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More duct tape, Igor! The cheeses are escaping! - 92%

Napero, March 23rd, 2010

Kings of Metal is a completely goofy jumble of poppy stuff, and objectively, it should fall apart at the seams. But it doesn't. And while, objectively, it should be annoying as hell in its poppiness and cheesy contrived character, it's not. What it is, however, is something Igor collected and Herr Doktor assembled. It's not pretty, but it's catchier than Ebola and powerful enough to tip over a 2005 Smart Roadster. Igor collected some mighty fine parts on his nightly treks, it's Herr Doktor's aesthetic eye that failed... but no worries, that's a classical origin for a good story!

A quick census on the tracklist is quite enough to show the impossibility of finding any logic on the album. On the european CD version, with the annoying "Pleasure Slave" included, the progression of the tracklist follows a path not unlike the EKG of a middle-aged man in the throes of a "widowmaker" class cardiac arrest:

Traditional metal song
-> Hard rock tune
-> Extra cheesy anthemic masterpiece
-> Silly bass instrumental completely unconnected to the rest of the album
-> Another extra cheesy anthemic masterpiece
-> Heavy metal tune with an unsuccessful dash of epic
-> Annoying attempt at appearing sexy/controversial
-> Excellent heavy metal piece
-> Annoying spoken story, theoretically worth two listens several decades apart
-> Traditional metal tune...

Yup, someone forgot to take his ADHD medication. This album bounces around completely devoid of logic, any kind of comprehensible story, or creative restraint whatsoever. It goes wherever it feels like going, and appears to be a kind of contraption build from the contents of the "discards" box in the corner of the room; the only common theme is the mild reek of cheese lingering in the room, and a culinarist into this kind of cuisine is absolutely thrilled. Rearranging the tracks might have resulted in a more logical entity, by simply placing the anthemic stuff on one side; remember, this is a product of the late vinyl age. However, that would also have created a divided album, and most people would probably only listen to one of the sides. There would be the cheesy, anthemic side with "Heart of Steel", "Crown and the Ring", "Hail and Kill" and "The Warrior's Prayer", and another cheesy, rocking metal side with the rest of the tracks. And the choice would be yours: which one to love and which one to forget completely?

"The Warrior's Prayer" takes the cake among the cheesier parts on the album, and lacks any replay value... until you run into a person who has heard it several hundred times, and recites it word-for-word after seven pints while you wait for a gig to start... And suddenly, behold! There's a crowd of a dozen people around, all paying more attention than they should, having overheard the familiar words, some of them timidly joining the recital, only to disperse among the gig audience once the story is over and the short moment of unity has passed. While there's every reason to say that the album would be much better without it, the tale does have its own kind of Cheddar-smelling value.

The other oddities on the album are "Sting of the Bumblebee" and "Pleasure Slave". "Bumblebee" is one of those wheels of cheese that end up on albums all across the metal spectrum, despite the fact that they have absolutely NO connecting factors whatsoever with the rest of the songs, only because they seem so utterly brilliant and totally über-cool when they are recorded, and simply can't be left out, man. It has the sting of Stilton emanating from it, fortunately. "Pleasure Slave", on its turn, tries and fails in what Teräsbetoni's "Orjatar" and Spinal Tap's "Sex Farm Woman" (especially the soul version found on Back from the Dead) succeed in doing. It lacks the necessary dosage of Roquefort, and doesn't appear either anthemic, funny, or self-parody: it just fails, and the fact that it's essentially a bonus track proves the band originally agreed, at least on some level.

If the three oddities and misteps of the album are half failure and half brilliance, the basic metal tracks are reliable stuff, and "Hail and Kill" and "Kingdom Come" even manage to be bloody good. They do smell of Gouda, of course, but not of the supermarket variety. No, these pieces of coagulated udder sweat have been stored in great, chilly halls in a castle on a mountain, and brushed weekly with red wine by a brotherhood of warrior-cheesemaker monks, until their crusts are of the finest royal purple and pleasurable to caress. Maybe "Blood of the Kings" slips into singing praise to the scene, and perhaps "Kings of Metal" could sound more like the metal it is in its core, than the hard rock its crust resembles, but they still deliver good, basic Manowar. With cheese.

And finally, the finest of the fine, the anthems that reek of Limburger, flow like Camembert in room temperature, and have the fine texture of an aged black label Emmental. "Heart of Steel" is one of a handful of songs ever written that actually works based on vocals and piano alone in the context of a metal album, even if only partially, and the restraint the band shows once it turns into an actual anthem is remarkable. "Crown and the Ring" is the equivalent of Old Chimay trappist cheese, and with its characteristic pseudo-choral arrangement, combined with the pipe organ sound and almost symphonic spices, creates a feel of a great hall in a cathedral of the protective saints of cheesemakers.

Yes, even if the cardboard box has been damaged by moisture, and needs a crapload of duct tape to hold all the assorted cheeses inside, it still stays together, and holds a special place in the minds of a lot of metalheads who found their true calling in the latter half of the 80s. The cheeses in the box have been designed for maximum financial gain, and the makers have obviously aimed for optimized mixture of radio-friendly songs and memorable anthems. What they created was Frankenstein's Roquefort Golem, a laboring and insane construction showing no trace of intelligent design, little purpose, and made of tons of living cheese. Just a few bits and bites are bad, and the towering colossus seems to work, against all odds and logic.

Perhaps the years and memories have grown fine, blue veins of Penicillium glaucum onto Kings of Metal, and the sheer force of nostalgia makes the mind like this album more than it should deserve. Perhaps it really is the mosty commercial piece of metal ever produced. But... whatever! It never slips into industrial processed cheese, and all of it is manufactured by manual labour. For the old rats, this is a bait that draws them close to the stereo, and it seems to work across the field of metal. If you wish to try it, just learn "The Warrior's Prayer" by heart, and start reciting it word-for-word on a gig with metalheads in their 30s in the audience. If you don't get at least a few approving smiles, you must live in a place where cheese itself is illegal.

Don't take Manowar too seriously; it's highly likely that Manowar does not take Manowar too seriously.