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Manowar's status as the laughing stock of metal/music is a pretty good example of just how metal is misunderstood by the masses, and indeed, by the fans themselves... So what if there's an album cover or two of them dressed in loincloths? Are those outfits really any stupider then those in Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band? Besides, it's clearly somewhat tongue in cheek. Their lyrics also get some crap, but how are their lyrics any worse than, say, "Here comes the Sun, do do do doo, here comes the sun and I say, It's alright", or, say, "Purple Haze"? Or 99% of rock in general? Or, indeed, the more sophisticated, "urbane" genres like jazz or soul? Manowar are a good band that's got a bad rap for no real reason other than being unashamedly metal; and it's a real shame that they're mocked not just by the "outside", as it were, but by those within the metal community. Which brings us to this album; it's a really, really good bit of heavy metal that would be a common household album if Manowar got the tribute they deserve.
Not being all that familiar with this sort of metal/hard rock it's hard to really spot the influences, a rough guess suggests that it's somewhere between Thin Lizzy, Maiden and Sabbath; certainly the doomy and epic "Dark Avenger" has a lot of love for the last two bands there. It's fast in places and there's plenty of speed metal on offer here but for every heavy, almost thrashing bit like the end of Dark Avenger, there's some straight forward, rocking sort of stuff like "Shell Shock" (which has some pretty rad lyrics) and "Manowar". Normally that sort of stuff would be a real low point for me but here it's catchy as all hell and bursting with energy and vigour; the major key riffing in "Manowar" being particularly catchy and infectious.
The final track of the album in particular is a great example of just untouchable these guys are when they're at their best. Sure, the mellow pre-solo bit is a bit unnecessary, but the intro sets the tone brilliantly, the main riff is transcendent 3/4 battle metal glory; chances are you've heard millions of riffs that sound really, really similar, but none can match the sheer valour and might of this one. And this all before the chorus comes along... damn, is it really possible to make a song as epic, as stirring, as this one? I think not.
Something of Battle Hymn's quality would be an obvious highlight of a typical metal album, here it's just a great way to end a really, really good album. These guys often throw in a few filler tracks here and there throughout their albums; here the only real moment where things go downhill is the (absolutely terrible) bass solo "William's Tale". Whether it's the energetic rock/metal of "Fast Taker" or "Shell Shock", the huge chorus and don't care vibe of "Metal Daze", or the few epics in this album, every song on this is a keeper. Eric's vocals are probably the thing that really makes the songs, particularly the shorter ones; the warts-and-all recording job does a really great job of representing his singing style; surprisingly versatile, very powerful; very passionate. He holds nothing back in his vocals; whether screaming or laying down some tuneful melodies. I'm sure some idiots would label it "melodramatic", I tend to call it "being passionate about your music", which surely isn't a bad thing? Indeed, the whole band is pretty passionate about the music; certainly the drummer's beating the crap out of his kit, while Joey and Ross lay down on the strings with typical Manowar passion and energy.
Manowar deserve celebration far more so then mockery, definitely. No big deal though; if music critics would rather listen to Motown then this then clearly they've got some sort of serious mental illness and there's nothing we can do. Needless to say you seriously need this album if you like good music.