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After a couple of months of listening, I've finally decided to take the plunge and review Manowar's latest album, Gods of War. This review is very hard for me to write...I feel somewhat like the protaganist in that old frosties advert - the fanboy in me wants to praise this album to the skies and call it a triumph on every level, but the metalhead in me wants to be objective, and talk about an album with some great successes, and some serious flaws.
As most, if not all of you will now be aware, Gods of War is the first in a series of (hopefully much more focussed) albums retelling (with dubious accuracy) some of the good old fucking Norse myths. Now, I love the Norse myths, I mean, take some of Odin's trials for instance, one of his challenges was to lift a cat up off the floor. Simple enough, you might think, not so! For the cat was actually a vast serpent, which is wrapped around the entire world! Sounds like someone should have gone to specsavers, or just laid off the fucking mead. Getting back to the point, when Manowar announced the concept for this set of albums I was more than a little psyched, as to my mind Epic Metal + Norse Myths = Killer album, guaranteed.
I was sadly mistaken.
The main gripe that I and pretty much everyone else has with this album is the LACK OF METAL SONGS! What are all these cheesy pseudo-ambient narrative interludes doing on this album??? Why can't Manowar just develop the story through kick ass songs instead of what can only be described as verbal wankery? For more than half of this album its like a frigging a cappella Dream Theater!
The thing is, when I listen to this album all the way through and I'm in the mood, it really works! I can forgive the narration and just enjoy the epic feel of the album and relish the fact that Manowar are still alive and well. In the right mood and at the right time, Gods of War is a flawed, but hugely enjoyable journey through some of the world's greatest myths and legends. But despite this, the fact remains that Gods of War is not the album that the Manowar fans wanted after a 5 year long drought in studio albums. Now, the real metal songs on here range from above average to total killers, and as has been mentioned before, the production is totally killer, no complaints at all in that department. And we find the band all on good form here, Adams does a better job here than on WOTW, with some excellent midrange singing and that undeniable scream. Joey...well he does his thing...he hasn't really been too adventurous with the old bass since 1991, and no ones expecting him to start adding original bass hooks now. Karl adds some riffs which range from more than adequate to really quite good, and some incredibly tight soloing. Scott disappoints on this album; the man is an excellent drummer, but on GoW he tends to stick to the same tired sounding double bass beat. Uninspired.
It also seems that Manowar have still not yet solved the problem of their tracklisting. It just doesn't flow very well...ok they start to build up some momentum but then destroy it by prolonging the listener's wait for some blasting metal. "In Triumph" by The Quill is a perfect example of an album with a well thought out tracklisting, mixing fast and slow songs to create a natural rhythm which, are you listening guys, STOPS THE LISTENER GETTING BORED.
So yeah, let's pick out the real songs and dissect, scalpels out children, ok first off is king of kings...the first song bizarrely appearing 9 minutes into the album. Well we'd already heard this one, as it was the advance single from the album, definitely a Manowar classic, all the ingredients present and correct, really love the solo on this one, tighter than a young girl in her prime. Next up is Sleipnir, which takes a while to get started due to the overlong and slightly irritating narrative passage, but when it gets cracking its an enjoyable one, though the chorus is repeated too many times. Also it sort of ends rather abruptly, but no worries, straight into Loki, god of...erm fire? Ok slight error there but nevermind. As most other reviewers have mentioned Loki has a more hard rock feel to it, with a great chorus, all in all an excellent track!
Now...oh dear what is this...Blood Brothers? Isn't that already a more memorable and anthemic song by Maiden (who I don't even like, but that song still owns this poor effort)? Manowar have had some pretty fucking decent ballads in their time, but this one falls rather short. I've got to say, I do like Adams' delivery in this one, but you can tell they just followed the generic Manowar ballad formula (Quiet intro verse, chorus once, guitars and drums kick in for second verse, chorus again, bridge, chorus chorus chorus etc) and really did nothing else with the song. But alas no, this song never really gets going enough to achieve the anthemic quality they were going for. Couple more points - Adams' background screams are absolutely unnecessary in this one, and, Scott's little marching drum section is probably his highlight of the album. That's right folks, that was it.
After another couple of boring interludes that I do not care to dissect comes possibly the strongest track on the album, the mighty Sons of Odin. The powerful lead riff fades into an atmospheric passage punctuated by Joey's bassline, which leads up to the anthemic chorus, but by far the best part of this song is the refrain with the choir, my god, total fucking ownage! Ok we've got some momentum going here, let's keep it going! Wait....no..its another fucking narrative passage again. Wow this is getting old. At long last we arrive at the title track, and things brighten up again, with a fucking great marching rhythm, some excellent vocals and brilliant orchestration. Total winner here. Another interlude follows, and then we have the song simply entitled "Odin", which has some interesting moments, but all in all is a little too slow and rather boring. Still, the reprise of Army of The Dead at the end is absolutely fantastic, really inspiring stuff.
Finally we reach the end, of the concept at least, with the promisingly titled "Hymn of the immortal warriors", and yeah the song is great...but is another slow song really necessary? Where's the balance?
Now, I really like Die For Metal, even though I'm aware that it is merely an average Manowar song, I'm not sure what it is, it might be the fact that it comes as light relief after an hour fraught with frustration and disappointment, maybe its just the balls to the wall who gives a fuck homoeroticism and metal worship which I'vebeen missing for the duration of this contrived, overly epic affair. Yes, the lead riff sounds like a Kashmir rip off, yes the lyrics are familiar and clichéd, yes it doesn't really go anywhere, but its Manowar doing what they do best, and I'm fucking glad they're still around to do it.
Now the album is finished my feelings are mixed to say the least. On the one hand, GoW has some great songs which are going to be on my playlist for a long time to come, and proves that Manowar can still bring something to the table, but on the flip side, GoW is not the album I was expected, or even the album I wanted. I think all Manowar fans were hoping that they would improve on the successes WoTW had and try to iron out the weak points, but instead they seem to have done the opposite, with even more throwaway tracks and even less arse kickery! I just hope that Joey Demaio can have the good sense to listen to what the fans are saying and follow this up with an album of straight up heavy metal, or at least note the fans reaction to the new material played live, because you can bet your house that when they leave the stage, the fans aren't going to be screaming for an encore of "blood brothers".