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New York’s Manowar have always been quick to praise their European brothers of metal, the continent housing their largest fan-base and offering them headlining events at major metal festivals, compared to the lukewarm reception of their home country. Although later releases such as ‘Kings of Metal’ would attempt to balance out the praise for all European nations (it even name-checks Wales), their third album, or more specifically its titular song, is a celebration of the nation that created heavy metal and provided Manowar with the opportunity to hear the call. The country’s name is... oh yes, it’s in the title.
‘Hail to England’ is in some ways a disappointing follow-up to ‘Into Glory Ride,’ but this was perhaps inevitable, the band having all but exhausted their epic sound across its seven tracks. At a shorter thirty minutes of music, this third release at first seems to display signs of either laziness or a writer’s block, yet the release of ‘Sign of the Hammer’ later in the same year indicates that it was presumably more due to pressure from the record label, or for financial necessity, to churn these records out in quick succession. ‘Hail to England’ includes a couple of immortal Manowar classics, particularly the first song which still beats anything recorded by Scandinavian Viking metal bands in its short and simple piece of Norse mythology, but for the most part it seems to be a re-tread of the more successful aspects of the first two albums. Still, it’s only fussy people like me who will really be irked by this lack of progress, and for the average Manowar or heavy metal fan this is an enjoyable, if unremarkable and noticeably short, album, and one that can easily be dealt with track-by-track.
1. Blood of My Enemies
2. Each Dawn I Die
3. Kill With Power
4. Hail to England
5. Army of Immortals
6. Black Arrows
7. Bridge of Death
‘Blood of My Enemies’ is the primary reason that I still bother with this album, as it’s one of my favourite Manowar songs. Unlike the previous album, attention seems to have been made to keep the song lengths more acceptable, with the exception of the monster final track, and the shorter, edited style really works to keep this first song from becoming tedious. The chorus is a somewhat surprising mellow sing-along, but incessantly catchy, and Ross “The Boss” puts in some of his best guitar work in the album’s trademark Viking song. ‘Each Dawn I Die’ is less impressive, and begins something of a slump, wrongly placed as a slow song at this early point to suck the energy from the great opener and remaining largely unmemorable even after several listens. The main riff is cool and clanky in the Manowar fashion, accompanied by DeMaio’s bass which is more prominent on this album, but overall this has the unfortunate distinction of being the first Manowar song that can truly be regarded as filler.
‘Kill With Power’ is next, bringing back the speed and attempting to push the heaviness further than before as it approaches thrash metal, but on the whole I find this popular song a little unconvincing, and at times irritating. The customary ridiculous lyrics aside (‘Kill With Power?’), the song sacrifices strong development and interest in the pursuit of this harder edge that it doesn’t quite achieve, due to the slightly weak production values and the musicians’ incompatible playing style, but the greatest annoyance is the irritating whistling effect produced by the guitar after each line of the chorus. It was a nice intention for the band to try to keep up with their country’s thrashers, but ultimately their true home is in pure old British heavy metal, the subject matter of the fourth song, ‘Hail to England,’ which also seems to indicate that they wish to gallop to London Town (as with most Manowar songs, this is set in the past) and claim the throne. Relying on a traditional heavy metal style there really isn’t much that excites me in this one, but the verses possess the great energy of the band on top form, and the unison chanting in the chorus manages to be a vast improvement over that of the horrible ‘Metal Daze’ on the first album. Ross “The Boss” provides a great lead guitar riff that weaves its way around the entire song, and not once is there a rubbish attempt made to play ‘Greensleeves’ or some other song that American people might assume plays over England’s green and pleasant land; Manowar has too much respect.
As usual with Manowar albums, the final few tracks attempt something grander and more eloquent, though in this instance the results are less impressive, sadly forming the weaker half of the material. ‘Army of Immortals’ is the band’s tribute to their fans (they’re big on praise in this album), but only the chorus manages to rise above mediocrity in this re-hash of the previous album’s ideas. Things become really bleak with the return of DeMaio’s bass solo spot, avoided on the previous album but usually a staple of Manowar releases, and ‘Black Arrows’ has the distinction of being the least impressive of the lot. Beginning with a silly spoken word introduction distorted through some gadget or other that will resurface on the final song, DeMaio bellows that each of his notes will be as a black arrow sent straight through the hearts of all those who play false metal. It’s too depressingly awful to even be funny in the way the later ‘Kings of Metal’ album is hilarious, and the next few minutes of discordant bass masturbation should be confined only to the most hardcore DeMaio fan.
Fortunately, ‘Bridge of Death’ brings the quality back towards the end as a grand finale, but doesn’t live up to the high quality of the previous two albums with its crawling pace and lack of real progression. Eric Adams is fantastic in the chorus, holding the high notes with even greater ease than in the last album’s ‘Gates of Valhalla,’ but the return of the distorted voice processor, which sees Adams invocate the power of Satan in an uncharacteristic and pointless move that will only have invited criticism, keeps this from being a truly enjoyable song. It also has nothing to do with Monty Python, which adds to the disappointment.
‘Hail to England’ is one of Manowar’s more well-known, but weaker releases, perhaps viewed as a classic for its fortunate production in the middle of heavy metal’s popularity when people worldwide seemed to crave the generic heavy rock that it offers. The more impressive elements of this album will have gone over such peoples’ heads, but provide the only real reason for me to keep listening to this otherwise forgettable album, contributing ‘Blood of My Enemies’ to the Manowar canon along with a number of comparatively worthless, but nonetheless enjoyable pieces. ‘Sign of the Hammer’ would be released later the same year, and effectively fills in the obvious gaps of this album while managing to be the stronger of the two releases, yet even though many retailers such as Amazon sell these early albums for incredibly low prices of around £3.99 – meaning that they could all be bought to compliment each other for the same price as a single album from another band – it’s still a largely weak effort when viewed in the proper historical context. That said, it’s a whole lot better than some of the rubbish they would release later...