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An interesting experiment - 80%

Torwilligous, October 18th, 2007

'Gods of War' is, without a doubt, the most nuanced and artistic work of Manowar's career; and on that note alone I wish I could just give it 100% and be done with it, so much do I want to cheer Joey DeMaio's sheer audacity. However, there are definite flaws here; avoidable flaws, and ones that drag down the work to merely 'very good'. But it could have been so much more, and perhaps - next time - it will be.

First, then, the good. Manowar could have made all of their fans happy just by releasing a million slightly different versions of 'Kill with Power' for the rest of their career; but commendably, they refuse to do so. This album is instead a collection of highly symphonic, trad-metal influenced pieces (in melodic, thematic and harmonic construction rather than timbre), spoken word storytelling and a couple of thundering Manowar classics thrown in for good measure. The orchestral effects by far outweigh the guitars on this album, which will be a problem for more unadventurous metal fans; however, by breaking free from the ever-more restrictive environment of the genre, Manowar have transcended it, giving this work a much greater dramatic and musical range than their more standard fare.

Manowar's presentation of the Norse myths is, at times, utterly perfect; 'The Blood of Odin' (a spoken word passage augmented by sombre orchestral flourishes) in particular is almost ludicrously powerful. Indeed, the myths and legends fit so well here that they seem almost inseperable from the band's music; heroism, comradeship, and the absolute reverance to power and the ideal of the warrior are expressed in a fashion that I suspect the Vikings themselves would have heartily approved of. The greatest achievement of this album is that it feels deeply authentic, something that very few other Viking-themed works have ever managed. Mightily overblown it may well be, but overblown is the only way to go with emotional themes this grandiose, this epic. There is no nihilism, no cynicism; the music expresses a rich tapestry where life is cherished, glory is sought, and the valorous need not fear death.

In addition, some of the melodies played on 'Gods of War' are, without doubt, amongst the best Manowar have ever penned, or even some of the most blood-stirring recorded in the pantheon of metal; see the chorus to 'Sleipnir', 'The Sons of Odin' and the beautiful a capella chorale, 'Army of the Dead' - a title that sounds cheesy, and yet when the lyrics are examined turns out to be surprisingly poetic given Manowar's past history. (I mean... 'Kill with Power'? Come on!) For those who find themes of heroism and glory deeply satisfying, here are the tunes to absolutely express those feelings.

But, nevertheless, there are problems. Repetition plagues this release; from lyrical snippets to musical motifs that eventually get stale. Manowar have broken up longer pieces into separate chunks and spread them across the album; this works well, as the pieces combined would have got unbearably repetitious. Even so, some of the pieces tend to flag. Nor are only musical motifs overused; the phrase 'swords in the wind' is abused to an absolutely ludicrious extent, as though DeMaio basically ran out of things to say and just filled the remaining few lines with generic warrior cliches instead. There are also the occasional wholesale repetition of stories; one gets the feeling that DeMaio liked them so much he wanted to experiment with different ways of presenting them, but I'd have preferred a greater amount of original material. It is disappointing, as it jars with the otherwise excellent work seen here.

Another minor niggle are the 'pre-gaps'; there are long breaks in between songs, disrupting the flow of the work in a way that irritates, and makes the whole album sound a more disjointed collection than it should, given the well-handled application of the theme elsewhere. Then there are a some genuinely weak tracks: 'Loki God of Fire' is heavy and powerful, but lacks the melodic weight that the rest of the work displays in abundance; 'Blood Brothers' is embarrasingly homo-erotic (literally); and 'Die for Metal' - whilst being enjoyable enough piece of typical Manowar ego-wanking in and of itself - simply does not fit with the serious nature of the rest of the album.

In conclusion, a flawed masterpiece. Manowar's bravery and their superlative presentation of the matierial are to be commended, but some aspects of the delivery falter. One final note: do not buy this if you think that a distorted guitar is the only criteria for good music. Do not buy this if you have no love for epic myths and heroic fantasy. Do not buy this if you cannot handle music that ostentatoiusly wears its heart on its sleeve. Otherwise, go get it immediately; daring should always be rewarded.