Hey guys, just a quick explanation of this post: For the last 6 months or so I’ve been working on a blog series entitled ’50 Years of Music’, where I pick an album of the year from the last 50 years, and write a short retro-review on it. The first 20 posts can be found at bigc3.wordpress.com. I’m provisionally cross-posting them here from now on to puff up the website a bit and make this page more interesting to visit.
Please enjoy, and I appreciate any feedback!
Heralding in the new generation of slightly silly heavy metallers who take themselves very seriously (in terms of clothing, hair styles, and lyrical content), were Manowar with their debut Battle Hymns.
Manowar are an interesting group; their visual and musical style is a cliché stereotype, and they know it. The band are represented traditionally as loincloth-wearing, overly-muscled, long-haired gods who preach about heavy metal, motorcycles and Norse mythology. Their vast legions of devoted fans (fittingly named ‘The Immortals’) devote their lives to Manowar and all they represent.
This reputation may be unfair, but it seems to fuel the band. And it all started in 1982, with Battle Hymns.
The album opens in a foretelling manner, with the sound of motorbikes on Death Tone, setting the scene for the rest of the album; heavy metal “loud as it can be” as stated on Metal Daze.
Shell Shock barely hides its anti-Vietnam message, but the band focus on the aftermath and the common soldier. A slightly slower track, it provides a little balance to the album. The self-titled track Manowar follows, telling the listener exactly what the band is all about; pure heavy metal. I realise the repetitive use of this phrase throughout the review, but quite frankly that’s what Manowar do; they literally sing about themselves and the power of heavy metal. Manowar features a guitar solo which is as catchy as the tune itself.
Throughout the whole album, but especially noticeable in Manowar, the main focus is not just the guitar sound – the centrepoint for most bands of this ilk – but spread equally between the guitarist, vocalist (a genuine powerhouse, who has performed Nessun Dorma live onstage several times with the band) and the main boss of the band, Joey DeMaio, who shreds his bass guitar as if it were the lead instrument.
This is never more apparent than on Dark Avenger; the intro of which is a bass solo – distorted to hell but bassy enough to convey the dark feeling. The song itself centres lyrically around a mythical tale of gods and demons, and features an epic instrumental section with a narration by Orson Welles, who speaks about a confrontation in Hades. When the album was recently re-recorded for the modern era by the band, this task fell to the legend that is Christopher Lee, whose distinctive and fearsome vocals fit the song perfectly. The end of the narration marks the introduction to the second half of the song, where singer Adams squeals into the thrashy half, with the inevitable solo. Superb.
DeMaio shows off his guitar skills on William’s Tale, a bass arrangement of the famous William Tell Overture. It’s amazing to think that a song known for its intricacies and speed can be played on a bass, but this is the man who would later cover Flight of the Bumblebee on the same instrument. Nothing is too over the top for Manowar.
Rounding off the album is the title track Battle Hymns. At almost seven minutes long, and several finales where the band just don’t want to stop playing, everything about this track is epic. Inevitably, this song’s lyrics talk about victory, going ‘over the top’ and battle in general. Everyone gets their chance to show off; an extended drum solo (even louder and longer live), guitar solo, vocal squealing and bass shredding ensure this song is an expression of the whole band. The choir-like backing tracks add to the feeling of epicness.
Before Manowar earned their global reputation for loincloth and cliché, Battle Hymns was an indisputably a great heavy metal album. A well-oiled band playing 8 well-composed and technically impressive songs which are all catchy; the album’s legacy is so great that the band re-recorded it in 2010 as Battle Hymns MMXI and played it in its entirety on the subsequent world tour.
Battle Hymns; paving the way for great heavy metal in the 1980s.