Manowar has always been a band of extremes, even after you look past the infamous true metal loincloths imagery. They were pioneers of heavy metal that have since become lost in their own echo chamber. They were relentlessly prolific in the 80s, yet have abandoned more projects than they’ve actually released in the twenty-eight years I’ve been alive. They have consistently boasted over the top musicianship and bombastic expenditures, but their lack of editing and self-awareness is just as omnipresent and often detrimental to their advancement. There’s a lot to like about Manowar, and I do consider them an influence, but there’s just as much that keeps me from being an honest to Odin Manowarrior who valiantly defends the Kingdom of Steel.
But as someone who sees the best in their flaws and the flaws in their best, I am curious to see how their eleven full-length albums stack up overall. Their style may have changed dramatically over the years but the attitude behind it has remained the same, which makes their evolution especially fascinating. And seeing how the band is apparently planning their farewell tour without any tangible signs of a new album in sight, this seems like an appropriate time as any.
11) Gods of War
2007’s Gods of War is a blunder that even the truest of the true struggle to defend. It set out to be their most epic achievement, with lyrics extensively detailing their love for Norse mythology set to stirring symphonic metal. The reality revealed the band’s stylistic limitations as the lyrics are as repetitive and redundant as the endless interludes and dull ballads they waft over. It is an album that makes you feel drained after listening to it, but it’s more for reasons of boredom than exhilaration.
That said, there are some good songs like “Loki God of Fire” (Even though he’s not?), and “Sons of Odin” is a legitimately strong example of how this approach could’ve worked. I’ve thought of doing a Culling the Herd article on this album but I think it would just amount to a decent EP. Nostradamus is better than this.
Final Grade: D
10) Warriors of the World
Warriors of the World isn’t the worst Manowar album but it may be their most frustrating. Like Kings of Metal, it features their best and worst elements. The title track and “Hands of Doom” are among the most exciting power metal tunes out there, yet they sit alongside head scratching recitals of “Nessun Dorma” and “An American Trilogy,” decidedly non-metal songs that are covered in unambiguously non-metal fashion. Definitely an odd move for the so-called Metal Kings.
I also find this album’s sudden American patriot aesthetic to be especially humorous. It’s understandable since the pain of 9/11 was still quite fresh in 2002, but the band’s otherwise indifferent attitude toward the American metal market makes it seem like they only care about their home nation when it’s convenient to care. At least Jon Schaffer had foreshadowed his Murica boner well before Iced Earth released The Glorious Burden…
Final Grade: C+
9) Fighting the World
Manowar’s fifth album is generally seen as an attempt to sell out to the mainstream market. That claim holds true with the cringe worthy “Blow Your Speakers” and the somewhat pedestrian “Carry On,” but the other songs are right in line with the band’s usual mindset. Unfortunately, the songwriting doesn’t quite live up to the promising ideas brought up by “Violence and Bloodshed” or “Black Wind, Fire and Steel.” The title track is pretty cool though, and Orson Welles’ posthumous contribution to “Defender” is respectable. Fighting the World doesn’t deserve its bad rep but it isn’t essential either.
Final Grade: C+
8) Louder than Hell
As indicated by a song title like “Return of the Warlord,” Louder than Hell is a back to basics type of album. There’s nothing too gratuitous aside from a couple questionable instrumentals toward the end, and the songs focus more on rocking out than trying to be important. The results are rather shallow, but songs like “The Gods Made Heavy Metal” and “Power” are a lot of fun in the right mindset. When’s that sequel to “Brothers of Metal (Part 1)” coming out anyway?
Final Grade: C+
7) The Lord of Steel
Manowar’s most recent album is basically just Louder than Hell with better songs but worse production. On one hand, a stripped down approach was most welcome after the bloated Gods of War, and there are a lot of catchy tunes on here like the title track and “Born in a Righteous Grave.” On the other hand, the digitized mix and horribly fuzzy bass tone make already lazy songs like “Blacklist” and “Hail, Kill, and Die” even weaker. I hope the band can find it in them to go out on a stronger final album, but I also expect this to be the best they can do at this point.
Final Grade: C+
6) Kings of Metal
Kings of Metal isn’t the best Manowar album, but I don’t think any other effort represents them quite as well. It’s another hodgepodge of questionable decisions as epic metal anthems run hand in hand with Hulk Hogan rock tunes, lighter friendly ballads, the last in the line of self-indulgent bass solos, and the tackiest spoken word segment ever put on a metal album. But the highs are their highest, and even the worst moments somehow end up more endearing than annoying. Buy this to get an adrenaline rush on “Hail and Kill” and the giggles on “The Warrior’s Prayer.”
Final Grade: B
5) Hail to England
It’s easy to see why Hail to England is deemed the best Manowar album in some circles. The first five songs are all incredible, with the opening “Blood of My Enemies” set as one of the band’s most triumphant songs, “Each Dawn I Die” among their most esoteric, and “Kill with Power” one of their most violent. If the upbeat “Army of the Immortals” had been the closer, I’d be hailing this (to England?) as one of the greatest power metal EPs ever. But then Joey DeMaio’s token bass solo comes in…
I’m not going to mince words; “Black Arrows” is one of the most fucking awful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. DeMaio is a strong bassist, and his solo tracks on other albums are awkward but mostly harmless, but “Black Arrows” is three painful minutes of self-indulgence that hates everything about you and wants you to suffer. It is too long to be funny, too sloppy to be memorable, and too muddled to be technically impressive. From there, “Bridge of Death” ends the album on a decently dark and silly note, but the sour taste never leaves. It’s so bad that the album as a whole is ranked a lot lower than it honestly deserves to be. Just listen up to “Army of the Immortals” and skip to another album as soon as you hear Joey’s flat echoed voice pierce the fadeout.
Final Grade: B
4) The Triumph of Steel
For all the polarization surrounding Manowar, it’s a miracle to find an album that is legitimately underrated. While the twenty-eight minutes of the opening “Achilles” suite will understandably be too much for some to bear, the remaining songs on The Triumph of Steel are powerful and surprisingly consistent. Much of this could be attributed to the energetic one-time appearances of guitarist David Shankle and drummer Kenny “Rhino” Edwards, but the songs are legitimately well written and avoid dwelling on gimmicks for too long. “Metal Warriors” defends its true metal posturing with an excellent chug, “Ride the Dragon” and “Power of Thy Sword” are amazing speed runs, and “Master of the Wind” is a surprisingly subtle and even profound ballad. They could’ve trimmed the intros on several tracks, but when things are this good, I’ll let it slide. Ross the Boss is still my favorite Manowar guitarist, but it’s a damn shame this lineup didn’t get to do anything else.
Final Grade: A-
3) Into Glory Ride
After a few epic hints on Battle Hymns, Into Glory Ride dives headlong into Manowar’s true metal world of blood, death, and steel. The debut’s blue collar attitude is immediately discarded after the hard rocker “Warlord.” Instead, songs like “Gates of Valhalla” and “March for Revenge” fill their longer lengths with sprawling tempos, dynamic tonal shifts, and a plethora of scenery for vocalist Eric Adams to heartily chew his way through. Aside from “Secret of Steel” and “Hatred” being a little too slow, the band had also yet to put in their signature gimmicks and lazy fillers. It’s a song or two shy of a legitimate classic, but you wouldn’t go wrong in checking it out.
Final Grade: A-
2) Battle Hymns
Unlike most bands, Manowar knew exactly who they were and what they wanted on their debut album: “Heavy metal, loud as it can be.” Future albums wouldn’t be so fixated on ‘Nam vet/biker musings nor feature as much hard rock influence, but they would have the same attitude complete with DeMaio’s gritty bass and Adams’s ballsy delivery. “Death Tone” and “Metal Daze” deserve their iconic statuses, but true beauty lies at the end; “Dark Avenger” is a doom dirge turned speed metal ripper complete with an Orson Welles narration (I know his star had fallen pretty far by 1982, but I’d still love to know how they managed that), while the title track set the standard for all metal epics to come, DeMaio-composed or otherwise. A mandatory listen, especially if you’re on the more classic rock end of the metal spectrum.
Final Grade: A
1) Sign of the Hammer
If you ever wonder why people are so upset that Manowar has taken between four to six years to release a new album for the last three decades, just remember that the band released both Hail to England and Sign of the Hammer in 1984. It may have common practice for bands to be so prolific back then, but some peers like Saxon maintain a steady release schedule to this day. And even then, those didn’t keep up either gradually slowed their output or outright disbanded. Even if recent albums have been frustrating offers, a desire still remains to be a fly on the wall in the Kingdom of Steel…
Rants aside, Sign of the Hammer has the highest place in Manowar’s discography despite not being discussed as much as Kings of Metal or Battle Hymns. Aside from the mid-tempo “All Men Play on 10” starting things off, the album is divided between several speed metal tracks alongside the strongest epics DeMaio ever penned. “Thor (The Powerhead)” and the title track are astounding power metal templates, while “The Oath” is easily the most intense song they ever wrote. Even the token bass solo “Thunderpick” has a purpose, ominously building up to the closing “Guyana (Cult of the Damned).” Listen to this album to see how amazing Manowar were at their peak, and then listen to literally anything else to see why their decline is so painful. Metallica and KISS could only dream of fans with this degree of Stockholm syndrome…
Final Grade: A