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OK...by Manowar standards this is not quite their greatest effort. But it is still rock solid and still head and shoulders above most of what was out in 1996, since the 90s were a terrible time for metal in general. (I don't wanna hear anybody arguing that point, you WILL lose any debate you initiate with me on the subject.)
The production is better than "Kings Of Metal", in my opinion; much thicker and with more low end than that album. But it still is very clear, with a great drum sound and a meatier bass than before, but it still has that high-end clang you associate with Joey DeMaio. Unfortunately the guitars are not as loud in the mix as I'd like, at least the rhythm tracks are, but Karl Logan still has a damn good tone anyway, nice and crunchy with some subtle effects burnishing the edges. Scott Columbus' heavy handed style is accented perfectly by this big drum sound, making him sound like cannon fire. It's big and loud, but not as overdone as some 80s drum sounds were. Eric's vocals are surprisingly dry on this album with very little ambience, but a great vocalist like him doesn't need much in the way of assistance of that sort.
Performance-wise, I firmly disagree with the last reviewer, as I think Manowar sound like a well-oiled unit running on all cylinders on this album. Karl Logan really tears out of the starting gate on this album whenever solo time comes around, unleashing some pretty terrifying shredding to say the least, especially on "Return of the Warlord", where his solo threatens to spin out of control every second yet he reins it in like the pro he is. Only thing is, I'd like to hear more bluesy finger/wrist vibrato from him as opposed to whacky whammy bar vibrato.
Joey may not be as maniacal as he was on past albums, but he still authoritatively nails it down like few others--most metal bassists just plod along, but he throws in plenty of little fills and chords to show you he's there and he's not just sitting on his ass pedaling the changes. No bass solo, but I'll live. Eric Adams does just fine, injecting even more attitude and style into his inimitable vocals than before. Yes, he is a little more restrained too, but it works for this album, and he gets in his usual screams here and there like on "The Power", and the chorus on "Outlaw". And on "Courage" he sounds just as sensitive and heartfelt as he ever did.
However, for the most part the lyrics are not as inspired as past outings, I will agree on that much. "Return of the Warlord" in particular has some pretty silly and juvenile lyrics, and the following tracks, "Brothers of Metal Pt. I", "The Gods Made Heavy Metal", and "Number One" are not much better, laying on the cliches more than I'd like. I was slightly disappointed by that area of the album. "Outlaw" and "King" fare better, though, and "Courage", while not as inspiring as "Heart Of Steel", still relays its message effectively enough for me. And I could've done without the lengthy instrumental "Today Is A Good Day To Die", as it drags on too long, skilled as Karl is on the guitar front.
The music still shreds and pounds as only Manowar can, however. It still is waaaay better than most of what we call "true" metal these days. This is a more mid tempo album, but blazers like "Outlaw" and "The Power" speed things up a bit and provide some needed variety. I'd still recommend this to many nascent bangers over the latest Lamb of KillSwitch God Forbid clones any day, though "Kings Of Metal", "Sign Of The Hammer", and "Hail To England" will still be the first Manowar albums I recommend to the likes of them anyway. Still worth your time, this one is.