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Whole album rerecords are a tricky business. On one hand, I've heard one rerecord that didn't stink up my speakers, but I would consider that a fluke. Individual song rerecords are a different matter, and often I enjoy those because they offer a fresh perspective and often times inject a new creative outlook into the song. But albums are a different story, and the tendency is that the new product is a much more lifeless, restrained affair since the creative mindset that went into the original album simply isn't there.
Of course, that Battle Hymns wasn't my favorite Manowar album to begin with does this rerecord little favors in my eyes; but I'm not judging it based on such feelings. Really, what I wanted to know was this: did Manowar use the tools and talent they've acquired since the early 80's to successfully re-envision a classic album? No. Dimmu Borgir successfully reinvented Stormblast as a modern melodic black metal album (and even that was dicey) but Manowar offer no new insights here. The key issue here, then, appears to be that Manowar completely forgot what made them good in the olden days. While I preferred the more honed approach of Sign of the Hammer and Kings of Metal (which they are also recording), I understand what makes the original Battle Hymns good: the band was challenging themselves. The band had a fire under their asses, and tried to push themselves beyond what they could do at the time. The result might've been sloppy and Adams' vocals all over the place, but that was part of the charm. After all, if Darkthrone made their first string of albums with polished production and airtight performances, it would have been boring as all hell.
Another way of phrasing the criteria for a successful rerecord would be this: Does it add anything to the legacy of Battle Hymns, or does it cash in on said legacy? After describing what the original had going for it, I will now say that the rerecord is diametrically opposed to it. While I'm sure the original had equally barebones riffs, I don't remember it sounding this threadbare, and last time I checked Adams didn't sound asleep at the mic, too. While the members are largely the same, do not delude yourself, gentle reader: this is not the same Manowar. The performance is sluggish, more in line with their monolithic recent catalog, and I swear to god Donnie Hamzik did more than just "bass snare bass snare" and did a lot more fills on the original, as well. The simple fact is that nothing on this rerecord eclipses the original except the production values, which mean nothing if the performance can't back it up, and no member really pulls his weight here. Adams' performance is nothing special, Joey is out in front as always, but performs will little intensity, Logan has clearly done better performances, and Hamzik seems to have not taken the years off the stage well, as his technique leaves a lot to be desired. On its own, the performance and content here is about what you'd expect from recent Manowar, with the stripped down tendencies resembling The Lord of Steel rather than Gods of War, however. Still though, that would be if it were a new album. It's not, though. I give no credit for the inherent strength of the material because it's not original material. What matters here is if this added anything to the legacy of the original, or Manowar's legacy as a whole, and this simply doesn't cut the mustard. It's fuckin' BORING!
Perhaps this was simply the wrong album to rerecord; Battle Hymns, in the original version, was raw, unkempt, and wild, and it sounded best that way, and this does no due service towards that ideal. Maybe the subdued nature of Manowar these days will better suit the rerecord of Kings of Metal, which they're doing right now. However, my gut tells me the opposite, and that this rerecord was dreadful because the band behind it has ran out of ideas, and been out of ideas for years now, and thus no new interpretation of the material is present because Manowar has no new ideas. This is most apparent in the faster songs like Fast Taker and Manowar, which despite their classification as "faster" songs, still have the feeling of an imperial procession and less of 4 guys rockin the fuck out. At the end of the day, rerecords are either two things: a band that wants to revitalize their old material with new inspiration and techniques, or a band that ran out of ideas and needs something to feed its fans lest they grow impatient.
Guess which one Manowar is.
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!
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!