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Admittedly, Manowar are a hugely influential band on modern power and epic heavy metal, with various bands, such as Enchanter, Wizard, Twisted Tower Dire, and Valkyrie, drawing influence. Releasing the epic metal anthem "Battle Hymn" in 1981, there is no denying the fact that they were quite groundbreaking in their early years. However, groundbreaking does not amount to excellent, which is something they certainly weren't. Generally putting out only two or three good songs an album, they were more than likely successful because the vast majority of listeners are only interested in hearing one or two great songs and then singing the band's praises. I mean, take a look at Painkiller, one of Judas Priest's most successful albums. Fans listened to the fantastic opening track and then started unabashedly jerking off to the album, unaware that the rest of the songs were mundane mediocrities. I won't go into even more popular bands, such as Metallica, because that would in fact be unfair to Manowar, who, despite being overrated, do have a small collection of quality songs.
However, thankfully, this album was something of an exception to the rule; while far from masterful, it manages to contain less filler than most of their albums, instead bringing in the useless drivel in more conservative doses - but don't be fooled, it definitely still has a presence here. It's just overshadowed by the more solid numbers.
The best thing about Manowar is unequivocally Eric Adams. In the '80s he was at the top of his game, and this album his no exception. His strong, clear, slightly screechy tone is only outmatched by his absurdly impressive range. A common comparison is one between Adams and Virgin Steele frontman David DeFeis; however, I don't really see the similarity. While both of the respective bands play epic heavy/power metal (at least at, they did at some point in their career), Adams' screechy belting is quite different from any of DeFeis' various styles of delivery, which range from barbaric roars to sensual croons. Both are talented, but quite different from each other. In truth, Adams' delivery is actually pretty unique - I haven't really heard that screechy quality in any other metal vocalists, although if you remove it he sounds pretty similar to Brian David Osborne, of the relatively obscure band Enchanter, who, as I mentioned earlier, took quite a bit of influence from Manowar. For the vast majority of you who probably haven't heard Enchanter (although you should, as they're excellent), the closest comparison I can make is to combine the more raspy, aggressive performance of some of your earlier heavy metal and NWOBHM vocalists (David Potter of Cloven Hoof, for example) with the range and clean operatic style of Geoff Tate and his many, many imitators. It's not a great comparison, but Adams is, as I said, pretty damn unique.
The first complaint here is the production. While not fuzzy or buggy at all, which, for 1984, is something of an accomplishment in itself, the guitar tone is fairly tinny and low in the mix, while the most prominent instrument is the bass. I'm not sure why that is, as the bass lines are pretty simple and the songwriting definitely puts the emphasis on the guitar riffs, but that's how it is. Still, the album is far from unlistenable, and it's more of a slight annoyance than a real hindrance to the album's enjoyment. The second complaint is, of course, the songwriting. While more consistent than anything else they've done, they still manage to put in two mediocre songs ("Kill With Power" and "Each Dawn I Die"), as well as one pile of steaming dog shit (aka "Black Arrows").
However, for a band so mired in utter mediocrity and pointlessness, they have managed to progress their sound quite a bit over only three albums. The debut was traditional hard rock/heavy metal, Into Glory Ride was a more epic, doomier affair, while Hail to England incorporates quite a bit of power metal - in fact, I'd call it predominantly power. Glorious, catchy, and midpaced, it's a style of power that would be often imitated - and, in this case, just as often surpassed. Okay, I was half-joking there, as highlights like the excellent title track, complete with rousing chorus, and the mysterious, desperate, slowly building "Blood of My Enemies" are certainly pretty difficult to compare to. "Army of the Immortals" is pretty good, too, with solid riffs, if a bit oft repeated, and Adams' equally repetitive vocal lines get annoying after about the first go-round. However, the good qualities of the song outweigh the annoyances, so I guess you could say that this song is pretty representative of the album as a whole - annoying at times, but decent.
Of course, there are other songs here that quite a few bands have already succeeded in surpassing; "Each Dawn I Die" starts off with a shitty riff accompanied by equally shitty harsh vocals, and doesn't improve much from there. There are a few decent sections, but not enough to save the song from utter mediocrity, while "Kill With Power" does manage to be slightly better, although the intro and chorus are quite awful. "Black Arrows" is in a realm of its own, with a stupid attempt at a cool intro that just descends into completely abysmal guitar wankery that a 12-year-old in his bedroom could surpass without trying to (not in technical skill, obviously, but certainly in the level of enjoyment I could get from it).
"Bridge of Death", on the other hand, is an interesting album epic, that is in fact quite good, although a bit different from the other songs presented here. It opens with a tremolo riff, which, combined with the Satanic lyrics, could be argued to be a precursor to black metal. Now, I'm not sure how many black metal bands were actually directly influenced by this song, but it does make for an interesting juxtaposition; while probably more influential on the black metal scene, than say, Mercyful Fate (I'm still not sure why so many people claim it was such a huge influence on BM), I'm sure it wasn't nearly as groundbreaking as Venom's Welcome to Hell. Even so, it's definitely an enjoyable song, and in '84, a bit darker than the norm for heavy metal bands, with the long, progressive structure resembling a descent into Hades itself (the spoken word part is especially cool). The Christmas-themed bells at the end are a little bit of a head-scratcher, but ultimately the song is quite good, keeping the listeners attention despite being nine minutes long.
Ultimately, the album definitely isn't bad, and if the only comparison to make were of Manowar's other albums, it would be a masterpiece. However, there are many, many other bands out there better than Manowar, and as it stands, this is not among the most impressive of albums, though, it does do well for the most part, and, if you skip the three shitty songs, it can be quite enjoyable (just listen to "Army of the Immortals" in small doses). Up to this album, Manowar had been consistently improving...if only they had improved some more, perhaps they would have been worthy of the praise they constantly receive.