Manowar have been sailing the seas of cheese since their 1982 debut, Battle Hymns. They have always teetered on the edge of the ridiculous, and some might say they have crossed into the realm of self-parody. Manowar’s image and lyrics are over-the-top; dealing with epic fantasy, viking mythology, and the power of metal. Manowar see themselves as the purveyors of true heavy metal with their “death to false metal” ethos and disdain for poseurs. It’s all in good fun… I think. I’m 99% sure that all the puffed-chest posturing of Manowar is tongue-in-cheek, but its the 1% of doubt that scares me! Manowar have always kept a straight face, which just makes the whole thing pretty damn awesome.
Manowar’s 1980s discography is littered with incredible epic tunes, and conversely, a fair share of head-scratching material. Being a Manowar fan can be frustrating and sometimes a little embarrassing. But make no mistake, I am a fan. Yet one can’t deny that Manowar’s albums are often inconsistent, their lyrics redundant, and their performances masturbatory. But that’s Manowar for ya. Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, you gotta love ’em.
Here’s a rundown of Manowar’s 1980s discography…
Battle Hymns (1982)
“There’s no charge for the haircut… and the bullets come free…”
A great debut! From out of nowhere, Manowar emerged with this testosterone-fueled juggernaut begging to be played at maximum volume! Battle Hymns came out on Liberty Records in 1982. The album portrayed an interesting dichotomy of well-worn metal clichés and ambitious innovation. The first half of the album deals mostly in cliché, although Manowar’s savage delivery is something to behold. Death Tone opens up the flood gates with a mighty groin kick. This is a straightforward, balls-out metal tune. We are introduced for the first time to Eric Adam’s classic metal voice; one of the most powerful in the business. We also are treated to our first dose of Joey DeMaio’s rumbling bass. His bass playing (sometimes with an 8-string bass) is one of the most recognizable in all of metal (Note: I said recognizable, not best.) As the ego-maniacal band leader, his bass often appears in the forefront of the mix, sometimes being played like a “lead” instrument. In the same vein, Metal Daze, Fast Taker, Shell Shock, and Manowar follow in kind. More simple aggression to be enjoyed at ear-splitting levels! Lyrics deal with the awesomeness of metal (a common Manowar theme). There also there are some street-level, life-based lyrical ideas (particularly the Vietnam War references). These kind of “grounded” lyrics can only be found on this first Manowar album. It was a lyrical notion that Manowar would (unfortunately) abandon on future albums as they focused almost exclusively on viking lore, fantasy, and, of course, the greatness of metal. Though the first five songs on the album destroy with gargantuan sonic fury, there isn’t anything particularly innovative about the songs. However, with the cuts Dark Avenger and Battle Hymn, Manowar established themselves as trailblazers in the field of over-the-top, epic heavy metal. This is the sound that Manowar would carry forward throughout their career. Battle Hymn being particularly mind-blowing in its blending of somber, melodic moments with scrotum smashing heaviness. Glorious, epic, and violent, this song is a heavy metal essential. All hail to thee! My score: A+
Into Glory Ride (1983)
“I crush your bones… I kill your face…”
And there it is. The infamous album cover. For anyone who has ever said a disparaging thing about Manowar (and there are many who have), this album cover is likely to be the first point of contention. Oh well. Sometimes a good thing can be disguised in a deceptive package. In this case, said package depicts a man’s gonads garnished with a furry loin cloth. It is what it is.
Into Glory Ride is my least favorite Manowar album. The opening number Warlord is the album’s lone fast-paced rocker (and the only track on the album that clocks in under five minutes). Though it reminds me of the hard-driving songs on side one of Battle Hymns, it is not as good as anything on that LP. After Warlord, the remainder of the album consists of slower-paced, fantasy-based epic metal. Unfortunately I find that most of the songs are a bit too plodding, and at times, the songs lack direction. For example, Hatred kind of goes nowhere, and Gates Of Valhalla drags at over seven minutes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still Manowar, so at the very least we get Eric Adams singing his balls off (he really carries this album on his back). Unfortunately he doesn’t have any amazing songs to work with this time around, and by album’s end the redundant lyrics feel stale. Loud and proud? Yes. But not Manowar’s best. My score: B-
Hail To England (1984)
“Let each note I now play be a black arrow of death sent straight to the hearts of all those who play false metal…”
Third album. Third record label. Seems the music industry couldn’t figure out Manowar and their bombastic heavy metal vision. In their homeland of the United States Manowar wasn’t catching on. In England, however, there was some fan base. Hence, the album’s title as a tribute to the English faithful.
With swords held high, Manowar opens with Blood Of My Enemies, one of their better calls to arms. The surprisingly mellow chorus is well done, and always has me singing along; “To Asgard the Valkyries fly!” Blood Of My Enemies is my favorite cut on the album. Hail To England and Army Of Immortals are also fairly strong metal anthems.
Hail To England is a rather short album at about 35 minutes in length. There are only seven songs, and one of them is a bass solo that I always skip. Hail To England is raw sounding with the distorted bass way up in the mix. The solos by Ross The Boss are nice, and Eric Adams, as always, shines on vocals. Happily, Hail To England exhibits a bit more variation in terms of tempos and content than its predecessor. This is a solid, well-rounded Manowar album. My score: B
Sign Of The Hammer (1984)
“Thank you for the Kool-Aid, Reverend Jim.”
Manowar’s second album of 1984 was Sign Of The Hammer. As with the three albums before it, it’s another raw record produced with a thrashy sound, and somewhat sloppy playing. Sign Of The Hammer begins with the fun little one-two punch of All Men Play On Ten and Animals. The former consisting of ridiculously absurd lyrics that always evoke a chuckle. Both songs providing a good dose of silly enthusiasm to start off the album. What follows is a string of weighty, viking-tinged metal in the form of Thor (The Powerhead), Mountains, Sign Of The Hammer, and The Oath. Nothing as mind-blowing as, say, Blood Of My Enemies or Battle Hymn, but decent, if not ordinary, Manowar fare. The obligatory bass solo whack-off, Thunderpick, comes next (…and the skip button is engaged). The album ends as all Manowar albums have thus far, with a longish epic. This one, Guyana (Cult Of The Damned), is about Jim Jones and his suicide cult. Eric Adam’s first words in the song are; “Thank you for the Kool-Aid Reverend Jim“. Great line! This song, like the album in general, contains some inspired moments but lacks overall cohesiveness. I pair Sign Of The Hammer with Into Glory Ride as the only two Manowar albums to date that do not contain any “holy shit!” tracks. Sign Of The Hammer would be the last truly underground Manowar album. A major record deal was on its way… My score: B-
Fighting The World (1987)
“Play it loud, don’t play it low… blow your speakers with rock and roll!”
Manowar’s fifth album Fighting The World was their first on a major label (Atlantic Records). Of course, there were those who cry “sellout” at the very notion. How could the band whose mission it was to bring death to false metal be associated with a corporate label? I say ‘take it easy’. Manowar have always been a walking contradiction. Trying to figure out Manowar can only lead to a head explosion. So why even try? Let’s not get caught up in this idea that Fighting The World is too “commercial”. Fact is, I didn’t really love the raw, clanky production of their poverty albums. Fighting The World is well-produced with a glossy sheen, bombastic drums, and an even mix. In my opinion, it allows Manowar to sound truly epic. Finally they could give their over-the-top delusions of grandeur the proper treatment.
This particular car-battery-sized block of cheese contains the infamous mallet-headed Blow Your Speakers. This overly simple tune berates MTV for not playing metal while, paradoxically, being an overt attempt to get some MTV exposure (there was a video). Like I said, Manowar are a walking contradiction. Smile and nod… just smile and nod. (I like the song by the way, its fun as hell.) Anyhoo, Fighting The World contains two particularly awesome Manowar cuts. First, there is Defender, a holdover from their Battle Hymns era. Second is Black Wind, Fire And Steel which is a speedy warrior dash. These two highlights are stark reminders as to why Manowar are a force to be reckoned with when they get it right. Overall Fighting The World is a damn good Manowar release, but Manowar didn’t fully realize their grand vision in full until the follow-up album, Kings Of Metal. My score: B+
Kings Of Metal (1988)
“Four kings of metal… Four metal kings.”
In my opinion, Kings Of Metal is the best collection of Manowar tunes since their debut, Battle Hymns. Manowar used their major-label budget to the fullest; the recording is grandiose and epic. A full men’s choir is used on a few tracks to great effect. Additionally, Kings Of Metal was Manowar’s most diverse album to date. The speed-laced Wheels Of Fire starts off the album with face-melting fury. The title track follows, swinging a mighty battle-axe at the direction of wimps and poseurs, demanding that they leave the hall. (Here’s where Manowar made their famous decree; “Other bands play… Manowar KILLS!“.) More Manowar “classics” ensue. Heart Of Steel is a surprisingly superb ballad. The Crown And The Ring features Eric Adams trading majestic vocal lines with a full men’s choir. Side two contains a trio of warrior hymns that pour forth from Valhalla’s hall with ferocious, testicle crushing might. Kingdom Come, Hail And Kill and Blood Of The Kings are essential Manowar!
When all was said and done, one of the most unique bands in the history of heavy metal delivered an album that now stands as their trademark release. Kings Of Metal is quintessential Manowar. Say what you will about Manowar, but no band has EVER made an album that sounds like this! It could be that no bands wants to, or it could be that no band has the BALLS! Joey, Eric, Ross, and Scott. Four Kings Of Metal… Four Metal Kings. My score: A
Well, there you have it, Manowar’s 1980s discography. And guess what? Manowar’s career is still going strong at the time of this post in 2011! Remarkably, and defying all logic, Manowar actually became more and more successful as the years went on. In places like mainland Europe and South America, Manowar have amassed legions of fans and routinely play for large audiences. Unfortunately, in the United States they are virtually ignored, which is a damn shame. I would love to see Manowar perform live here in the United States, but there really isn’t any reason for Manowar to play small clubs in the U.S. when they can play large venues in other countries. Manowar’s success is a remarkable testimony to their perseverance in the face of ever-changing trends and naysayers. They may be egotistical, even delusional, but Manowar did it their way and their way only. The didn’t change for anybody and I think they deserve all the success in the world. Maybe its all silly comic-book stuff, but watch some of their live footage on YouTube and you’ll quickly realize that the kind of show these guys put on is as real as it gets. Manowar are loud and over-the-top, but they are also great musicians who put on an excellent heavy metal show and entertain their audience like few can. Hail!
I leave you now with my ten favorite Manowar tunes from the 1980s…
1. Battle Hymn (from Battle Hymns)
2. Blood Of The Kings (from Kings Of Metal)
3. Blood Of My Enemies (from Hail To England)
4. Defender (from Fighting The World)
5. Death Tone (from Battle Hymns)
6. Black Wind, Fire And Steel (from Fighting The World)
7. Hail And Kill (from Kings Of Metal)
8. Heart Of Steel (from Kings Of Metal)
9. Shell Shock (from Battle Hymns)
10. Metal Daze (from Battle Hymns)