I like it more now than I did before. Even the old mix has kind of grown on me since first I heard it, though. They didn't do a whole lot to this one in the remix; nothing major anyway except (I believe) making it a tad shorter. Hmmm... Single???

8. El Gringo - Well, my DVD still hasn't arrived from Netflix, but when it gets here I'll be watching it straight away. Gotta see if it's a good match for the song. I did notice that the spaghetti western type theme seems to be a but more buried than before, like in the background, less obvious. The bass is predominant in this one, more so than in the album's earlier tracks. And they figured out some way to stretch this one out to 6:53, which is about a minute and a half too long for me. It reminds me of Neil Young's song "Sample and Hold," from the album Trans, the only Neil Young album I can stand to listen to. I have the LP in my collection (complete with the track list typo), and that particular song is one of my favorites on the platter (remember when they were called that?). When the CD release came out, it had a version that's about twice as long and half as good as that originally released mix. Believe it or not, what I'm saying is that I like the earlier version of "El Gringo" better than this more recent mix.

9. Annihilation - The second track I wasn't really looking forward to listening to, but after listening to it, I'm not sure why I felt that way. It has great drums, kick-ass guitar solos, again reminiscent of Vinnie Vincent for me (are Karl's fingers getting faster?), and not incredibly silly lyrics. By all rights, this turned out to be a decent song.

10. Hail, Kill and Die - This was my absolute least favorite song on the Hammer edition of this album. I really tore this track a new one in my review. I called it shameful. Once I heard the 90-second iTunes preview of this new mix, though, this was the one I was most looking forward to hearing in its full, remixed glory. Man, oh, man. POUNDING rhythm, a simple repeatable chant for the chorus, a great riff, Eric's killer vocals... It now seems like a perfectly logical--and rather welcome--updated version of "Blood of the Kings." It's really a new generation's version of that song I heard closing out the fantastic and best-selling Kings of Metal album in 1988--that song which introduced me to song titles I did not know but I realized at that time I had to seek out no matter the cost. I owe "Hail, Kill and Die," Manowar and Joey DeMaio an apology for my previous comments about this track. Not only was I wrong; I can't wait to hear this one played live. It's going to tear the place apart.

11. The Kingdom of Steel - This is the bonus track which was not released on the Hammer version of the album. I don't know what to think going in, other than that the iTunes preview gave away very little, being the first 90 seconds (mostly Stairway to Heaven-type guitar instrumental lead-in). It's a seven-minute-plus epic that I am hoping will not be too self-indulgent... [Time lapse] It's very plodding in pace... I guess I could have done without most of that 90-second intro, for one... Not sure I care for the chorus, or for the musical direction it goes. I don't know much of anything about music and theory or how to explain what I'm hearing, but I guess the best way I can describe it is that the chorus "goes down" when I was expecting it to "go up." ...And then the song modulates down even more at around 6:00... Seems like the songwriting was not too bad or silly. That is, there's a certain amount of respect given to the subject matter. Where songs like "The Gods Made Heavy Metal," "Die for Metal," and this album's own "Manowarriors" are obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek, this one is more akin to "Master of the Wind." On a side note, twice now I've listened to this song, and both times at 1:52 I get the jeepers creeped out of me by a small, childlike voice calling in distress into my right ear from afar, "Daaaaad!!!" Haha. It's like that "Shaaaane!" that I still, to this day, hear my mother calling from within the frenzied electrical guitar cacophony at the end of "Blood of the Kings."

Yep. I was wrong. I take it back. Well, most of it, anyway. The Lord of Steel still carries with it a certain cheese factor. But what Manowar release doesn't? However, I stand by my convictions that between this album and Louder Than Hell you will find some of the most pedestrian examples of songwriting in the band's nearly 30-year catalog.

Surprisingly, The Lord of Steel turned out to be a solid addition to that catalog all the same. I still think that 2009's Thunder in the Sky EP is a stronger body of work, but I will definitely be listening to this one again very soon, and probably even singing along before too long. I already do so to at least three tracks. It's a good dog walking or lawn mowing companion.

Thank you, Manowar, for coming through in the end. Oh, but no thanks for that Hammer edition. I'm going to delete it now and never give it another thought (well, maybe when I'm listening to the last half of "El Gringo.")

New list (up two spots to number eight):
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
9. Sign of the Hammer
10. Battle Hymns
11. Louder Than Hell
12. Into Glory Ride