"We challenge all takers to meet us in the field of battle, on the stage of glory, to play louder, harder or faster."
Right then, who's first? Come on, come on, don't just sit there... Aha! A hand at the back ... what's that? Someone jogged your arm ... I see. Well, what about you, or you, or you ... someone, ANYONE?!
It's been a good year since Manowar first brushed the cheeks of the instrument-wielding world with the above (no doubt studded) gauntlet, but so far the response has been minimal. Indeed, the next person to take two paces forward is likely to wind up fronting the queue... that minimal!
Now, it's no major surprise that the likes of Kajagoogoo didn't select, arm and send forth a champion (presumably they don't want to be thought of as loud, hard or fast - at least I hope they don't!) But you'd have thought the HM fraternity, home of many 'XL' tagged heads/egos, might have done better, throwing up perhaps a platinum-packing heavyweight, riled at the nerve of these quarrelsome pups, or at the very least a nothing-to-lose backroom combo hoping to make a name in a Marshall blaze (Hi-watts at high noon?)
As it is, however, the challenge remains ajar and, to be honest, I can't imagine many (one, even) 'choose your weapons' responses filtering through to the Manowar camp just now. Why? Well, take a squint at the band's new drummer, Scott Columbus.
The sort of man who probably makes a wish when he shakes hands (think about it), his sheer physical presence should be enough to keep most contenders at bay, though more daunting still is 'Into Glory Ride', the second Manowar LP, an epic, near-classical blend of music and drama (and mayhem) which goes a long way towards realising the promise/potency displayed on 'Battle Hymns', their debut release.
If a primitive form of Sony Walkman had been available to the ninth century ancestors of Heavy Load, Trash and TNT, then this is probably what they'd have listened to as they rowed out of the fiords in search of plunder - music to rape, pillage 'n' wear furry boots by ...
'March For Revenge (By The Soldiers Of Death)' I can imagine going down particularly well in the longboats ('maim and kill them, take the women and children' comes the chorus cry), closely followed by 'Gates Of Valhalla', where vocalist Eric Adams, after a poignant opening passage, expands veins and eyeballs with some heavy histrionics.
Without question, his operatic/melodic wailing is an important armour-piercing weapon in the Manowar arsenal, and there's no denying the superiority of the Columbus bare-knuckle beat over the (white) feather touch of former drummer, Donnie Hamzik. But, that said, you get the feeling that the aforementioned duo merely act as the limbs of the band, cutting and thrusting on command, and that it's bassist Joey DeMaio and guitarist/occasional keyboard player Ross The Boss who truly represent the beating, blood-pumping heart.
It is they, after all, who act as mouthpiece for the 'mannish' cause, they who chose to sign recent record company contracts in blood - their own as a statement against 'False Metal' (of which more anon), and they who stoke the band's live/recorded sound: a heat-haze of noise, rabid and unique.
Joey may have just four strings to his bow, but he uses them rhythm guitar style, unleashing mighty chords and 'one-two' combinations like a more technically minded Lemmy, while Ross handles his six with enough 'bottom end' to put most bassists to shame. The result is a sort of musical arm-wrestling, the parties in question squeezing and straining against each other till the sweat and blood rolls and the fusion is complete. Voila! Instant 'Black Wind'.
For heady confirmation, turn to any track on
'Warlord', the opening track, and 'Revelation (Death's Angel)' see the band lengthen their stride a little it's true, but the key to success here is not velocity but intent. Were Manowar to go at things half-cock, then the whole Conan-style concept would surely crack and fall apart but, as it is, their elevation of a greater, overriding cause (the ideal of 'mannishness') makes it easy for the listener to mount steed beside them and enter a strange, predominantly pagan landscape where chests are invariably broad and hairy and swords seldom free of blood or offal.
Indeed, so great is the band's commitment to the 'might is right' doctrine, that talking to them - even on the phone -can be a rather unnerving experience. During a recent trans-Atlantic conflab with Ross and Joey, for example, I could almost feel the latter's hot breath on my ear and, as he let slip various words to the wise ("all progress depends on unreasonable men", etc), I could picture his knuckles turning white, his eyes setting flame to nearby furniture and trails of smoke gently wafting from his nostrils - dilated, of course.
Simply, the Manowar camp is now brimful of confidence and esprit de corps. And why not? The false prophets, 'deceivers', who set out to scupper this particular fightin' vessel have been successfully repelled, while the fire of adversity has merely tempered existing fortitude and belief. Now is the time for them to stand back, issue proclamations and toast long and hard, safe in the knowledge that 'IGR' is on its way to the stores, chased hard by a 'Defender'/'Gloves Of Metal' 45, the former opus (not on the album) featuring a marvellous father/son interchange between Eric Adams and Orson Welles who sounds constantly poised to break into song but, thankfully, never does. Phew...!
In the UK the album is set to be released on Music For Nations, in the US on the new Megaforce label and in Japan on King Records (a division of Liberty). The band's original intention had been to re-mix the LP before finally putting it out but eventually they decided not to ("Why screw around with the forces of nature?" - Joey DeMaio), though all tracks have been remastered in an effort to find that extra bit of punch. In the event, they discovered a knockout blow ...
"No tape can really hold the sound of the band," says Joey (we're back to that telephone conversation again). "But I think we've managed to capture most of the 'Black Wind'. We play with anger, vengeance and animal intensity, and we don't like high-gloss with nothing beneath it - we want the sound that everyone else is trying to get away from. The last thing we're concerned about is getting played on the radio."
Not wanting to sacrifice this aforementioned sound, the band have no immediate plans to enlist the help of a recognised producer, and you can see their point. Crack 'helmsmen' these days, many commanding multi-limb fees, do tend to dominate in the studio, stamping recorded product with their own indelible mark (see 'Mutt' Lange and 'Pyromania'). But, that said, I can't help wondering what Manowar would come up with in conjunction with someone as instinctively creative as, say, Bob 'let's make a concept album' Ezrin. Interesting, eh? Though let me add at this point that the production on 'IGR', handled by the band and Jon Mathias, certainly represents a lunar leap in the right direction, towering head, shoulders and kneecaps above the rather feeble-sounding 'Battle Hymns' [eh? sacrilege! - Rick] ("The engineer on that first album was a bum!" - Joey DeMaio).
At present, however, Manowar aren't overly concerned with affairs of the studio. Their number one priority now, the task scrawled in bold caps at the top of the communal 'chopping list', is to bring their 'spectacle of might' over to these willing shores and give us all the sort of ear-bashing we're likely to remember for a long time to come.
Americans they may be, but with their fellow countrymen unable to resist the deadly lure of 'False Metal' (here it is again), endorsing the likes of journey, Foreigner and Toto with wholesale glee, the band seek conquest of this Isle first, feeling it is here that their sacred regard for the guidelines laid down by Sabbath will reap most reward. In this respect, a Reading appearance might be a good place to start, but the varied, run-of-the-mill nature of this year's bill makes it increasingly likely that initial inroads will be forged via a headlining UK tour around August/September.
If it came to it, the four would be quite prepared to take on a support slot ("We like to open for others. You get the chance to go out, have a bash, then leave with all the birds" - Joey DeMaio), but the 'others' in question often aren't too keen to follow them - they lasted only six dates on Ted Nugent's US tour, remember. So, headlining it will probably have to be ...
Starting in Scotland and concluding matters with a "killer bash" in the capital, Manowar plan to brow-beat home heavies with a show which, from the opening Orson intro tape (hailed by DeMaio as "thunderous") to the last drop of feedback, gives full vent to the band's "intense craving for blood", a spur particularly prevalent during Joey's bass solo - the major solo of the set and 'Hatred' where Ross, I'm assured, "leaves earth, at war with himself."
And that's not all, folks. As well as performing songs from their first and second albums, the mighty 'M' may also include a couple of fresh compositions, a satanic/Domesque offering entitled 'Bridge Of Death' and another called 'Guyana-Cult Of The Damned', which takes as its subject matter the true tale of a religious cult leader and his 900 followers all of whom 'checked out' courtesy of a vat of poisoned punch (honest), though only after accounting for a congressman, a news team and some 13 million dollars! A gruesome subject, certainly, but then every great opera has been based on a tragedy, as Joey is quick to point out. And he doesn't stop there ...
"Listen, Ross and I are notorious big-mouths, but we're everything we say we are and more. We'll never wimp out, the band will break up before we do that, and we won't turn our backs on the fans - on that you have our word!"
"This is Manowar not Men At Work"-Jon Z, Megaforce.
©1996-2009 Rick Gillyon