Way back in 1988, the American metal band Manowar finally enjoyed their big break-through with their sixth effort, Kings of Metal. Combining the epic sound of their earlier albums like Into Glory Ride and Hail to England with the more rock ‘n roll approach of Fighting the World, Kings of Metal was the culmination of years of hard work for the band, and the epitome of what the band was capable of at the time. Eschewing the darkness that still make the first few albums into such timeless epic metal classics, Kings of Metal offered a more accessible approach to Manowar metal, and heralded a long era of heavy metal anthems and, dare we say, over-the-top cheesiness. It was also the last truly great Manowar album.
A few years back bass player and head honcho Joey DeMaio conceived the ill-advised idea of re-recording Manowar’s debut album Battle Hymns. Needless to say, it fell rather flat, mainly because you can’t fuck with thirty year old songs and expect them to actually come out better. Karl Logan is a fine guitar player, but he’s no Ross the Boss (who injected a much appreciated sense of rock ‘n roll into the band’s sound), and Eric, whilst still an exemplary vocalist, just doesn’t have the range he had so many years ago. Age does that to a man, and though he’s still one of the finest vocalists I have ever seen on stage, the years do shine through on record. Perhaps replacing the late Orson Welles in Dark Avenger by Sir Christopher Lee (who, of course, is excellent in his own right) wasn’t the fanciest idea, either. Then again, perhaps Lee was the only highlight on an otherwise pretty dire affair.
And so we arrive in 2014, and the re-recording of Kings of Metal, an equally bad idea and blatant cash grab for a band that arguably once was the truest of true metal bands. The horde of loyal fans will undoubtedly lap it up eagerly, but perhaps Manowar should just take a break, lock themselves in the studio and come up with one last kick-ass album instead of asking cold, hard cash for what can ultimately be considered old wine in newer, but cheaper, skins.
The first thing you’ll notice about the album, is that the track listing is completely jumbled. The nine original songs have been thrown into a hat and placed randomly on the disc, which means the album now starts with Hail and Kill, and ends with what once was the opening track, Wheels of Fire. Needless to say that, having listened to Kings of Metal for some twenty years now, this does not work. The natural flow of the album is butchered this way, and if anyone can give me a valid reason for placing A Warrior’s Prayer and The Blood of the Kings somewhere halfway into the track listing, I’ll be glad to hear it, because I can’t think of any. Missing here is the original cd bonus track, Pleasure Slave, although that will hardly be an issue for most, as it has never been Manowar’s shiniest moment of song writing.
The second thing you will notice (next to the obvious and rather daft renaming of some song titles, with a variety of prefixes like the’s and thy’s and on’s now added), is the new, digital production from which Kings of Metal MMXIV was supposed to benefit. Back in 1988, the band sounded incredibly raw and were still audibly hungry for success. These were guys who knew what they were doing and who crammed out some pretty heavy tunes in between all the added choirs, keyboards and other assorted bombast. Once again though, the biggest asset to the material was Eric Adams and those piercing shrieks which made Heart of Steel or Wheels of Fire into such memorable songs. This time around, Manowar sounds like a band that has been stitched together in Pro-Tools, and the album sounds over-produced, whilst the band sounds complacent and even more pompous than usual. All the sting and edge has been taken out of the songs, leaving only hollow husks of what are in essence still great tracks. Tuned down to Adams’ aging vocal cords, and in some places played at a slower pace than we’re used to, Kings of Metal sounds old and tired.
Thirdly, and lastly, there’s the musicianship on Kings of Metal MMXIV. As said, there is no doubt Manowar consists of four very capable musicians, but, again, this is not 1988 but 2014, and it shows. My biggest gripe with this re-recording is, as it has been with most of Manowar’s post The Triumph of Steel albums, Karl Logan. A fine guitarist, no doubt, but the man lacks soul. Logan is to Ross the Boss what Yngwie Malmsteen is to Ritchie Blackmore; all speed and technique, but there’s no heart in what he does. As expected, he sweep-picks his way through most of the original guitar solo spots, and, as he does live, detracts from what once made them great. The man eventually gets on my nerves in the same way Luca Turilli (ex-Rhapsody of Fire) does whenever he feels the need to one-up some otherwise pretty good cover versions of classic metal tracks by throwing bouquets of arpeggio’s all over the place. At least Donnie Hamzik and Joey DeMaio turn in adequate performances (let’s not mention that extremely arrogant, 300 bpm ticking metronome on the bass player’s Sting of the Bumblebee solo spot, shall we?).
And then there’s Eric. Eric Adams, without whom there surely would be no Manowar. In the past years, Adams has more often than not been the only redeeming factor in the band, and it’s no different here. Of course he doesn’t quite hit the same notes as he did twenty-five years ago, but he still outshines a large part of the heavy metal vocalists worldwide (which is no mean feat when you’re 62 years old), and he makes Kings of Metal MMXIV work for the most part, even if adding a host of eastern European countries to the lyrics of Blood of the Kings was an inconceivably stupid idea. Oh, and The Warrior’s Prayer has also been re-recorded, this time with Brian Blessed as the narrating grandfather. Blessed always verges on pompous madness in delivering his lines, and it’s no different here, even when things get hammed up to disproportionate levels when he sounds like Captain Picard in a drunken stupor.
Bottom line then: you might do yourself a favour and still buy this album, provided that you then immediately proceed to rip it on your pc, rearrange the songs back into their original order and ditch the superfluous instrumental bonus tracks, as they serve no purpose whatsoever. Only then will you have a decent re-recording of Kings of Metal which, despite the artificial sound and added nonsense. I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Label: Magic Circle Music
Release: out now
- Hail and Kill MMXIV (06:13)
- Kings of Metal MMXIV (03:42)
- The Heart of Steel MMXIV (Acoustic Intro Version) (05:09)
- A Warrior’s Prayer MMXIV (05:44)
- The Blood of the Kings MMXIV (08:01)
- Thy Kingdom Come MMXIV (04:06)
- The Sting of the Bumblebee MMXIV (instrumental) (01:16)
- Thy Crown and Thy Ring MMXIV (Orchestral Version) (04:57)
- On Wheels of Fire MMXIV (04:14)
- Thy Crown and Thy Ring MMXIV (Metal Version) (04:57)
- The Heart of Steel MMXIV (Guitar Instrumental) (04:50)
- Hail and Kill MMXIV (instrumental) (06:13)
- Kings of Metal MMXIV (instrumental) (03:42)
- The Heart of Steel MMXIV (Orchestral Intro Version) (04:50)
- The Blood of the Kings MMXIV (instrumental) (08:01)
- Thy Kingdom Come MMXIV (instrumental) (04:07)
- Thy Crown and Thy Ring MMXIV (Orchestral Version) (instrumental) (04:57)
- On Wheels of Fire MMXIV (instrumental) (04:14)
- Eric Adams – vocals
- Joey DeMaio – bass
- Karl Logan – guitar
- Donnie Hamzick – drums