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Manowar have always been a band torn between two identities. On the one hand, clad in furs and wielding swords and axes, they have been one of the pioneering and most important epic metal groups ever. On the other hand, dressed in leather and riding motorbikes, they have been a rather narcissistic band that impersonated the ideals of rock n’ roll.
During the band’s four first albums, the epic / heroic identity was apparently dominant. However, when “Fighting The World” came out in 1987, it seemed that the rock n’ roll / mucho identity had gotten the best of the group. “Fighting The World” consisted mostly of light and commercial tracks, which lyrically focused mainly on Manowar’ s physical and musical abilities, rather than the heroic feats of savage warriors. In general terms, the fans of the band disapproved of this new approach and that was reflected on their attitudes towards the album, which is considered to be Manowar’ s weakest effort to date.
“Fighting The World” ’ s follow up, “Kings Of Metal”, was released in 1988 and hailed by many as Manowar’ s return to form. The epic element was obviously dominant again, and the group’ s playing had become as tough and cruel as it used to be. Nevertheless, things were more complicated than they appeared. It might be true that “Kings Of Metal” sounded more aggressive than “Fighting The World”, yet the former should not be viewed as a significant improvement from the latter. Rather, it is more of a natural successor, the next step in a declining course within the band’ s career.
In any case, let’ s not jump into conclusions about the album’ s quality: “Kings Of Metal” is far better than “Fighting The World” and indeed has many strong moments. “The Crown And The Ring” is an excellent symphonic track, with a chorus that gives you shivers. Furthermore, it is very original, in a sense that it is something Manowar had never tried before. “Hail And Kill” and “Blood Of The Kings”, despite their flaws, are good and enjoyable aggressive tracks that manage to raise the adrenaline level. Finally, “Heart Of Steel” is a touching and pleasant to hear ballad, even though it’ s not close to what was generally expected from Manowar until then.
However, “Kings Of Metal” unfortunately sounds somehow disappointing at times. The main reason behind this could be attributed to the fact that the rock n’ roll / mucho identity still dominates Manowar’s music. As a result, the band manages to compose some aggressive and brutal tracks, yet the aggressiveness these tracks contain sounds somewhat hollow and fake, being the product of Manowar’s desire to show off, rather than their eagerness to praise the noble deeds of legendary heroes. This drawback constitutes the central argument that explains why “Hail And Kill” and “Wheels Of Fire” could be considered rather good, yet not excellent songs. In a similar vein, as far as “Pleasure Slave” and “Kings Of Metal” are concerned, their childish and simplistic approaches, both musically and lyrically, easily render them two of the worst tracks the band had conceived until then. Finally, “Kingdom Come” seems to be the trivial successor to “Carry On”, whereas “Blood Of The Kings” would be much more appreciated, had it not been for its totally pointless last part, where every member of the band seems to try to do anything possible to destroy his equipment.
Another quite disappointing aspect of “Kings Of Metal” could be summarised in Eric Adams’ performance. Up until “Sign Of The Hammer”, Adams had been an extremely passionate and flawlessly theatrical performer, doubtlessly one of the most complete epic metal vocalists there ever existed. Nevertheless, from “Fighting The World” and onwards, his vocals seem to get influenced by the general show - off tendencies of Manowar’s music and he loses the noble feeling he had so successfully mastered until then. Thus, he ends up developing a seemingly cruel approach, employing an increased number of screams and a “bad guy” attitude that sounds totally hollow. However, in order to avoid generalisations, one should point out that “Kings Of Metal” holds one of Adams’ best performances with Manowar, and that performance is the symphonic “The Crown And The Ring”, where Adams proves that he can still be an excellent singer when he wishes to.
In short, after the disappointment of “Fighting The World”, “Kings Of Metal” was considered to be a return to the old days for Manowar, yet it is questionable whether it deserves this characterisation. “Triumph Of Steel”, which followed, turned out to be a slight improvement, yet it was more than apparent that Manowar were gradually falling into decadence and, unfortunately, they seemed neither willing, nor capable of recovering.