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Manowar did something groundbreaking in 1984 that few if any metal bands had done before; they released two albums in one year. The biggest difference between the two albums is the change of record label, the production and the type of songs. Manowar, for some strange reason, signed with the unknown label 10 Records when they recorded this album and this is probably the reason why this album is the hardest to get ahold of
The production is an improvement over the production of the previous album "Hail to England" since this album wasn't recorded and mixed in such a haste. The bass is still the most up front instrument just like it was on "Hail to England". The guitar is a little bit less muddy, Eric's vocals are very high up in the mix and the drums doesn't have that proto-black metal drum sound like they had on the previous album
The last big difference is in the songs. While "Hail to England" was a very epic proto-power/thrash metal album, "Sign of the Hammer" is more mixed. We have pretty straight heavy metal/hard rock numbers such as "All Men Play on 10" and "Animals", we have epic fanfares such as "Thor", "Mountains" and the closer "Guyana". And we also have two thrash songs in the form of "The Oath" and the title track. This diversity makes this album a bit superior to "Hail to England" IMO
"All Men Play on 10" is Manowar's only traditional metal praising song on this album, except that they don't mention the word 'metal'! 'Metal' is instead replaced by 'rock n roll', which is pretty odd. The opening riff is classic and pretty groovy and the chorus is catchy is hell with the vocal layers. But Ross' guitar solos is pretty weird, and so are Eric's vocals during the verses, but I can't put my finger on what it is
"Animals" is the worst song IMO. The lyrics reek of hair metal and the song isn't all that catchy except for the chorus
"Thor" is what most fans consider to be this album's best song. I can't really agree with that (my favourite is "Guyana"), but it is nonetheless kickass. The chorus is infectitious as hell, as are the verses with the choir vocals in the background. The short thrashy instrumental section is also brilliant as hell. Not to mention Eric's scream at the end!
"Mountains" is the first Manowar song that can be seen as a ballad. Joey's bass solo sets the mood very good, as does the keyboard sounds that appears near the end of the intro. Eric's vocals are magical and the lyrics are very inspirational. I wonder what Joey was thinking of when he wrote this song
The title track is a fast, thrashy number. The intro is pretty chaotic but it evens up pretty well when Joey's bass solo enters. And from then on the song pounds away into glory
"The Oath" is one of Manowar's thrashiest songs ever, almost in the same class as "Kill with Power" in terms of speed! The lyrics are mysterious and seems to be slightly Satanite, which is pretty rare of Manowar. The only thing sufficient enough to describe this song is with the following word: fucking brilliant!
And then we have the obligatory bass solo from Joey that goes under the name of "Thunderpick", with the exception that this is better than the other ones IMO. It's a brilliant display of his playing skills and it's a brilliant prelude/interlude to "Guyana" with the flamenco playing
And then comes "Guyana" which IMO is one of Manowar's most emotional songs because of Eric's magical vocal performance, Joey's magical flamenco playing and because of the lyrics. I almost get the feeling that Eric was one of the people who died in the tragic event which was the mass suicide of the members of the People's Temple cult in the jungles of Guyana. I wish Manowar will write another song like this!
Definitely recommended for people who want some kick ass metal, and I would also recommend this to fans of thrash metal since this album has plenty of thrashy elements