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Here's a perfect summary of my feelings on this album: you go for a meal, expecting some vast 4-course banquet to leave you stuffed for a week. What arrives is barely half a small plateful spread out over a single large plate, and one that has no flavour or taste at all. Afterwards you feel empty as ever, as if somehow everything was just left out. You wonder "Was that the right meal?" and equally with Manowar's "Gods of War" you have to wonder "Was that the right album, or did I just get given someone's early demo work, half-finished?" And bear in mind, I am a generous reviewer, I tend to look at the positive in my reviews, I am not one to slag things off lightly. Truly, this is far, far worse than the much-loathed St. Anger or other such attempts considering poor by the masses (which I often disagree with).
The vocals are powerful, and while the lyrics are cheesy this is Manowar, what do you expect? No, they can't be blamed for that much. Also, the concept behind it is a good one, and is actually carried out quite well most of the time, fair kudos for that. What makes this album quite a damp squib is the simple lack of musical power. The thing that really drags it down is not only are there too many plain speaking parts, but even the "full-on" parts still feel devoid and empty. Often it just sounds like a really basic drum beat and a single riff being played over and over while the singing goes on. Seriously, go listen to Van Canto's a'cappelo album debut, with just voices and drums, an excellent piece. It honestly sounds fuller and more complete than this, their voices contain more power and impact than the guitars here.
It feels so very empty, similar to Annihilator's recent offering "Metal", but unlike "Metal" it seems less due to the mix or production, more simply because the songs just aren't very good. They're plain and simple. The solos are very short and not very powerful. The drums are boring and repetitive. The guitar work is drab and lifeless, doing little more than setting a pace behind the vocals. And while the vocals are good, half of that is only due to the electronic effect used on it (have a listen to the closing seconds of Sleipnir to see exactly what I mean there). It just feels too much like there's no substance, a theme that runs through the album as a whole due to the number of filler tracks, and the individual songs too, they honestly sound rather pathetic at times, and it's sad that such an established act should fall to this.
As has been pointed out in other reviews, there are actually just 47 minutes of metal to it, the rest is filler. Now, this could actually be forgiven for the most part. 25+ minutes of filler is simply too much, it's more than a third of the thing, but I wouldn't mind much IF there was a pay off. But even those 47 minutes of metal are bad metal, some of the most simplistic and uninspired I've heard in a long time. The narration is good, and some of it would be perfectly fine, if only every track were more like King of Kings and they maybe cut half the padding out. 15 minutes worth in an hour long album, with a good solid 7-10 Manowar songs would be a perfectly respectable album. As it is, it fails badly.
Even as a debut demo from a starting band this would be poor. From someone like Manowar it's frankly embarassing. Every aspect sounds like Manowar came up with a quarter of what they should have done and said "Well, we can pad it out, they'll never notice". Each song feels like half of song in every way. It sounds like there aren't enough riffs, the solos sound way too short, each song sounds like it has half as many vocals as it should, they end so quickly...the list goes on. There's simply not enough substance to make a full album here, this amounts to maybe an EP of work, no more. It frankly sounds like it was put together by complete newcomers who have no idea what they're doing, and think that a single riff, a dozen lines and some beginner level drumming makes a full song. No, it's doesn't. It doesn't make a full song at all, and this is supposed to be "Epic metal". Nothing whatsoever is epic here, I can promise you.
A few specifics:
Loki God of Fire is truly terrible. It's only 3:49 long, and for the last THIRD of the song it just repeats the same damn thing over and over again. It gets very boring, and feels like a single section of a song stretched out.
The Overture tracks, the songs done with a grand organ and orchestral sound, are actually the most complete sounding track here! It sounds properly done and fleshed out...if only the rest did.
Sons of Odin: Half the track is mindless plucking with talking. The other half is literally just a basic riff repeating over and over with quiet drums you can easily miss. It honestly sounds like one long build-up which should be a total of one minute, before the main song starts. Instead it's the whole track, and dragged out over 6 and a half minutes. You get to the big "explosive" (and I use this term only comparatively) ending and think "That's it?"
There are one or two nice bits to note about the album though:
King of Kings is pretty decent actually. It shows some of what will drag the rest of the album down, at times feeling too simple, but for the most part it fits better with old-style Manowar, and the lyrics are very good, they flow well and match the instruments, and the drums actually have some power to them here.
The "bonus track", Die For Metal, is actually pretty good too. The lyrics are kinda cheesy, but actually less so than Annihilator's "Army of One" (another suitable comparison point to be drawn), because this track achieves what it sets out to do. Yes, it's simple, but unlike the rest of the album it feels right, feels like it should be simple and catchy. The rest of the album feels like it's trying to be big and bold and epic, and failing. Same with Annihilator's "Army of One", which felt like it was trying to be more than it could. Die For Metal is actually pretty inspiring most of the time, and the basic riffing works well to emphasise the solid lyrics, delivered with genuine power and feeling. It's perhaps a bit of a sad fact that the best track on the album is the "bonus" track, set apart from the rest.
What's annoying is that one of the things it gets criticised for, the number of spoken build-up tracks, could actually have paid off well. Those filler pieces could have been really nice builds to big, vast, epic numbers. As it is, they only highlight how empty the "non-filler" tracks are, because there's little difference other than basic guitar and drum work going on behind the voice. KISS's "God of Thunder" produces a far better effect than this does, and that should tell you something on it's own.
I have heard people defend it, saying that spoken parts and so on enhance this whole. This is sometimes true, but nearly half the album? That's simply too much. Emperorjvl gets this album spot on: spoken/orchestral bits have been used before and to great effect, but only when they enhance the song and album as a whole. Here they just feel like they're used to pad out the album because there simply isn't a full album of material here, and thus while these parts can make the whole better, they can also make the whole much worse when it doesn't work. And then the rest of the material just sounds uninspired and dull.
So I'll give it about 30%. This is because, of the 16 tracks, only about two or three are really worthwhile, with the odd scattered bit in elsewhere, probably coming to about a 20% score total, and then a bit extra because the concept itself is nice and a few narration/filler bits are okay really. Without King of Kings and Die For Metal this would get about 10% or so tops.