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Battle Hymns was Manowar's first studio album released in 1982. This was the remake that came out late last year under the title 'Battle Hymns MMXI'. Being the Manowar fan that I am, even I have to admit that their music production has been heading south lately. Its not because they are getting old, but simply because it feels like they are not trying like they used to anymore. The creative juices seemed to dry up as for the past 20 years and the time gaps between each cd release have been long, averaging 1 new album every 4-5 years. Production has been slow and rather than releasing a new studio album to offer something fresh, they decide to remake their first one.
Generally remakes are not nearly as good as the original. Battle Hymns MMXI is no exception. The riffs of this album have been tuned down an entire octave and it sounds a lot more rough than its predecessor. The deeper instruments match Eric's deeper vocals as he is now in his mid-50s and no longer in his 20s. I do not care what anyone says, but I believe that his voice has been aging quite gracefully. He can still hold those long and wicked high-note screams like he used to, which is good. I suppose its all about preference whether you enjoy the deeper and grungier tone they have taken with this remake, however I still think the up-beat and energetic hard rock style of the original is superior.
I started off listening to the tracks in order. I started with Death Tone and made my way to Battle Hymn. Right off the bat it certainly sounds heavier than before. The main problem is most the songs sound a tad off-key from the original and some of the riffs (like in Death Tone) have been changed. I do not like this, mainly in Shell Shock. It sounds too off from the original cd almost to where the guitarist is drifting from what the song is and doing something else totally unrelated to Manowar. Such as the solos, they are all changed. This makes sense since the guitarist is Karl Logan and Not Ross the Boss. Its just,Ross had some skill and some soul in his playing. You can really tell he put some thought into his solos. Karl, on the other hand, is just mindless shredding. Not that its a bad thing, it just sounds only a fraction as good.
The only track on this cd that I found to come close to being on par with the original would be Dark Avenger. Since Orson Welles passed away 1985, Manowar had to get someone else to re-do the narration for the song, that being Christopher Lee, and I must say his dreaded and powerful voice really does the job for this remake. I still love the original, but this version of the song was even darker-toned and really gave the atmosphere of an unfairly treated soul and his journey to becoming the Dark Avenger.....then Karl Logan came in and ruined it with his mindless shredding at the end, but I digress.
Overall, not a bad remake, just not a very good one. Muddier, deeper, and heavier than before. More heavy metal and less hard rock-sounding as one would say. What this band needs to do is rather than playing their old music with this new style, they should write new music using their old style. Come on, bring back the magic of 'Kings of Metal', 'Triumph of Steel', and 'Hail to England'. No one wants any more 'Gods of War'. Their recent ep, 'Thunder in the Sky', was a step in the right direction, now they just need a new album!
The original Battle Hymns is one of the greatest heavy metal albums I've ever heard. The first half of the album has some face melting traditional heavy metal tunes whilst the second half has two songs which can only be described as epic.
So, where was the need to rerecord this? Well, anybody who has seen Manowar play live will say that the old songs have a whole new dimension brought to them when played live, they are brought to life. Manowar wrote these tracks to sound massive and they most certainly succeeded. Unfortunately, the production techniques in 1982 were not what they are today. Manowar's last few albums sound heavier than almost anything because modern production comes closer to being able to capture what this band is about. In this version you can hear everything. Every incredibly technical flourish on Joey's bass guitar, they no longer have that 'cardboard box' drum sound that was on the original recording, Karl's guitar sounds precise and excellent as usual. The recording as a whole is generally a lot more powerful than the original, as is to be expected.
Eric's voice is obviously lower than it was, but it is still wonderfully powerful. At his peak I genuinely believe that Eric was the best singer in metal - today he is still at the top of the game. He sings his arse off. It is true that in some parts he lacks the momentum to carry parts of the songs, but he does better than almost anyone else will and he can still sing very high. Donnie Hamzik always was a beast of a drummer, but you can actually hear it on these recordings - the drummer solo on Battle Hymn is powerful and perfectly executed. Karl Logan isn't the guitarist that Ross the Boss or the mighty David Shankle are, but his new solo on the title track is an inspired and admirable effort.
In conclusion, this is a very different record to the original. It does lack the youthful energy of the 1982 version, but it makes up for it in other areas. It's heavy, it's precise, it's perfectly produced and it is ultimately a gesture to the fans who want to hear these classics with updated production. Hail to the Kings of Metal!
This was a bad idea, this was always a bad idea, it's a bad bad bad bad idea by a band that is up there with Anthrax in terms of "creative bankruptcy". Battle Hymns for me is a rarity; a classic, unashamedly rocky album that I not only 'appreciate for it's influence' (blah blah blah wank) but genuinely love, one that I can listen to, and do listen to very very often. It's definitely one of my top 10 albums, it is fucken good, I love it, I want to whisper sweet nothings to it while I tenderly enter it, etc etc.
But it's not an album that can take a rerecording. The original was one of a kind, Adams' whacked and really youthful vocals, the cluttered as hell mix that nevertheless worked brilliantly, the all over the place guitar solos, and the energy. The energy, the key point of the album, what made the original sound so good, and the lack of which makes this stink so much. Battle Hymns '82 was obviously recorded by a bunch of very young dudes who as my seedy, definitely-not-gay co-worker would say were "young dumb and full of cum". And it works! Battle Hymns moreso than any other Manowar album was the one where there drunken, cheerful hyper-masculinity worked the whole way through,
But that was '82 and this is/was 28 years later. Manowar aren't the young bucks they used to be, Adams isn't the singer he used to be (anything with a scream on it is pretty painful to hear), Logan sure as shit isn't Ross the Boss, so on and so forth. Metal Daze is a serious disappointment, surely with all these fancy production values you could get a decent "HEAVY METAL" bit for the chorus? No? Oh well. Fast Taker, long part of my "lose my voice trying to do screams" playlist, has a serious lack of screams, and energy, and the guitar solo is crap, so on and so forth. Well, it's not crap, Logan isn't rubbish but he is tight and controlled; which sucks as a huge part of the first Battle Hymns were the sloppy, super fast and all over the place solos and here they don't exist, which also leads to some huge disappointment in the title track. And most of the tracks, basically. Don't get me started on Dark Avenger, where the frenzied final speed metal section of the original version becames a staid, safe procession. Or the production, which for all of it's million-dollar vibe has a few clear mixing errors with the vocals and a serious problem with dynamics or lack thereof.
Ugh man i'm disappointed with this. Well, I'm not disappointed, as this is pretty much what I was expecting, I guess I'm sad this even exists. I'm sad Eric sounds like an old man and can't hit high notes. I'm sad that they kept the bass solo in here. That the whole thing reeks of "tired old men cashing in" instead of the youthful hunger and independence that the original stood for. I'm sad that the rockier songs turned into boring plodathons. In the end, it's a more depressing album than you may think, lots of "end of youth", "end of idealism" things you could twist out of this, for sure.
Here's to Metallica never rerecording Ride the Lightning!