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It’s been a while since I’ve listened something new by Manowar that I felt was worthwhile and made me really want to head-bang as hard as my neck allows it. To be honest, I think the Kings of Metal haven’t produced anything even mildly interesting for the past decade, all of the releases from said period being just ornaments to add to their stagnant discography. 2002’s Warriors of the World is not a bad record, but pales in comparison to all of their previous releases. And lets not speak about the pompous fiasco that was 2007’s Gods of War. However, the gods seem to have re-empowered the metal veterans with renewed strength and determination. This EP heralds what seems to be an age of rebirth for Manowar.
For the Thunder in the Sky EP, Manowar got rid of most of the overtly cheesy and pretentious elements of Gods of War and reversed their style back to basics. No, you won’t find (many) overblown symphonic elements nor dull narrations here, just the thunder of well-muscled guitars, bass, drums and the still potent voice of Eric Adams clashing with each other. All of the six “new” songs here display a power and groove worthy of praise. The production is excellent, clear and loud as it needs to be, and don’t let the lackluster artwork fool you, this is classic Manowar all the way.
This EP start with the mighty title-track, a speedy rocker with a steady double bass rhythm that reminds me of Grave Digger, though probably the germans were the ones influenced by Manowar, and not the other way around. Anyway, this is a hell of a song, fully packed with memorable riffs and an even more memorable chorus. Its 100% classic Manowar, from solos to lyrics, though they sound modern and I might even dare to say, rejuvenated. All of the instruments are performed more than efficiently here, and this song alone is reason enough to give this EP a chance.
Track no.2 is “Let the Gods Decide”, and it seems they decided to give Manowar a chance to reclaim their glory of old. Another great song of this EP, this hard-rocking number is a bit slower than the opener but that doesn’t mean one just won’t listen to this while steadily headbanging and giving it the horns. The vocal lines along with the solid yet simple riffs continue to be the focal point both extremely enjoyable and first-class. The first time I listened to this EP I just couldn’t believe it was this good after listening to only its first couple of songs. I mean, it couldn’t be THIS good, right? Right?! …Wrong! It is.
Well to be honest track no. 3, the ballad “Father” is the weak point of Thunder in the Sky, being a bit cheesy, typical of a Manowar ballad. But that doesn’t mean is not enjoyable, taking it for what it is. Besides, one has to give credit to the band, and especially to Eric Adams, for singing the fifteen different-language versions of the bonus disc. I don’t know about most of them, but at least for the french and spanish versions I can assure you, they are pretty well sung and adapted, with a fairly decent pronunciation. As a fan, I must say there’s no other thing to do but applaud to them. Few bands have this kind of gesture to their fans. Horns up!
“Die With Honor” is next, their latest single in edited form, and so far, it’s the only version of that song we’ve heard. After an almost a cappella intro it soon transforms into a middle-paced number with epic, anthemic feel (and lyrics), and an excellent masculine choral intervention backed up by pounding rhythms, like those of marching warriors advancing to meet their fate on the battleground. The contemplative bridge section is like the calm before those warriors plunge into the storm of the skirmish. The chorus says it all, really:
Fight with blood! Fight with steel!
Die with honor, never yield!
Fearless hearts, filled with pride!
Into Glory we shall ride!
Next we have the “metal version” of “The Crown and the Ring”, a song from the Kings of Metal album, actually one of my favorites from that album, itself one of my least favorite Manowar releases. If you were expecting a heavier or speedier rendition of this song, (which is just what I imagined, because you know, it’s supposed to be the “metal version”) you’ll be disappointed, but not too much. This version is not very different from the original, but I’d say it’s an overall improvement. The keyboards are way better, creating a full epic symphonic atmosphere, replacing the lame 80’s keys. The choruses are also meatier, like the ones in the previous song of this EP. It’s like Manowar waited for the technology to develop enough, enabling them to perfect this song to the standards they desired when it was originally conceived.
And finally, we have the strong closer that is “God or Man”, another speedy, double-bass driven track, that ends this EP in magnificent way. The riff work is not as memorable as on the first songs of this EP, but the chorus and solos make up for it. It drags a bit at the end, but is a song worthy of bearing Manowar’s name.
I’m not a big fan of EP’s, but this is definitively worth its price, especially if you are a fan of epic power, speed or classic metal. Also, if you’re pretty new to classic heavy metal, or haven’t listened to Manowar before, this could be a fine introduction, but you should mandatorily check out this great band’s older releases as well. For me this is also a step into the right direction, and I’m looking forward their next album. I might even check the re-recorded Battle Hymns album, hoping it was (re)made with the same passion as Thunder in the Sky.
Although I am a huge fan of Manowar's early work, I must confess that the band's latest releases were kind of disappointing. Both “Warriors Of The World” and “Gods Of War”, despite having some bright moments, were not nearly as good as the material on albums like “Hail To England”, “Kings Of Metal” or “Triumph Of Steel”. That being said, it is easy to understand why I did not expect much from their newest EP, “Thunder In The Sky”. The news that they would include a ballad in 16 languages on the album brought my expectations even lower, since their last ballads were really horrible.
So, I was gladly surprised by style the band adopted in this “Thunder In The Sky” EP. Gone are the endless intros, narrations and interludes from “Gods Of War”. On the new songs, there is also no trace of the symphonic elements that infested “Warriors Of The World”. What we have here is the purest heavy metal that everyone has always expected from the so called Kings Of Metal.
Three of the four new songs, “Thunder In The Sky”, “Let The Gods Decide” and “God Or Man” could be easily in any of their earlier albums. They may not be as brutal or fast as the material on “Triumph of Steel”, but they are heavy and straightforward, and have nice choruses and excellent performances by all the members.
However, the other new song, the aforementioned ballad “Father”, sucks big time. Cheesy and mellow, it sucks in all 16 languages it was recorded and does not come even close to the band’s best ballads, such as “Heart Of Steel” and “Master Of The Wind”.
Also included in this EP is the song “Die With Honor”, that had already been played live and released as a single, and a new version of the classic song “The Crown And The Ring”, from the “Kings Of Metal” album. The first is a heavy metal anthem just like “Metal Warriors” and “Warriors Of The World United”, with a killer chorus made to be sung with fists up in the air. The second, although not as good as the original version, is still a terrific song, by far their best attempt at doing something symphonic. The guitars are a bit heavier on this version, and Eric Adam's voice is still amazing.
All in all, “Thunder In The Sky” is a return to form to the Kings Of Metal. It is really good to see them playing more straightforward metal, and if the next album comes along the lines of this EP, I am sure it will be much better than their last couple of releases.