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When I heard that U.S. power metal stalwarts Manowar wrote a nearly-thirty minute epic based on the story of Greek legend Achilles, I was stoked. I am of the persuasion that when a band sets out to write a long single piece of music, they really get their shit together and make it an all-out masterpiece (see: Rush’s “2112 Suite” or “Hemispheres”). This assumption, combined with my love of prior Manowar releases, resulted in what might be the biggest musical disappointment I have ever experienced.
The album begins with said epic, entitled “Achilles: Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts.” Generally one would reserve the epic track for the closer, but putting it up front can work. The song begins well enough with a little dramatic sounding part before busting into the main riffage. Typical mid-paced Manowar with little keyboard touches, then it goes into a symphonic segue part which lasts until the eight minute mark. So far I’m underwhelmed, but it would soon lead to disgust. I mean, there’s a fucking four minute studio drum solo in here. Listening to this is incredibly tiring and the reward for surviving it is more symphonic bullshit. At the sixteen minute mark (over half of the song’s total length), the first actual fast part rears its ugly head. Ugly because it’s just another generic speed metal section, serving only to lead into *surprise* a Joey DeMaio bass solo! This piece is, like his other bass solos are, a technically self-indulgent shitfest, only different from the others in that he starts acoustic before kicking the distortion in. At this point I’ve vowed never to listen to this song again for as long as I have the ability to hear, and the track isn’t even over. After some three minutes of this, the guitars and drums kick back in and its back to the generic riffs before the guitar solo begins, as it’s the only instrument left to not get its chance to show off. At this point, I considered vowing never to listen to Manowar again (this was soon repealed), the song is that fucking bad. And then, at its very end, as the guitar is furiously shredding away over the final riff, the song begins to fade out. After expending nearly thirty minutes of their time (and mine) telling the triumphant tale of Achilles, DeMaio and company couldn’t even figure out a good way to end the fucking song. The fade-out is the laziest fucking way to end a piece of music, as evidenced by its frequent utilization in pop music. There are some exceptions of musicians using it artistically, but these are rare, and never apply to a lengthy track. It’s actually quite ironic considering the lyrics: having killed their dignity with the first twenty-seven minutes of this horrific aberration, Manowar then chose to desecrate its body by robbing the listeners of an ending. All in all, it’s the worst song I’ve ever heard by this band and a massive, massive failure
After that nearly endless sequence of pompous bullshit, I actually forgot that there’s the rest of the album yet to listen to. Things pick up here, as its back to standard Manowar territory, but never at any point does the shadow of that first song cease to loom over the album’s remainder. Sure “Metal Warriors” is pretty cool in that typical, cheesy Manowar fashion (“If you’re not into metal, you are not my friend!”), but man, did you hear that thirty minute travesty that opened the album? “The Demon’s Whip” resurrects the darker sound of past greats like “Bridge of Death,” but how could you forget how fucking terrible that first song was? At no point during the rest of the album could I get over that fucking awful opener/centerpiece and it sucked out just about all the enjoyment I’d usually get from a Manowar release. New guitarist David Shankle pulls some ridiculously fast guitar solos out of his ass (his mastery of EVH-style artificial harmonic runs is commendable), new drummer Rhino is an absolute machine when it comes to his instrument, Joey DeMaio delivers yet another great performance on bass, and Eric Adams still puts his heart and soul into the music while screaming out his lungs, but The Triumph of Steel is nonetheless tainted. Once you hear how inadequate the band is at writing a thirty minute song, you can’t help but start to find flaws in their normal songwriting and what would otherwise be a decent (albeit generic) Manowar album degenerates into a full-fledged atrocity. Got riffs? Manowar apparently doesn’t.
The band’s newfound love for poorly-written symphonic sections is a bit confusing as well. The atmospheric numbers “Burning” and “Master of the Wind” sound horribly incomplete, while random synth sections show up in “The Power of Thy Sword” and long-ass intro sequences mar “Spirit Horse of the Cherokee” and “The Demon’s Whip.” Seriously guys, just play the songs already.
Never let it be said that I do not respect Manowar for flying the flag of true metal at all times, even when it was least popular. But as The Triumph of Steel clearly proves (and it pains me to say this), true metal isn’t always good metal. Manowar clearly over-extended themselves on this record; the mediocre second half of the album implodes under the weight of the bombastic opener.