Wednesday 3 April 2019

Manowar - The Final Battle I (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 5/10
Release Date: 29 Mar 2019
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Back in the day, I was a huge Manowar fan. I never quite got to the point of wandering around in a furry leather loincloth, but Hail to England is still one of my favourite albums of all time and their Manchester gig in 1989, with Sabbat and Toranaga in support, was one of the most memorable I've ever had the privilege of attending. I can still remember my stomach almost imploding when Joey de Maio first touched a string on his bass.

The catch is that they defined their schtick so closely that it's been very difficult for them to progress beyond it. I was with them for seven albums, but I don't feel like I missed anything at all by not picking up anything of late. And 'of late' means three studio albums over twenty-three years, so they may have noticed the core problem too, concentrating instead on touring and reimagining old albums with new production values.

And that problem really doesn't take long to manifest here. I can't say that I didn't enjoy this. I did, but mostly from the standpoint of nostalgia. I'm not buying into the traditionally overblown hype that they're hurling in the direction of this skimpy EP, which runs under twenty minutes. Joey de Maio, a fantastic bass player and professional finger in the face of society, claims that, listen carefully, "The sheer power of these four songs is mind-blowing! We simply couldn't release more songs at one time; it’s just too much!"

No. It isn't. According to the band's website, it's "guaranteed to blow your speakers and your heads off with a whirlwind of crushing sonic destruction, orchestral majesty and epic, pulverising insanity." It fails to do that too. Does that mean I get my money back?

It is interesting though, not least because Joey de Maio steps up to sing a lead vocal on the final track, You Shall Die Before I Die. He has a suitable voice for the character he plays in the band. He sounds somewhat like Conan the Barbarian drinking, if not gargling, the blood of his enemies and trying to sing while he does so. Given the lyrics, that's entirely appropriate. I really like his bass on this track as well.

I quite liked the song before it too, which does precisely what you might expect if I tell you that it's called Sword of the Highlands. It's a grandiose epic, albeit a mere six minute one, that builds emphatically into an anthem for Scottish heritage. Regular vocalist Eric Adams does a fine job here, bolstered as he is by what sounds like an artificial choir and some bagpipes for good measure. It's designed to be intensely emotional and it does pretty well but, after it's done, we wonder why we bought into it.

Before that is the real opening track, as March of the Heroes into Valhalla is just a two minute intro. It's called Blood and Steel and it's surely the most Manowar song I've heard. I remember Blood of the Kings, the last track on Kings of Metal, which featured every prior album title and a whole bunch of previous song titles in its lyrics. That worked in 1988 but they've kept on writing songs with a vocabulary of fifty or so nouns, so all of them end up as distillations of the others. This is no exception.

Here's how it starts: "My right hand is thunder. Your blood's upon my sword. My left hand is lightning. The gods of war are stoned. A blood vow was sworn so all shall come to know on Hell's wind I shall appear. Your death will not be slow." Isn't that every single Manowar song? Sure, it rolls along nicely with solid guitars and solid drums. This is a very capable band, even with a new guitarist to replace Karl Logan after he was arrested for possession of kiddie porn. E. V. Martel is the new guitarist and he's easily up to the task.

But, when Eric Adams calls out, "My brothers of metal, will you ride with me today?" I feel sad to shrug and think back to when I'd have screamed back at him with twin devil horns high in the air.

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