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In the vein of "Hail to England", but worse - 61%

Jophelerx, August 13th, 2012

The sad thing about this album is that, unlike most other Manowar albums, it actually has some pretty good ideas strewn throughout; unfortunately, they're rarely nurtured in a way that would make the songs enjoyable enough to listen to all the way through. Sure, if you cut out all of the quality sections, you might have fifteen minutes, give or take, of good music, but it would hardly be listenable like that. If you expected another Hail to England, you're definitely going to be disappointed, though it does at least have some energy to it, unlike Into Glory Ride.

Two things, at least, are in top form here. The production, unlike that of the previous album, is quite good, with a strong guitar, strong vocals, and nice, solid drums. Adams is, as usual, in top form, sounding just as good as he did on the last three albums (for a more in-depth description of his vocal delivery, check out my review of Hail to England). Unfortunately, this also features one of the biggest faults of HtE; the godawful bass solo. This time titled "Thunderpick", we are once again subjected to three minutes of some of the worst shit ever recorded; just a mishmash of seemingly random notes, strewn together actually somewhat masterfully in the least enjoyable way possible; it actually takes some skill to make something sound this shitty.

Thankfully, the rest of the album isn't quite as abysmal. The rest of the songs basically fall into three categories; crappy AOR a la Battle Hymns, ballads, and decent epic power metal. "All Men Play on 10" and "Animals" fall into the AOR category, with few riffs and boring, poppy vocal lines, these songs have very little substance and elicit very little response. They are entirely skippable, with no redeeming qualities. The ballad of the album is "Mountains", which is also quite skippable, with little energy and plodding, meandering riffs a la Into Glory Ride, although in the ballad's defense there are a few good ideas towards the end of the song, they're just discarded almost as soon as they arrive, discarding any sort of structure in favor of the directionless mess we're presented with.

Finally, there are four songs that don't utterly suck, including one song that is actually excellent. "Guyana (Cult of the Damned)" is decent, a song about Jim Jones and his cult that committed mass suicide via poisoned kool-aid; while the material is interesting, the song is pretty inconsistent. There are epic parts of the song, but ultimately it just sort of drones on; overall it's not particularly good, with few good riffs or vocal lines. The vocals towards the end of the song do have some energy to them, thankfully, but it's not enough to make the song as a whole worthwhile. The title track is of similar quality, with a promising opening but just not enough substance to make it enjoyable overall. "The Oath" is marginally better, with good vocal lines and a slightly more epic orientation, the song is reminiscent of Virgin Steele's The House of Atreus: Act II, albeit a bit worse. However, it's worth at least an occasional listen, has some good soloing, and is mildly enjoyable.

"Thor (The Powerhead)", thankfully, is quite epic, and easily stacks up to the best material on Hail to England. Great riffs, great vocal lines, a great chorus, this song is the epitome of what Manowar should have been, creating a wonderfully glorious atmosphere that leaves the listener wanting more. Unfortunately, even an album of this quality isn't consistent for Manowar, and it would be the last "good" album they would release, before descending into complete and irredeemable shite with the follow-up. Sign of the Hammer marks Manowar's dying breath, although, to be fair, they'd been on the brink of death since they began their incredibly inconsistent journey in 1980. Listen to "The Oath" and "Thor (The Powerhead)", and then go check out some quality epic power like '90's Virgin Steele!

On the Heels of the Gifted - 96%

lonerider, May 25th, 2012

“Sign of the Hammer” is Manowar’s fourth studio album. Incredibly enough, their first four full-lengths were all published in a span of little more than two years and, as a both varied and highly consistent effort, is deserving of the highest praise. In this humble reviewer’s opinion, this is in fact Manowar at their very best, as it stands as one of very few of the band’s albums without any bad songs on it and, beside some very good ones, boasts a number of standout tracks as well, be it the fast and furious title track, the majestic and pounding “Thor (The Powerhead)” or the truly epic “Guyana” and “Mountains”.

Even the prototypical filler track, “Thunderpick”, works much better than most previous or later instrumentals whose sole purpose is really to provide a platform allowing Joey DeMaio to show off his phenomenal bass-playing skills (cf. “William’s Tale” or “Black Arrows”). The reason is that “Thunderpick” actually features some rather catchy passages and, with its unmistakably South American-tinged melodies, makes perfect sense as a kind of overture to the following epic track “Guyana”. In fact, I don’t even see them as two separate tracks but rather consider “Thunderpick” to be the intro to “Guyana”. Consequently, even when I don’t listen to the album as a whole, I hardly ever listen to “Guyana” without playing “Thunderpick” first.

Track number two, “Animals”, features incredibly goofy, sexually charged lyrics but otherwise passes as a solid hard-rocking tune that’s really fun to sing along with. Then again, if you were seriously expecting to find meaningful, thought-provoking or even poetic lyrics on a Manowar album of all places, you must have spent the past thirty years living under some sort of rock. When speaking of lyrics, though, “Sign of the Hammer” nonetheless has to be considered one of Manowar’s best or, if nothing else, least embarrassing efforts. Even the usual self-adulating fare as in “All Men Play on Ten” has a likeable tongue-in-cheek quality to it that makes it a lot more palatable than the many instances when Manowar were seriously touting themselves as THE heaviest, fastest, most brilliant, most uncompromising – in short, most earth-shattering heavy metal band of all time. “Thor (The Powerhead)” is based on Norse mythology, “The Oath” delivers an occult and gore-inspired message and the title track includes some very memorable lines as well. It is the two long tracks, however, which deserve special mention in this regard: as a song title, “Mountains” may sound kind of dumb at first, but the song is not so much about mountaineering or mountains in a physical but more in a metaphorical sense, using mountains as a symbol for human ambition and perseverance. The final track “Guyana (Cult of the Damned)” may even be the band’s best lyrical effort ever, dealing with Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple and the mass suicide of his followers in Guyana in 1978. It is a very sinister subject in and of itself and, knowing what really transpired back in the day, the infamous opening line (“Thank you for the Kool-Aid, Reverend Jim”) is downright creepy. Overall, the song serves as a grim and surprisingly thoughtful tale of blind faith and devotion gone horribly wrong.

The production on “Sign of the Hammer” is nothing to write home about, as it sounds quite dated – this was released in 1984 after all – and more than a little muffled, but it serves as one of those examples where an underwhelming production doesn’t detract from the overall quality of an album but rather lends it some additional charm. This is clearly a product of the eighties musically, so that typical early 1980s sound is only fitting.

The cover artwork is somewhat peculiar, sporting a black hammer symbol (the eponymous sign of the hammer, supposedly) in a white square that is tilted by 45 degrees. The square is placed inside a red box displaying the band logo and name of the album, and that box in turn is set against a background that looks distinctively like tree bark. It is a rather curious design, but it is quite unique and easily beats out the legendary band pictures depicting the guys with loin cloths and swords held high, one of which was even put on the front cover of their second album “Into Glory Ride”.

Since the 1980s were arguably the time when Manowar were at their creative peak and “Sign of the Hammer” is an almost flawless album that may well be their best from that period, I would conclude that it also ranks as Manowar’s best album ever – well, at least in my book. To sum it up briefly, this is a true metal classic and a must-have for every metalhead!

Sounds as strong today as it did 25 years ago - 90%

autothrall, October 22nd, 2009

I've often been critical of Manowar, as I've long considered them both the best and worst practical joke metal music has ever conceived. Unfortunately, the joke is on myself and everyone who has ever questioned them, because metal is decades old now and the absurd stereotypes propagated by Manowar and their peers now dominate the world's mindview of our beloved music, which has been a huge hindrance to its acceptance in culture.

But you know what? Fuck culture. And fuck me. Manowar doesn't give a damn. They love what they do and they have never stopped doing it, regardless of the changing extremity of the genre's landscape around them. And believe it or not, there was a time where I eagerly awaited the band's albums, since they were pretty spotless in the early phase of their career. 1984 was a busy year for the metal gods, releasing two great efforts. Sign of the Hammer was the inferior of the two (I prefer Hail to England, only slightly), but it is not without some impressive, memorable tracks of its own.

Who can ever forget "All Men Play on 10"? As corny as this track might seem on paper, it's the kind of thing I can play for just about any human being and they'll at least smile, if not break into song themselves. That's how you kick off an album, with balls out riffing, blunt lyrics and a chorus to die for. If you want speed and power you've got "Animals" and "The Oath", but the album truly revels in its more 'epic' moments, the huge tracks like "Mountains" or balladry of "Guyana (Cult of the Damned)", perhaps the best metal song about Jim Jones ever?!

Manowar is truly the band to go mainline with all this sword and sorcery shit in metal music. Sure, bands were doing it in the 60s and 70s, but most modern fantasy power metal streams directly from this album (and its immediate family). They were singing generic tributes to the Vikings and Odin long before Amon Amarth picked up a pen and paper. Miraculously, Sign of the Hammer sounds as strong today as it did 25 years ago, with great atmosphere, powerful chugging rhythms and strong leads. If you're just looking to start their catalog, this year is a great bet, for having not one, but two killer records. I hate to sound like a 'born again' fan, but listening to this record in 2009 truly puts things in perspective. Death to false metal indeed.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

Pounding onwards, riding into glory??? - 68%

Eisenhorn, July 16th, 2007

Um no, in a word. Manowar certainly were pounding into glory on the whirlwind created by their earlier releases but it seems that for this release they must have dismounted their horses/bikes/whatevers and started shuffling forwards very slowly. Oh sure there are some points where the band clearly started running and I think they must have caught a high speed train for Mountains but otherwise this is a release clearly lacking in power, might and above all any semblance of glory.

Most of the songs are either dull and forgettable like The Oath which always makes me head straight for the "skip" button on my CD player because of its dull vocals, subdued guitar and boring solo; or just plain bad like Animals which has terrible sex based lyrics, a boring chorus and really, really quiet drumming. Even Thor (the Powerhead) and the title track fail to interest me after just a few plays and those are the type of song that I so enjoy on other Manowar albums, those being the cheesy, fantastical epics.

This time around Joey's solo piece is the vaunted Thunderpick and besides being far too long for its own good and having possibly the lamest name for a track ever it mainly falls flat due to it being so mundane. It really is just wankery with no real direction or catchy rhythm unlike the great William's Tale.

The album does however feature two songs that manage to partially pull it out of the cess pool of it's own existance. These being Guyana (The Cult of the Damned) and Mountains. The former dazles with it's immaculate guitar and bass lines and sumptuous vocals but the albums real centrepiece is Mountains. A beautiful pseudo-ballad that contains great bass work from Joey, inspiring lyrics sung with real emotion and obvious talent from Adams and although the guitar is not up there with Ross' performance in Guyana; Scott Columbus gives a great performance on the drums during the heavier parts of the song.

The main thing that manages to keep the album afloat and still worthy of the Manowar name is quite simply those two songs. The best part is however that those songs are the longest two on the entire album, both coming in at over seven minutes. So thats 14 minutes of sheer musical bliss and about 25 minutes of tat. Considering that it's still 14 minutes of great Manowar and you can pick this album up for a fiver (I did at least) I would still say that this is an album you should own but don't expect to get blown away.

Crush the Infidels in Your Way - 80%

Frankingsteins, July 13th, 2007

The eighties were an incredible and stupid time, though my own memories are admittedly vague and mainly concern Postman Pat and fish paste sandwiches. Heavy metal bands wearing codpieces and singing about historical battles were unusually motivated in their craft, and most managed to consistently release a brand new studio album every single year while also managing to fit in a painstaking world tour to promote the last one. In 1984, Manowar served up two doses of overkill in the form of ‘Hail to England’ and its less well-known successor, ‘Sign of the Hammer.’ While the New Yorkers were obviously heavily driven that year to spread their message of the glory of Vikings and heavy metal, two releases in such a short space of time arouse fears that these records will favour quantity over quality. But could you really get enough Manowar? The answer is clearly no. Shut up.

Manowar is often quite rightly seen as the silliest band of the lot, but these earlier albums are right up there with the best of eighties metal, filled with classic speed assaults and more relaxed and compelling offerings. The band’s penchant for showing off costs their releases a little of their otherwise high quality, particularly noticeable in Joey DeMaio’s trademark bass solo track for each album, but there aren’t many bands that achieved a similarly high level of consistency in the same period. ‘Sign of the Hammer’ is significantly the end of a era for Manowar, before they switched to the major label Atlantic Records and their more polished and commercially viable tirades against ‘false metal’ sell-outs took on a decidedly hypocritical side. Coming in at the tail-end of an exhaustive period that saw the band’s sound become increasingly epic and its subject matter more fantastical, this album is at once a satisfying culmination of all the disparate Manowar elements, summoned into a final desperate and somewhat knackered charge.

In terms of theme, Manowar’s first album featured songs about (in order) bikes, heavy metal, juvenile independence, Vietnam, the glory of Manowar and the glory of battle. Afterwards, the laughable focus on heavy metal and the band itself remained a staple, but the contemporary political angle was increasingly replaced with more epic songs about Conan the Barbarian-style fantasy battles and the violent side of Viking mythology. ‘Sign of the Hammer’ returns to the more mixed focus of the first album, with the classic final song referring specifically to the 1978 mass suicide of the Jonestown cult, balanced out by an opening song about the band itself that can’t help but be reminiscent of Spinal Tap and the by-now customary Viking song ‘Thor (The Powerhead),’ which is fittingly apt for the band’s last great album in dealing with the prophesied end of Viking civilisation when the gods will fight the giants.

The production quality of this album is unfortunately a little inferior to its predecessors, perhaps revealing a rushed nature to this second recording of the year, and it doesn’t help that attention is drawn that way in the opening ‘All Men Play on 10,’ as Eric Adams condemns his contemporaries in other bands that settle for ‘a sound that’s real thin.’ All Manowar albums thus far have begun with a fast and upbeat metal anthem such as this, and although it’s undeniably cool in the 80s metal fashion, it doesn’t really stand out against the competition, but the main guitar riff is distinctive and memorable. Its successor ‘Animals’ is an unfortunate piece of very early filler that manages to be fast and full of energy, but isn’t really about anything significant, and sounds more like KISS than anything. At only three and a half minutes it’s not long enough to become tedious or a problem, but the album really needed a stand-out track at this early point to win the listener over, and sadly this isn’t it. It’s a shame, as the mediocre song, which isn’t helped by its arbitrary thematic title, is the precursor to a very solid half-hour of Manowar at its finest, interrupted only by DeMaio’s inevitable bass session at the penultimate track.

The afore-mentioned ‘Thor (The Powerhead)’ starts things off brilliantly, a five minute mini-epic that remains exciting throughout. Ross “The Boss” excels at guitar, from the opening riffs to the long and very cool solo, backed up by Scott Columbus with some of his best drum work and the always reliable bass clunk of DeMaio. As they achieved with the astounding ‘Blood of My Enemies’ on the previous album, the band manages to evoke the ancient Viking landscape with all the atmosphere of a film score, but without having to rely on external gimmicks such as a keyboard or the orchestration that pervades their more recent work. In this respect, there’s a clear link between songs like ‘Thor,’ ‘Blood of My Enemies’ and the title track, discussed later, and the later ‘Viking metal’ genre pioneered by Bathory and other Scandinavian black metal artists. It may seem ludicrous to newcomers on first listen, but Manowar’s music has had far-reaching implications across the board, explaining why so many black, death, symphonic and power metal bands have covered their work.

Despite the foreboding generality of a title similar to that of ‘Animals,’ ‘Mountains’ proves to be the far more impressive of the two, and is executed at a far slower pace. DeMaio’s bass provides the rhythm while Ross “The Boss” is free to exude some atmospheric minimalism with his down-tuned guitar, never striving for the soaring melodies of other bands, only becoming prominent and heavy in the slow choruses. Eric Adams’ triumphal vocals are punctuated by drumming in a sequence that’s a little over the top, but should just be enjoyed for the optimistic ‘feel-good’ anthem that it is. Unfortunately, this is the one song on the album that outstays its welcome, somehow lasting past seven minutes without much variation, aside from a pleasant atmospheric section led by the bass in the middle. A cacophonous riff breaks the silence at the end as ‘Sign of the Hammer’ begins, another great battle anthem that seems thematically linked to ‘Thor,’ but only as much as any of Manowar’s battle songs are related to each other. The pace is relentless and exhausting, not up to the impossible heights later set by death metal but beating all of the band’s contemporaries, and Adams screams along very satisfyingly above the pounding instruments in the chorus. It’s a shame, really, that a couple of minutes weren’t transferred from ‘Mountains’ to this one, but that probably would have ruined things.

‘The Oath’ suffers a little from its position so late in the album as it doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t been heard a little better elsewhere, but it’s essential listening for Eric Adams going even more out of control than he did on the previous song, and for approaching the thrash metal of the band’s earlier ‘Kill With Power.’ The main riff is memorable, and if this had opened the album it would be a Manowar classic, rather than the second rate song it’s relegated to at track six. Afterwards, it’s bass solo time again with the standable ‘Thunderpick,’ a little longer than DeMaio usually puts us through but apparently a rhythm of his own devising this time, rather than a butchering of a classical piano melody. The one advantage of this song, which is at the same time a little irritating, is that its conclusion really does lead perfectly into ‘Guyana (Cult of the Damned),’ making that final song sound a little incomplete without it. ‘Guyana’ is similar to ‘Mountains’ in its reflective and atmospheric sound, but this time builds brilliantly over the first minutes with Adams’ sinister thanks echoing over a marching drum-beat leading to the inevitable moment of mass suicide and the song’s bitter finale. It’s not a subject matter Manowar are more remembered for, and seems very tucked away at the end of this comparatively obscure album, but it’s among their better songs from the period.

Overall, ‘Sign of the Hammer’ tries to be something of a reworking of the first album aided by several years’ worth of valuable experience, but it falls a little flat. The debut album worked so well for beginning with very traditional Motörhead/Judas Priest hard rock and moving towards the grander and more original epic style towards the end, the style that would dominate the next two albums and the majority of this release. ‘Sign of the Hammer’ struggles to recapture that innocent simplicity in the first two songs, but the band no longer seem confident in the stripped down approach. It’s just as well, because epic territory is where they always excelled the best, and ‘Thor (The Powerhead),’ ‘Sign of the Hammer,’ ‘The Oath’ and ‘Guyana (Cult of the Damned)’ stand proudly alongside songs from the earlier albums such as ‘Dark Avenger,’ ‘Battle Hymn,’ ‘Blood of My Enemies,’ ‘Army of the Immortals’ and the entire ‘Into Glory Ride’ album (bet you can’t wait for that review) as the band’s finest work.

The question remains whether more patience that year would have resulted in a single, highly consistent album in the vein of ‘Into Glory Ride,’ rather than this mostly good album and the fairly mediocre ‘Hail to England.’ It’s probable that some of the more throwaway songs on both would have been discarded in favour of putting more work into the better ones, but that would mean essentially losing all the enjoyable rubbish and not gaining very much for songs like ‘Thor’ which the band couldn’t conceivably improve. It’s probably for the best that ‘Hail to England’ was rushed out when it was so that work could begin on its more worthwhile predecessor, it’s probably just a case of the band being too impatient to wait around perfecting things when they’re all ready to go. Either way, Manowar wouldn’t release another album for a comparatively astonishing three years, after which things would never be quite so good again...

Hell yes. - 80%

caspian, November 8th, 2006

The whole Barbarian metal thing is awesome, as long as you're not ironic about it. (Well, I don't know any Ironic barbarian metal bands, but I'm sure there are tonnes...). If you're going to do something, do it all the way, and it will be cool. Manowar are an example of this. It would be easy to diss these guys, but these guys' seriousness and just general hardcore-ness makes it awesome, and while some people will laugh about bands like Manowar, they'd never do it to their faces.

For people who have a passing familiarity with Manowar, the image might turn you off the music before you give it a listen. Don't worry though, it's not as bad as you might imagine. For the most part, Manowar deal in a highly listenable brand of big speed metal riffs, strong, operatic vocals, and big wanky guitar and bass parts. The song that really says all about this band would be the title track. The title track shows you everything that is awesome about Manowar. Check these lyrics:

Onward pounding into glory ride
Sign of the hammer be my guide
Final warning all stand aside
Sign of the hammer it's my time

Seriously, those are great lyrics. It's big, it's epic and it's metal as. While there's few places quite as stirring and anthemic as that bit, there's tonnes of awesome riffs and huge solos for you to enjoy. The Oath has some great proto thrash riffing, All Men Play on 10 has some hilarious (if awesome) lyrics and some pretty cool solos and riffs, and Mountain is a ballad that doesn't suck, which is pretty surprising. There's some pretty cool mellow parts, and it's done pretty tastefully. It was a very pleasant surprise, and proof that these guys can write killer songs.

I guess the one thing that lets this album down a bit is the production. Basically, for this kind of stuff you need thick and chunky production. Unfortunately the bass tones are real thin and the guitars don't have enough power in the mix. It's not the end of the world by any means, but it's a pity. On another note, the subject matter of Guyana (Cult of the Damned) is really weird for Manowar, and it's not really all that great a song. Manowar didn't quite have enough for a full album, I think, with a few of the songs being a bit below the mark.

In the end, this is a solid and thoroughly entertaining album. It's not an amazing work of art that will change your life, but chances are you'll love it and be headbanging along to it in no time, particularly the massive, epic title track. Extremely entertaining and epic. Highly recommended.

One of their best, a must have for epic metal fans - 96%

Lennert, May 9th, 2006

Most people who call Manowar boring and cliche seem to forget they are still in possesion of four of the best heavy metal albums, being Battle Hymns, Into Glory Ride, Hail to England and Sign of the Hammer. Now Sign of the Hammer seems to be forgotten by most of the fans I know, which I think is a great shame.

The album opens with All Men play on 10, which is a good song and a lot better than Blow your Speakers from the Fighting the World album. The lyrics are fun and the music is solid slow-paced heavy metal the way it's supposed to be. The next song Animal speeds everything up and will manage to get your head banging. It's definitly the least good song on the album, but it still stands strong on it's own. I compare it most of the time with Fight Tooth and Nail by Virgin Steele.

From these two songs on everything gets only better and better. Thor the Powerhead is a classic headbanger in the same way as Revelation and Blood of my Enemies. It's epic, fast and has some great vocal and basswork. Mountains is a ballad which doesn't get boring or gay at all, it has an atmosphere of greatness all over it. Eric Adams sounds like a God in the same way only people like Dio or David Defeis can sound like.

The speed returns with Sign of the Hammer and The Oath, which are both really cool fast metal tracks like Kill with Power from Hail to England. Thunderpick is a bassolo, and whether you like it or not (I do), I think it's one of the best Joey ever played. Then comes Guyana (cult of the damned) to close the album. Once again all the right ingredients are here: the astonishing vocal work, the incredible bassplay, smashing drumwork and a great guitarsolo.

I don't know if I like Into Glory ride more than Sign of the Hammer, but I do know these two albums are by far the best and interesting they ever released. If you want to know where bands like Wotan got their inspiration from, you should buy them both. In fact, I like to stress this to be a 'buy or die' release. Case closed.

Once more has both the good and the bad - 70%

Wez, November 7th, 2004

Right, okey, this is Manowar, which usually indicates we're in for a bumpy ride. Or at least I am, there seem to be overwhelming amounts of reviews by those who have been taken over by their evil spell and are positively ejaculating over the band whilst typing their reviews. Therefore making the keys "s", "u", "c" and "k" so stuck down that it is practically impossible for them to actually tell the truth concerning the band...

...I jest (in part), for Manowar can really pull it off to almost perfection at times, and this album certainly does have its strong moments. Eric Adams is again wailing his battle cries out with pride and passion, which is something I can't fault him for really. He still has a unique set of pipes which don't really bring to mind anybody else and are instantly identifiable. This album also gives Ross the Boss the chance to indulge more and lead guitar is given a better workout than on the previous album of the same year, Hail to England. While that album has more of a firmly consistent feel to it, opting for the straight up headbanging anthems, this one jumps around and tries to pull off more epic atmospheric pieces, and occassionally the riffs seem get lost in the mix. The title track is a good example of the effects of that, while a decent song, it's not a match for the mighty pillars to each side of it. The first two songs are really the throwaway ones for me, though while "All Men Play on Ten" has its sing-a-long vibe and a monster of a chorus, it isn't one of Manowar's best odes to the greatness of metal, Kings of Metal far surpasses it. "Animals" is a dirty rocker that seems to fail to make much of an impression despite some attempt to get back my attention with a blistering solo.

Then with "Thor (The Powerhead)" things really get cooking and we get a majestic, over the top song that I would think of what Manowar should be doing. But sadly, what this band is capable of and what they actually turn out with are two entirely different things, which is why I'm not crazily headbanging along to every second of this disc! But "Mountains" comes in and continues on the quality of the last track, but tries to build up the mood to boiling point. There's plenty going on here, but the heavy headbanging riffs are a bit scarcer and the atmospheric clean guitars and bass lead it on for most of the way. But it definitely creates that great sense of power and all the pieces fit well together. I defy anyone not to raise their fist proudly when Eric screams out "I have no fear!!!" Now moving past the already examined title track which kind of seems to work but the production makes the riffs disappear a bit, and onto another winner "The Oath". This is basically back to the anthemic Manowar of "Thor...", music to ride into battle by, with some incredibly untamed leads topped all off with in fine style with another bombastic chorus. These songs aren't necessarily the greatest heavy metal has to offer, but they are nice to hear from the often inconsistent Manowar, and are solidly written and played with buckets full of passion and conviction. Which is what I can give these songs the most credit for, even if they are lacking in some departments.

Blah, in we come with the most pointless bit of the album, the obligatory bass solo. "Thunderpick" is another three minutes of bass wankery, which is probably wholey unnecessary with zero direction. Skip it, because the best bit is yet to come. Guyana (Cult of the Damned) basically takes all the better ideas from the album and sticks them all together to make up the album's second "big epic". Starting off with the clean and acoustic guitars along with the bass leading onwards with a more subdued less pronounced and over the top way than usual. It then as is expected explodes into the album's best riffs and sense of where it's going. Although I think the chorus is overplayed a bit, it still does a good job of humbling pretty much all the other songs here. While this is no Hail to England, they still get things right enough to warrant some good amount of interest and will be another good slab of Manowar for fans of the band. Unfortunately containing some definite throwaways and a bit of a weak and at other times odd production that holds it down.

The riffs disappear, but now we get solos. - 79%

Kanwvlf, July 25th, 2004

The first thing I though after listening to the first few notes of this album was: 'Where have the riffs gone?' As they seem to have disappeared into a mess of fuzzy distortion, which is a huge shame, as the last album had great riffs. You could tell they would've been great on here, if it wasn't for the huge mess they did.

The vocals are still great, especially the scream at the beginning of Animals, but they seem to sound strangely hollow, and still don't really fit into any of the songs.

The solos are definately more impressive than ever, being major wank-fests most of the time, but really fitting the songs. By the time you get to Mountains, the riffs seem to have pulled out of their fuzzy sound, and become more clear. You can't really tell on this song, though, as it's a clean ballad, with barely any riffs at all.

But, just when you though all was good, Sign Of The Hammer gets drowned in total fuzz, apart from the solo which rockets above the song. Manowar can't seem to make any fully consistent albums.

Thunder Pick is another amazing bass solo, showing off the skill of the band members. They really don't need to do this anymore, as it was done enough across the first three albums. Guyana is another epic album ender, but it's the best I've heard from Manowar. A bass heavy introduction leads into one of Manowar's best songs, and some of the best vocals on any Manowar album.

Sentimental Value - 95%

corviderrant, April 7th, 2004

This was the first Manowar album I ever bought (on vinyl, I still have it, on 10 Records, a subsidiary of Virgin at the time), after hearing "Thor, The Powerhead" on my fave college radio metal show. And this still holds a powerful amount of sentimental value for me. The production is clear and powerful, and all parties put on their customary excellent performances--I think that "Thunderpick" is one of Joey's best recorded solos and I love how smoothly it segues into "Guyana, Cult of the Damned" without a hitch.

"Thor, The Powerhead" is one of the all time best Manowar tunes for me, with its dramatic verses, anthemic chorus, and that devastating, noisy ending with Eric holding that incredible high scream for over a minute (!!!), and I like how the emotional "Mountains" is dedicated to Joey's late father, in a rare show of sensitivity for him. The rest of the album is outstanding as well, especially "Guyana, Cult of the Damned" about the Jim Jones religious cult and Eric's chililng screams of "MOTHER! MOTHER!! MOTHERRRRRR!!!!!" at the end will make your hair stand on end. A thundering anthem that is one of their best, in my book along with "Thor...", this one is.

If you are getting into Manowar, you need this album. Along with "Hail to England", "Kings of Metal", and "Triumph of Steel", it is one of their very best opuses.

as usual, some greatness, some garbage - 71%

Abominatrix, November 19th, 2003

Ultraboris pretty much nailed this band when he said they were inconsistent. So far, the only Manowar album I've heard that I've appreciated and felt moved by all the way through was "Hail to England". Apparently, "Sign of the hammer" was recorded at around the same time as that other album, and, though it's not nearly universally brilliant, offers a few pretty good stompers and epics. I am afraid that what we might have hear is "Load/Reload" syndrome, in that these perhaps were songs that didn't quite make the cut of the original album, but I don't know enough about Manowar's history to say whether this is true. Certainly this album lacks the true anthemic classics that "Hail to England" has got, with the notable acception of "Thor: The Powerhead", but there are at least four great songs here, which for Manowar ain't too bad.

"All Men Play On Ten" rules. I don't care for some of Manowar's "heavy metal anthems", but this is simply the shit. It starts out with a cutting, pounding riff..and the verses give Eric adams full reign to sing about how he'll never turn down low to make money, etc, etc. It's very singable, and catchy, and you'll soon forget your shame and belt out the lyrics along with Mr. Adams. Manowar have stuck to their guns, too, despite how utterly vapid their latest album seems to be. "Thor", as previously mentioned, might be the album's highlight…more utterly great vocal melodies and some really nice pounding drum work. "Mountains", is a ballad…but a very solid one at that. Eric adams delivers one of his least pretentious and most stirring performances during the verses, and the twanging, scintillating bass effects (for want of a better description) are nicely evocative. Massive, proud chorus too, which everyone should agree is something Manowar does best. "Guyana (Cult of the Damned) seems to be kind of legendary among fans, but like "Sign of the Hammer", I think it's only a decent track. Spot the "Star Spangled Banner" melody in this song and win a prize.
What about the overwrought garbage? Oh, that would be a real dud of a song called "Animals", with some stupid oversexed lyrics, and no riff to speak of, and a chorus that is lame and repetitive. Then there's "Thunderpick", three and a half minutes of bullshit bass wankery courtesey of Joey DeMaio, who must have run out of ideas for classical pieces to mutilate this time, as he seems to be trying to emulate the dead-end noodling that can be found on the first King Crimson album or something. "The Oath"?…perfectly forgettable..not despicable but harmless and rather boring.

Really, I think it's Eric adams' vocals that make this album. That, and the true heavy metal attitude, although it still sounds better on "Hail to England". If you're a fan of Adams' singing, some of his best is on here, complete with those trademark piercing wail/shrieks that he always manages to make sound exactly the same every time he does them, which is somehow admirable. Now that that's over with, my one question is, why doesn't the band ever play "Thor (The Powerhead)" in concert?