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Monday, January 27, 2014

WTF, Manowar?

I am a lifelong fan of Manowar through good times and bad, but even I am not sure what to think of the newest release coming out next month.

First off, they've rerecorded a classic--nay, the definitive--Manowar album, Kings of Metal, giving it the same treatment as Battle Hymns. I gotta say, even though Joey DeMaio previously has gone on record as saying the band would never stoop to rerecording and rereleasing old music, that Battle Hymns reboot is a killer record. I loved the original much better than many of the early releases, but since BH MMXI released, I hardly listen to the original release at all anymore.

I understand the desire to rerecord the debut album, or any of the first five albums, for that matter; the production value on those albums was definitely lacking. Hearing the old songs performed live really brings that realization home. The band is in its best incarnation ever right now with Eric, Joey, Karl and Donnie. They blow the shit out of all previous lineups, so it only makes sense to utilize their masterful playing and studio production values to breathe new life into solid but sonically dated material.
Kings of Metal, however, is not one of the releases that particularly begs to be revamped. In my opinion, it is the first of the releases with more kickass overall production values. Later on the sound quality and oomph on the records went into even higher gear with Warriors of the World. The way I see it (or, more accurately, the way I hear it) is that there have been four eras of evolution to Manowar's sound:

1. Battle Hymns, Into Glory Ride, Hail to England
2. Sign of the Hammer, Fighting the World
3. Kings of Metal, The Triumph of Steel, Louder Than Hell
4. Warriors of the World, Gods of War, Battle Hymns MMXI, Lord of Steel

Anything in category 1 is overdue for a freshening up. One down, two to go. Category 2 could benefit from a little dusting off. Anything in category 3 or 4 is fine as-is. With the exception of Louder Than Hell, which--if you're a regular reader--you might know is one of my least favorite Manowar releases.

So that's reason one that I'm not sure how to face the release of Kings of Metal MMXIV: it doesn't really need to be rerecorded. There's a reason Kings of Metal endures as the band's best selling album to date--it's sheer perfection already! "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The second reason is, well, take a look at the cover, compared with the original:

Anything missing from the revamped cover on the right? That's right. Where the FUCK is the U.S. flag??? These guys are from New York City, for Chrissakes! Have they become so deeply involved in their overseas exploits that they've forgotten their roots completely? Joey DeMaio doesn't do anything without thinking it through very methodically. You know he and Ken Kelly communicated very specifically about which countries to represent on the new cover. This was a deliberate decision with some sort of very concise motivation behind it. Is it political in nature? What's going on? Why, before embarking on their longest U.S. tour leg in decades, would Manowar give the USA short shrift on the cover of the album they are promoting, especially when the U.S. flag held such a place of high esteem on the original cover? If Warriors of the World ever gets a rerelease, whose flag will our mighty warrior be holding aloft? Where is the interviewer who is gonna corner Joey and ask him head-on about this?

I just don't know how to take this cover. I think it legitimately warrants an explanation from the band, just because they took an iconic album cover that represented victory through adversity and American patriotism and, upon rerelease, completely removed that element, replacing it with symbols of other nations of the world. And truly that's the ONLY thing that changed about the cover artwork. The rest is identical. It doesn't have to be addressed with the hostile attitude I've given here. Just a simple question: "Joey, what was the thought process behind the cover choice for the new album? What inspired you to make the changes you did, and is there any significance behind the absence of the U.S. flag?" Simple.

I just gotta know. Of course I'll buy the album even not knowing the answer because Manowar is in my blood. But I might hate myself a little for it. Despite the buyer's remorse, I just have to own those damn bonus tracks. To have instrumental (read KARAOKE) tracks of "Blood of the Kings," "Hail and Kill," "Heart of Steel," Kingdom Come," "Kings of Metal" and "Wheels of Fire" is going to be amazing. I'll be taking those to the karaoke bar I work at and trying them on for size. I need no lyric sheets of course. I need only the roar of the Black Wind and an open mic.

Damn you, Manowar. I can't hate you even when you piss me off.