Way back in 1982 a deal was signed in blood that was to make heavy metal history. From that deal, a collection of Battle Hymns saw the light of day. Manowar’s debut album from way back in the day is about as cheesy as it would get in a time when power metal did not yet exist (Kai Hansen was working on that over in Germany). Taking their inspirations mainly from Black Sabbath and Dio, the American band of warriors four unleashed upon the earth their eight track and mere 36 minutes long debut; a mixed affair of both ups and downs, of mediocre storytelling turned awesome at its high points and of lackluster performances growing to behemoth deliveries of showmanship and true metal at the peaks. Band leader Joey DeMaio is a weird fellow these days and it’s easy to forget that behind all that almost Tr*mp like pompousness lies incredible talent and a phenomenal flair for the theatrical.
The album actually opens up on its weakest track in Death Note, a precursor to Wheels of Fire but without the balls to actually send it all the way. It just doesn’t grab attention like an opener should; toss in Metal Daze with its hooky bass riffs and the sing-along chorus instead, Eric Adams’ voice taking flight for some cheesy, powerful high notes. William’s Tale, a short instrumental retelling of classic Wilhelm’s Tale, shows DeMaio’s unique piccolo bass playing style while the dark, catchy bass riffing in Dark Avenger or the band’s namesake shows DeMaio’s just as much about the spotlight as Ross the Boss with his glory riffs and blazing solos. There’s really no denying the second half of the album is at least twice as strong as the first half though. Housing dark epics Dark Avenger and Battle Hymn the second half takes a vastly different turn from the first five tracks, the aforementioned William’s Tale sitting in between the two.
Both Dark Avenger and Battle Hymn are obvious highlights, the former slow and doom-y with narration by Orson Welles for atmospheric value. The second - the title track - is one of the absolute strongest tracks of a very illustrious career. Building slowly, it grows on galloping riffing where DeMaio and Ross the Boss work together flawlessly, with Adams adding the dramatic narrative touch with his magic pipes. So there’s definitely a lot going here; seeming to not entirely have found their style just yet Manowar pulled several strings all at once - the hard rock smashers of the first half standing in stark contrast to the epics on the second half. On the one hand we’ve got anti war banger Shell Shock picking up speed in between the two with some terrific riffing and incredible high notes from Adams and on the other hand the timeless title track. They’d go on to fuse the styles with more success on subsequent records, flirting with the mainstream (while pretending not to) and delivering massive metal anthems. This is where it all began, and it’s an impressive, if wobbly, start to a forty year long career (and still running!).
Standout tracks: Shell Shock, Battle Hymn, Dark Avenger