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Much ado about Manowar...but why? - 21%

Empyreal, November 8th, 2013

You will get people praising Manowar to the high heavens, when really the only good thing they ever did was Battle Hymns. Oh, okay; their other 80s shit was good too, and there are quality tunes scattered all throughout their discography – just listen to the face-smoldering ownage of “Black Wind, Fire and Steel” for example, or “Hail and Kill.” But mostly – and I hate when people say this most of the time – Manowar doesn’t really deserve most of the praise they get.

I know, I know – that’s a cliché worse than anything else you could say about music besides “generic.” Usually saying something is “undeserving of praise” is worth about as much as a three dollar bill. But from what I can gather, Manowar are popular because of a few things: (a) their early work is good and (b) they were just in the right place at the right time. Some bands get lucky with just the right pinch of influential sounds necessary to blow up and become a big hit. Manowar contributed massively to metal’s image and lyrical standards – aside from Priest, I don’t think any other band quite molded the looks and lyrics of their followers quite so much as Manowar. And on Into Glory Ride and Sign of the Hammer, they provided the blueprints for Viking metal. All of that is fine and well; I would be foolish to deny that.

But seriously. This album fucking sucks. Louder than Hell is a woeful piece of work with about as little work put into it as possible. This is the basest, most low-intelligence wrestling music you could ever imagine. Just a bunch of vapid shout-along tunes to serve as background music for an overweight spandex-monkey paid in a shady back room to go down in the 5th. Sometimes like on “Number One” they vary it up a bit – that one sounds like a shitty sports anthem for a high school football team.

Okay, okay – let’s just try and actually review this seriously. The basic ethos here was probably supposed to be ‘back to basics,’ just some solid, rockin’ tunes to jam in the car or while working out. Except it fails even as that, because the songwriting here is just too bare bones. This kind of riff-rocking approach only works when you have a meaty guitar sound and actually good, headbangable riffs – neither of which this has. The guitars on here sound like they were recorded in a cardboard box; while the production is mixed professionally, it just sounds weak and neutered really. And the riffs are about as interesting as wet toast. I can only even barely call them riffs. They're really the kind of dullard dad-rock plunking you hear in movies whenever a character enters a sleazy biker bar; barely any melody to it and no heaviness to speak of.

It's just a matter of degrees. There is playing simple, rocking riffs and then there is just not trying – this album is the latter. When they’re not phoning it in with piano balladry about as poignant as what you’d hear on an elevator, they are busting out very similar-sounding, very banal riffs that don’t really have good enough songs to wrap around to actually work towards the album’s sole purpose, which is to get you pumped up and ready to rock out on a motorcycle while wearing black leather clothes. It's not that erudite of a goal, you hacks. The bar is set low with this kind of music and still Manowar try to limbo underneath it anyway.

The songwriting is just deficient. These songs repeat and repeat with nothing interesting about them, no real catchy motifs except a few places like “Return of the Warlord” and “The Gods Made Heavy Metal.” But really that’s about it. Eric Adams is a great singer, but he sells himself short with this. Just listen to him try to make “Brothers of Metal Pt. 1” engaging – to say the least, gruff heavy metal wailing does not work when the music sounds like something you’d play at a geriatric asylum to calm the patients down.

It’s difficult to review this at all, because the music is so empty of meaning or real feeling in any capacity. The riffs are boring and the songwriting is one dimensional. Normally there are deeper reasons to give an album a score this low, but there really isn’t much here. For a band of Manowar’s stature, this is just unacceptable – they are one of the biggest metal bands in the fucking world. They have to have better material than this. And when you consider the fact that this band is so huge despite recording like five albums in the last 30 years, it just becomes so sad it’s not even funny anymore. As good as Manowar can be at times, they’re washed up has-beens – pretty much the definition of it. Fuck ‘em. Pay attention to bands more worth your time.