Posts Tagged ‘heavy metal’

Kingcrimsonprog’s Albums Of The Year 2015

Posted: December 21, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Uncategorized
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I’ve said it a lot this year, but its been a very good year for music to my tastes!

1. Parkway Drive – Ire

What an album! Crushing beatdowns, catchy fun memorable sing-alongs, twin guitar widdly joy, it’s a surprising and bold move from a band who already perfected their formula, but now seem somehow even better. I didn’t even fully expect it to be my AOTY but it just grew on me and grew on me and grew on me. Monumental!

Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘Tell me motherfucker how the hell do you sleep at night’ as well as ‘Now snap your neck to this’ and ‘…and we all go to heaven in a little row boat.’

2. Bring Me The Horizon – That’s The Spirit

Chocked full of catchy and memorable moments that I’ll remember for years, this album sees the band further distance themselves from the past but in an organic and logical way. This thing just sticks in your head. Its masterful.
Its surprising how well Ollie can sing nowadays. Also, I don’t care if they’re childish, the lyrics to ‘Throne’ are awesome.

Highlight moments: The whole of the songs ‘Doomed’ and ‘Throne.’

3. Clutch – Psychic Warfare

“Oh… I hope Clutch stay focused after Earth Rocker” I found myself thinking…. ‘av some of that Psychic Warfare replied as it slapped me in the chops with exactly what I wanted. Razor sharp, not a wasted second, just as good as always but never-been-tighter focused, Psychic Warfare is the right move at the right time and I hope it pays off for the band like the last one did.

Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘It goes against my catholic upbringing, I admit it…’

 

4. Fear Factory – Genexus

Their best, most exciting release in years. The very opposite of bland; Genexus just gets everything right and perfectly blends everything the band do, creating a real career highlight, possibly their second or third best ever!

Highlight moments: The first few seconds of ‘Soul Hacker’ smashing you in the face.

 

5. Tesseract – Polaris
I was always going to be harsh on this because I loved their previous singer Ashe O’Harra so much, and because Altered State is a genuine masterpiece and in my eyes one of the best albums of the last decade. Even with the weight of those unreasonable expectations Tesseract still managed to make an album this good. That’s talent!

Highlight moment: The chorus to ‘Hexes.’

 

6. Coheed & Cambria – The Color Before The Sun

Is it just me or is the guitar to the verse in ‘Island’ straight off of Permission To Land? What’s all that about? Anyway…dropping the sci-fi doesn’t seem to have harmed the band one bit… As usual, if Coheed release an album its one of the best albums anyone released that year.

Highlight moments: The music, vocal delivery and lyrics of the part ‘Where’s My Life-saver When I’m Screaming Danger’ and the drums to ‘The Audience’ as well as the lyric ‘And if there’s one good thing that comes from my away it’s that you won’t be anything like me, and so better for it you will be’ and the music to the intro of ‘You’ve Got Spirit, Kid.’

7. Queensryche – Condition Human

Was Toddryche’s debut a fluke? Was it fuck!

Highlight moment: ‘The Arrow Of Time’ in its entirety, the guitar solo In ‘Bulletproof’ and the ending to the title-track.

 

 

8. Baroness – Purple

Maybe not as earth-shattering and game changing as its predecessor Yellow&Green (and how could it be, reasonably?), but Baroness’ attempt to create a better version of Mastodon’s Once More Round The Sun is a damn strong album, those Lizzy-esque guitars make me weak at the knees!

Its maybe a bit unfairly placed seeing as how recent it was, so I’ve not listened to it anywhere near as much as the others on the list, but I was always disappointed that Mudvayne’s self titled album missed many AOTY lists due to its late-in-the-year release, so I won’t let that happen here.

Highlight moment: The entire song ‘If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain?)’ in every way.

 

9. Helloween – My God Given Right

Its arguably just another Helloween album… so in my eyes that means its an absolute gem! All Hail the pumpkins, as they say in Germany (I assume).

This makes up for their previous album missing out on my AOTY list when I got it too late.

Highlight moment: Deris’ vocal performance on ‘If God Loves Rock N Roll’

 


10. Periphery – Juggernaut Alpha

I still don’t feel like I’ve fully gotten into this album, plummed all its depths, or really had it click with me yet, but the fact that its still here shows you how good it is. I haven’t researched the concept behind it, or seen songs live and both of those things always make me like an album more so you definitely haven’t heard the last from me on this! This, this weird jazzy, proggy, deathy, emoey, unpredictable melting pot. What, me wearing a Periphery t-shirt to work regularly… never! (shifty eyes).

Highlight moments: The music and vocal delivery of the parts ‘As the water beats upon the window turn the sad song up on the radio” and “Fuck me I am dying for sleep!”

I couldn’t fit some interesting records like F5DP and Lamb Of God’s newest efforts (or Periphery’s other album from this year, two-album-releasing blaggards!), and I haven’t even heard some pretty important ones like Maiden, Saxon and Faith No More’s latest so its not maybe what the average listener’s Top 10 may be… but this is my blog and I’m me, so you didn’t come here to ask what I thought other people’s top 10 might be (presumably).

Also, I thought my number 1 would be Rishloo’s latest but they changed the official release date to its early pre-release date of December 2014 so it didn’t technically come out this year. I was torn over whether to include it anyway or not. So, I’ll retroactively name it my number 1 of last year, because …that sort of thing totally matters to anyone, obviously.

What surprised me was that The Libertines and The Fratellis both had new albums and neither made my Top 10. The Libertines are one of my favourite ever bands and I was an absolute obsessive at one point on all the forums and fansites listening to every single demo, scratch track and live bootleg ever, I’ve been a member of bands that cover their songs, I’ve had a poster of theirs on my wall for years (until this year when I finally moved into my I’m-an-adult apartment with my partner, as a matter of fact) but yeah, this new album didn’t make the top… guess the rest of the years releases were just too good. You’re ok, Anthems Of The Doomed Youth, but you aint no Psychic Warfare! …The Fratellis is trickier, as I think I’ve listened to it more than most of my Top 10, and I think really it might have a good claim to edge Periphery out but the choruses of its two best songs are soooo good they elevate the album as a whole crazily high. Still… ‘(Imposters) Little By Little’ is a song that I’ll never grow tired of. Such a difficult choice.

Top 10s of the year are just top 10s of new releases though….and I didn’t just spend the year listening to new releases…. My actual yearly top 10 would have Stairway To Fairyland, Shout At The Devil, Out Of The Cellar & Detonator, Smash, and several other non-2015 releases in it. I mean, I spent almost the entire spring and summer listening to Slipknot’s newest album almost every day on the way to work.

Hey but at least I’m not broke and can afford some new releases, last year I was so broke I only bought about four new releases and couldn’t make a top 10 list. Anyway, for further reading see my previous year end articles:

2014
2013
2012
2011

Sabaton – Carolus Rex

Carolus Rex is the charismatic Swedish Power Metal band Sabaton’s sixth full-length studio album. The Gold-Certified album was produced by Hypocrisy’s Peter Tägtgren (and indeed features some guest contributions from him) and released on Nuclear Blast Records in 2012, just before a radical line-up shift that saw all but two members (singer Joakim Brodén and bassist Pär Sundström) leave the band.

Its too early to tell at time of writing, but this magnificent album feels like a future classic to me. This is such a strong, perfectly crafted, and interesting and entertaining album that it really feels like something of a landmark. It is the culmination of everything the band had always been excelling at. Its got brilliant lyrics about interesting Swedish historical subjects with surprising depth and occasionally quite good characterization (the Title Track especially), its got fun riffs, a nice mix of tempos and superb confident melodic vocals. I can really see it going down as a genre classic in a few years time.

Tracks like “The Lion From The North,” “Killing Ground,” “Gott Mitt UNS” and the Title Track are among the best in the band’s repertoire, and there is absolutely no weak moments or filler. It’s a good length that feels substantial but doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s a fine balance of variety versus consistency.

Most of all; there’s just so many great choruses that will stick in your head for days. Sabaton have always been masters of the hook, and this catchy masterpiece is no exception. These are memorable songs that make you want to sing along. Combine that with the bombastic, big, grandiose sounding music and you’ve got some serious umph going on here.

Overall; Carolus Rex is an excellent, catchy album full of memorable, well-produced and well-written songs. If you are a fan of the band its an absolute must-have and if you are interested in checking the band out it’s a fine introduction. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in this sort of music to give them a try.

of the band its an absolute must-have and if you are interested in checking the band out it’s a fine introduction. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in this sort of music to give them a try.

Manowar - Sign Of The Hammer

Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer

In 1984, just two years after their debut, the legendary US Heavy Metal band Manowar released their fourth full-length studio album, Sign Of The Hammer. This was no rushed affair, just the shining output of a prolific and incendiary band hungry for success.

The album opens with the absolutely brilliant “All Men Play On Ten” which is like some kind of Heavy Metal mixture between Kiss’ “I Love It Loud” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Working For MCA” with its storytelling approach and behind-the-scenes setting, coupled with the love of high amplifier volumes. Musically, a bit of a slow groover, with lots of neat guitar work and a chorus designed for singing along to.

The rest of the album, with the exception of the brief guitar solo “Thunderpick,” is all pounding, exciting, varied and interestingly structured classic Heavy Metal.

Tracks like the catchy “Animals” and the thunderous Title Track, alongside the Speed Metal of “The Oath” and the absolutely superb album-highlight “Thor (The Powerhead)” are some of the most consistent and enjoyable tracks you could hope for. The band sound so right, but so unique. There’s no messing about, no filler, not even any ballads this time either. Instead the diversity comes from within the tracks themselves, with tunes like “Mountains” containing enough exploration and deviation from the norm to stop it all feeling samey.

If you look at the back of the record and see the title “Guyana – Cult Of The Damned” you’d be forgiven for thinking this was also a track about Greek Mythology… “Who is Guyana? She must be the goddess of cults or something” but it turns out that the track is about the Jonestown mass suicide where over 900 people died – “Thanks for the Cool Aid, Reverend Jim” – and then you remember where Guyana is. The track itself is an interesting, theatrical, seven-minute mini-epic that tastefully explores a lot of ground and is a fitting closer to the well-crafted album. All the choral sounding backing vocals and the “grand” sound of the production really makes it feel like something important.

Overall, Sign Of The Hammer is a concise, interesting and entertaining album from Manowar that is both surprisingly tasteful and still good honest fun. It may not feature any half-naked barbarians on the cover but it should be in every Manowar fan’s collection without exception.

I went to go see Saxon tonight on Thursday the 4th December 2014 at the HMV Ritz in Manchester, England. The ticket said doors 6.30, over at 10. Saxon were to be supported by fellow ‘80s British Metal band Hell (recently rejuvenated, and musical home of Andy Sneap).

It turns out that the evening got re-organized. Beyond The Black, a German Power Metal band were added to the bill, which was a nice addition.

Beyond The Black sounded like a bit of a mixture between Accept, Sabaton and Stratovarius (although a toned down one) at times. They had a female singer and a keyboard player but weren’t either symphonic or operatic, nor were they in the Evanescence mould either… it was good solid traditional Heavy Metal from Europe. Or at least that’s what it sounded like in the Hall, who knows what a record producer could do to them?

Interestingly, their rhythm section locked into these very Slipknot grooves at times that seemed very modern and out of place in the Euro-Metal thing if you thought about it (but of course, flowed naturally if you weren’t scrutinizing it looking for things to write about).

I quite liked them. I’d be happy to see them again.

Next came Hell. I knew of them, but hadn’t heard anything. Hoo boy. It was interesting. Very theatric. Very very theatric. It was like watching King Diamond or Queensryche when they do Mindcrime with all the acting. He dressed up in a cloak like a wizard. He stripped topless and self-flagellated with a whip… there were smoke cannons and very theatric lighting. Interestingly though, either the smoke cannons were unreliable or the person operating them had never seen Hell before because they were so badly out of time it was really distracting.

This was the first Metal gig I’ve ever went to with my girlfriend, and she was baffled by this. Or amused to the point of laughing. I was baffled to the point of laughing too. Musically, it was pretty awesome. Quite traditional, sort of like a mixture between early Queensryche and Savatage’s most Power Metal moments (think ‘The Needle Lies’ and ‘Power Of The Night’) mixed with Cradle Of Filth’s less heavy sections (think ‘Better To Reign In Hell’)… oh and a big huge dose of Mercyful Fate. The singer was like a very strange mixture between King Diamond and Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammil… listen to VDGG’s ‘Killer’ or ‘Arrow’ and you’ll probably see what I mean. His whole thing was performed like he was in a musical or a play, rather than actually singing in a band. But still… very entertaining. Wikipedia said there’d be exploding bibles though… that might’ve been even more fun. Fireworks are cool in a controlled setting.

It went on too long. It was a big contrast to the super down-to-earth attitudes of Beyond The Black and Saxon. But still… I recommend checking them out.

Then, the moment I paid for, Saxon came on. When I originally bought the tickets it said they were only playing songs off of the classic trio of Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim & Leather. Somewhere between then and now, things changed, and they played a more representative setlist, with two or three more modern tunes like ‘Lionheart’ ‘Forever Free’ and ‘Sacrifice’ as well as a few surprises like ‘Frozen Rainbow’ off of the debut and ‘This Town Rocks’ off of the The Power And The Glory album. All the tracks you’d want or expect from the non-classic-trio rest of the catalogue like ‘Crusader,’ ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ and ‘Solid Ball Of Rock’ were present and accounted for. The modern tracks, far from being momentum killers, made me want to pick up all the modern Saxon albums… I think these guys might very well be in a new golden age like Kreator, Accept and Queensryche. Y’know that thing when they come back super strong.
That probably sounds super obvious to someone who’s been there since the beginning, but for a new, young fan who got turned onto the band with the internet recommendation of essentially “hail-to-the-80s,” it makes for a new thought. Either way, I’ve got some more Saxon albums to buy!

The concert had absolutely superb sound and mixing, and a brilliant civilized crowd. I had lots of space, a great view and wasn’t shoved or crowd-surfed over once. Just like when I saw Queensryche here last year… awesome venue, and an older crowd is nice too. Hmmm, why am I mentoning Queensryche so much? Queensryche on the brain tonight.

Nigel Glockler is a fantastic drummer. He injected such life and energy into things. He would throw in double-kicks and extra fills and sneaky cymbal catches all over the place and really improve and modernize the drum tracks to all the classic material.That and his fills are thunderous. He plays with a lot of power and authority. It makes the band feel so much tighter, stronger and heavier than the studio recordings. If I was going to recommend Saxon on someone I’d now recommend they check out a live album with Nigel on it. Possibly the St George’s Day Sacrifice one since it was also from Manchester’s HMV Ritz. I know he was there in like ’82… but still, here he just felt so… like a young modern guy coming in and kicking ass… you know like when you hear an old song, and think ‘I’d love if someone with some umph covered this’? Well… Nigel gave the material that umph. Like I said, I know he’s got a long, long history in the band, but something about seeing him in the flesh just made me stand back and think “wow… this guy is awesome.”

The band also added extra parts to some of the songs and extended or slightly rearranged them to be better live. A lot of their best songs are pretty short, and to make them up live they’d throw in an extra guitar solo, or one more repetition of the chorus to just let you sing along one more time… it worked really well. The whole unit were incredible.

Even ‘Suzie Hold On’ which I never really liked (until now), felt really great live. I usually zone out during ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ too even though I like it, because the comparison to Judas Priest’s ‘Victim Of Changes’ distracts me and my brain runs off on a thought-tangent and before I start concentrating again the song is over, but it completely captured my attention here, especially with Nigel making it feel so much more powerful.

Then, hearing all the classics like ‘Strong Arm Of The Law,’ ‘Denim & Leather,’ ‘Dallas 1PM,’ ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ ‘The Power And The Glory’ and ‘Princess Of The Night’ was just great fun. It was awesome. Real fun sing-along stuff, very entertaining concert… well sang, well played, sounding and looking great, with the whole ‘raises-them-to-another-level’ drumming really icing the whole metaphorical cake.

Bottom line… Saxon were awesome and I had a great time. Go see ‘em if you’re a fan, they are excellent live. If you can’t see ‘em live maybe check out the Wacken DVD or the new George’s Day live album for some Glockler-improved Saxon.

Manowar – The Triumph Of Steel

Manowar – The Triumph Of Steel

In the same year that Grunge was well and truly selling billions of CDs worldwide, US Heavy Metal legends Manowar released their seventh full-length studio album – 1992’s The Triumph Of Steel.

It must have been no easy task following up their immensely popular and loyally beloved 1988 release Kings Of Metal, nor must it have been easy having to train up a new drummer and guitarist after losing Scott Columbus and Ross “The Boss” Friedman. In fact, nor can it have been fun trying to promote an album of blistering, powerful, OTT Heavy Metal after “Man In The Box” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” changed what must’ve felt like every journalist on earth’s priorities in the pre-internet culture of the day.

Despite all that was going against them, Manowar released what must surely be one of their greatest ever albums (certainly its my personal favourite at any rate). Call it ambition, or call it arrogance, but the band even opened up the record with a twenty-minute long song. A song with a bass solo, a drum solo so indulgent that it has a separate solo for the cymbals and for the drums, two minutes of somber guitar violining… all telling the story of Achillies and Hector from Greek Mythology. The world wanted “Touch Me I’m Sick” …Manowar gave ‘em “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts.”

Despite how easy it is to skip a twenty-minute album opener with three solos in it, the song isn’t poor. In fact, some sections of it are absolute genius, such as the furious Thrashy “Death Hector’s Reward” part, which feels like the musical equivalent of being battered upside the head.

After that, the first normal-length track comes in. Its my favourite track on the album, or by the band. “Metal Warriors” is the most perfectly-pitched, sing-along tribute to Heavy Metal that’s ever been written. Ludicrous to the point of featuring the lyric “If you’re not into Metal you are not my friend” and yet musically out of this world. Its some kind of supercharged version of Kiss’ “I Love It Loud” filled with Painkiller screams, mountain-top chants and the screech of guitars that feel only-barely in control.

There’s more blistering speed, in the sword-and-scorcery realm of “Ride The Dragon” with its constant double-kicks and incredibly catchy chorus.

The band then take a different tack, choosing to sing about Native Americans in a surprisingly tasteful way, in an interesting mid-paced affair that sonically evokes cowboy movies subtly, but doesn’t loose that Manowar sound. Maybe they were jealous of Anthrax? Who cares why they did it, but it works, really well!

Then they follow it up with another mid-paced track called “Burning” which you’d imagine might be a momentum killer, but is actually one of the more interesting compositions in the band’s catalogue. It’s a bit different than their usual any of their usual directions… epics, ballads, rousing anthems or blistering speed. It’s a nice change of pace. Sort of experimental, with a lot of emphasis on dynamics and Eric Adams trying out as many vocal techniques as he can imagine.

“Power Of Thy Sword” comes next, and its what I would consider the quintessential Manowar song. If you wonder if the band are for you, this is one of the tracks you should use to decide. Its got everything that’s great about the band in spades. Its so powerful, OTT and fun. Its beyond catchy, the solo is awesome, there’s slow bits, fast bits and there’s a touch of the orchestral epic-ness that the band aspire to. With this one song, you get a good musical, technical and lyrical picture of Manowar… oh, and by the way its a great song too!

Even if the last one felt good enough to be an album closer, it doesn’t stop there. There’s more Metal in the form of “The Demon’s Whip.” A robust, interesting track which is half crushing Sabbath-inspired Doom and half double-kick Thrash attack, almost-ending the album with a jarring reverse-whiplash effect as the too-slow doom accelerates out of control to the tune off way-too-loud whip samples.

It all closes with the grand, cinematic, vocally-impressive “Master Of The Wind” which kind of evokes Greg Lake-era King Crimson with its chiming bells, big reverb, dynamic production and haunting singing. Its probably the best ballad/orchestral-track that Manowar ever did. Not something to be skipped, but a genuine album highlight in itself.

Overall; Triumph Of Steel is a really diverse and almost strange album. Despite its seeming lack of focus, it really feels like Manowar just doing everything they could think of to absolute perfection. Anthem – nailed. Ballad – absolutely nailed. Fast bits – nailed. Slow bits – nailed. Exploring new ideas – nailed. Keeping true to what makes Manowar, Manowar – nailed. It might not have gotten the attention it deserved at the time, but for my money this album is a straight up-and-down masterpiece that shows what superb musicians, performers and songwriters Manowar are from every possible angle. Highly Recommended!

Manowar – Louder Than Hell

Manowar – Louder Than Hell

1996’s Louder Than Hell album was the US Heavy Metal legends Manowar’s eight full-length opus, and served as a grand and defiant championing of Heavy Metal that was simultaneously both ahead of and behind its time. Manowar in steadfastly focusing on what could be argued as the “true” (the band certainly argue that themselves) aspects of the original Heavy Metal sound were throwing back to the early ‘80s heyday of Metal from which the band themselves came, something very uncool in the eyes of the Grunge and Alternative focused public at the time, and in so doing were setting up the future, predicting the soon to be popular Power Metal movement that had been brewing happily away for a decade but really exploded when bands like Hammerfall would break just a year or two later.

This album sees the return of drummer Scott Columbus, who was absent from the band’s superb previous album, 1992’s Triumph Of Steel, as well as seeing the introduction of new guitarist Karl Logan who’s muscular sound fit nicely into the band. It was self-produced by the band and released on Geffen. Just cast one eyeball at the album’s art and that should tell you whether or not you’ll love this album. Embarrassed by “cheesy” D&D bands? Think singing about being in a band is dated? Then step away! However…Think that close-up shot of ‘roided-out barbarian thumping an anvil is awesome? Then buy a copy without hesitation!

Musically, Louder Than Hell is another step down the road that the band have always been headed in. Manowar don’t make the same album over and over again, but they never make a head-scratching left turn either. This is the logical successor to Triumph Of Steel. You can see how Thrashy tracks like “Death Hector’s Reward” and “Ride The Dragon” from that record begat “Outlaw” on this record. You can see how tracks like “Wheels Of Fire” on the album before that, begat the tracks on this album such as “The Power” (sonically, with the bombast and absolute over-the-top performance) and “Return Of The Warlords” (thematically, with the biker imagery and don’t-care attitude).

Manowar also always have a lot of lyrical fun boasting about how awesome they, and Heavy Metal in general are, and in the fine tradition of tracks such as “Metal Warriors,” “Kings Of Metal” and “All Men Play On Ten,” this album lets rip with an absolutely storming, fists-to-the-sky anthem in the form of “The Gods Made Heavy Metal.” A track so charged with pride, power and the demand that you sing along that you can almost picture the band in the studio laughing to themselves that they’ll never get away with being so obvious….and yet you forgive them, because, well dammit, its just THAT GOOD.

There’s also spots of variety to break up the oily, red hot ‘80s-Hollywood-masculinity that the band love to exude so much (to the point of constantly singing about power, strength, challenge, muscle, fighting and having all that bodybuilder imagery in photoshoots and album covers) in the form of a nice piano-ballad called ‘Courage’ (because you can tender AND manly!) as well a guitar-only solo track, and a dense, 9-minute Prog affair called ‘Today Is A Good Day To Die” which sounds like some kind of Power Metal version of Pink Floyd’s “Empty Spaces.”

This album has a nice production job, with a nice crunchy chug to the palm-mutes, a nice amount of drive, audible bass-guitar, and a clear separation of all the instruments (toms merrily dance from ear to ear during fills, and you can accurately feel how the band would be standing relative to one another in the practice-room). Add to that, another fantastic vocal performance from Manowar’s secret genius Eric Adams who can sound equal parts Rob Halford or Paul Stanley influenced depending on his mood, but with a distinctive identity all of his own most of the time.

Overall; It sounds great, the band play/sing great, there’s a bit of variety but not too much in the way of interludes or nonsense shenanigans, and just a general feel of consistency and craftsmanship. Its a strong whole for sure – and on top of that there’s some absolutely superb standout tracks that elevate it even higher – just try not enjoy “Brothers Of Metal,” “King” or “The Gods Made Heavy Metal.” If you thought Manowar were done after the first four albums, you thought wrong! Louder Than Hell is absolutely worth your time and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes Thrash, Power Metal, NWOBHM, or good old Heavy Metal.

 FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 75: Manowar – Kings Of Metal

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 75: Manowar – Kings Of Metal

Hello, and welcome to my Blog. Why is it called KingcrimsonBlog, the official Blog of Kingcrimsonprog?. Good question; It is called that, because I am called Kingcrimsonprog (or Gentlegiantprog). Well, I’m not. I’m called Jimmy. But, I’m called either Kingcrimsonprog or Gentlegiantprog on most websites and forums. (You know, in the way you have to choose a name or “net-handle” when you register?).

Back when this Blog was first devised, it was sort of a hub “digest” of all my various internet output, under one easy “roof.” So people could then tell that my things were not stolen from elsewhere on the internet, I kept my net-handle in the title. The name of my net-handle was simply chosen because I enjoy the Prog band King Crimson (and Gentle Giant) and is not in fact my real name. Forget about the name. Imagine its called “Music Nerd Blog” instead. You’ll get the idea.

I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.

I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Stephen King Novels or Vintage French Cinema, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the average Facebook-users’ knowledge of Farmville and Candy Crush. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or Farmville. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.

Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.

I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).

According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.

If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.

So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:

Today I’ll be listening to the album Kings Of Metal, by the US Power Metal band Manowar. It was their 6th studio album and was released in 1988 on Atlantic Records. I got it for my birthday, inside a boxset which also contained Fighting The World and Triumph Of Steel. Good gift for someone like me!

I usually talk about the subgenre before talking about the band and the album in these articles. I think I’ve bored you all enough talking about Power Metal in its early 80s American guises and its late-80s-and-beyond European guises on this blog already, so if you want to know how I feel about it in more depth look back at reviews and articles on the likes of Savatage, early Queensryche, Helloween, Gamma Ray ,Stratovarius, Hammerfall and Iced Earth.

Its mostly European Melodic Power Metal, and only a bit of the early USPM (by bands who are mostly considered Prog Metal overall or turned Prog soon afterwards), and not exactly a perfect match for Manowar, who straddle the border between just being Traditional Metal like Priest, Maiden and Accept, with being Power Metal (well, all these things can vary on a song by song basis. I mean, there’s lots of Priest that sounds like Power Metal… just like there’s a lot of Djent that sounds like Messugah. Maybe Manowar aren’t Power Metal, maybe they’re just Metal… I don’t know. Also, maybe it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just call them Power Metal for now, so I don’t have to swap all those hyperlinks, ey guys?)

So; What do I actually know about Manowar? I know the band members are muscular, wear loincloths (either all the time or at least at some stage in their career) and promote manliness and strength. I know that they have a Conan The Barbarian type mascot on their album artwork. I know they are cheesy and over-the-top lyrically, and revel in all the sword-and-sorcery aspects of Metal culture. I know they are responsible for a lot of the “true Metal” and “Death To False Metal” sentiment you read about online, although I’m pretty sure they are probably joking about it. I know they have a devoted cult-like audience similar to Rush fans who are really defensive and proud of the band and will support the band no matter what. (Its sort of a “cool” thing, to a certain subsection of Metal-society, to be a Manowar fan, I guess.)

I don’t, as yet, know exactly why that is. I don’t see the same cult-thing going on for Helloween or Blind Guardian or whatever other massive influential Power Metal band with a lot of fans and some releases with a “Metal Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” type reputation. Maybe it exists and I just didn’t notice it, or maybe its something peculiar to just Manowar. (Perhaps because they seem so convinced of it themselves? Perhaps entirely because of their own sloganeering?)

I remember my friend at College about half-a-decade-ago telling me that Manowar were officially recognized as the Loudest Band In The World, and that once their stage-show caused an electrical surge that shut off all power to the Eastern Seaboard. Dunno if its true, but if it is, it’s a neat fact to have if you are a Heavy Metal band.

The album title intrigues me; Kings Of Metal. Manowar get called “Kings Of Metal” a lot in reviews and articles and I’ve always wondered if it was self-appointed [Side note: Didn’t Pantera call themselves “Kings Of Metal” too by the way, or at least something very similar?] or if it was one of those things like Judas Priest’s “Metal Gods” situation where they had a song about robots called “Metal Gods” (not even lyrically about the band or even Heavy Metal itself…just about robots) but people decided to call the band Metal Gods as a term of endearment anyway. Or maybe its just genuinely made up and applied to them like Black Sabbath getting called Godfathers Of Heavy Metal all the time by the press.

Basically, did they write this title because they were being called Kings Of Metal, or did they get called that due to this album title?

….Well that’s the band. What about the album?

Looking now at the album’s artwork, I almost feel like I need to go to the gym. I’ve just finished an hour of weightlifting at the time of writing by the way, but suddenly I almost feel the urge to lift again. Geez, these guys’d give you a complex with album art like that!

Anyway; I was looking into the band when I was making my List of albums that help you to understand Metal. I think there is a sort of lack of consensus about which of their records are good or not. Then there’s this sort of old Manowar vs. Mid-Manowar vs. Everyone hating new Manowar debate which is kind of like Judas Priest’s fan’s reaction to their discography. Some people love the Screaming/Defenders sound but some people only want Sad Wings/Stained Class sounds. Not so many love the Ripper Owens era.

I’ve read dozens and dozens of times that Kings Of Metal is Manowar’s “best,” “most influential,” “highest selling,” “most-beloved” and that sort of thing, album. I’ve also read that those descriptions belong to Hail To England instead, and that Kings Of Metal is part of the decline from their glory days to their career nadir in the late ‘90s. I’ve even read some people call it a sell-out, but some people call Emperor sell-outs for recording a demo and therefor diluting their credibility as a garage-only band… I don’t have much time for people calling albums sell-outs unless its drastic and obvious.

I guess it might be like Kiss’ Destroyer, some people count the classic bit as the first 3 Kiss albums, some the first 6, some more than that. I guess I might like analogies a bit too much.

What else? Well; Its also one of those “end of an era” type records since it was the final album from the “classic line-up” featuring Scott Columbus and Ross “The Boss.” After this, the two would be replaced by a drummer called Rhino and a guitarist called Giraffe David Shankle. I have to be honest, right at this moment I don’t know any of those musicians and don’t have any opinion on who is better. I guess I’ll find out.

[Play]

First up, the album opens with “Wheels Of Fire” which is apparently a concert favourite. Its pretty up-tempo and thrashy, and kind of reminds me of Alice-era Annihilator a little bit. It starts off with some samples of a motorbike starting up and driving around, then wham, blistering Thrashy Metal. There’s high pitched screams and low growls, and vocals trading between speakers. Then the chorus comes in and hell-yeah we’re in Power Metal town, gloriously big and bombastic. Power Metal choruses are the definition of Bombastic. Its like a giant tom fill with squealing Queen-reminiscent guitar and a vocal perfect for singing along to.

A guitar solo follows… a pretty excellent guitar solo. Well, I guess Ross The Boss is pretty important then. Oh yes, the chorus comes back…that is a good, good, good chorus. I’m loving this mixture between furious Alice In Hell aggression and over-the-top Land Of The Free grandiosity.

The thing I notice is that singer Eric Adams sounds quite like Kiss’ Paul Stanely at times. I wonder if that is because of where they come from. Also a bit like early Anthrax’s Neil Turban. Then again, he also reminds me of Iced Earth’s Matt Barlow.

Speaking of Iced Earth, I’ve never really noticed this before, but there is a missing link between Judas Priest and Iced Earth. That Missing Link is Manowar. Maybe its Jag Panzer too, but one thing at a time people, I haven’t got all day. Its funny, but I didn’t think their singer was even called Eric Adams until today, I thought he was called Joey DiMiao. When people said or wrote “Joey DiMiao” I always assumed it was the band’s singer, not bassist… oh well, I know now, ey? – I’ve never heard of Eric Adams before… seems odd really given how important Manowar are in Europe. Well, in Metal really. I mean I heard of Geoff Tate and John Arch and Rob Halford for years and years. There’s lots and lots of singers in my mind as definitive traditional singers… strange that Adams is not one of them, especially considering how powerful and talented he is. Its not as if he is dull and un-noteworthy or something.

Next up is the album’s title track, “Kings Of Metal.” It boasts boastful lyrics about Manowar themselves and how they come to town and kill, rather than play like a normal band, and how their audience are definitely not posers. This is a completely different style of music to the previous track. Its more like a very aggressive Kiss song than any Thrash or Power Metal band. It wouldn’t be too out of place on Shout At The Devil actually, in that Kiss-but-heavier spirit.

No denying it, this is catchy. I’m loving it. Its sort of embarrassing in a way, but heck, I do believe “Manowar Kill!” and are going to kick my ass, such is the convincing power of the song due its massive, massive fun-factor.

The solo starts off with a Saved By The Bell ‘50s Rock n Roll vibe, then shreds afterwards.

“Heart Of Steel” follows that big smile-fest, and is once again a different style. Its a ballad. The vocals kind of remind me of Greg Lake on Court Of The Crimson King’s title track and “Epitaph.” Ok, its not a ballad as in love lyrics and soft brush drums. The first two minutes are basically a string section and tasteful piano with manly vocals. Then the band kick in to a very heavy drum beat and ringing big guitars. It’s a powerful power ballad. More Powerful than Helloween or Gamma Ray’s ballads. More powerful than Stratovarius’ ones too. Heavier than Hammerfall’s. Better than all of Dragonforce’s. There’s also a gorgeous yet brief guitar solo that really feels like Slash. This is a genuinely good ballad. One I’d keep on my phone even with space limitations to consider!

“Sting Of The Bumblebee” livens things up next. Its an explosive bass solo (with band backing) based on the classical piece “Flight Of The Bumblebee,” which I seem to recall having to learn about in GCSE music but have since forgotten all about, apart from recognizing that it is frantic and hurried sounding, like a Bumblebee. Its so furious and metallic and intensely performed that you don’t even really think of it as a bass solo anymore… just a neat, brief, instrumental Metal song. I wouldn’t leave this off my phone either. Its just Manowar’s equivalent of “Stratofortress.”

“The Crown And The Ring (Lament Of The Kings)” opens up like it might be another ballad. Its got choirs and organs and orchestral percussion. It sounds like a Viking ascending into heaven. Eric’s vocals are very strong. This guy seems pretty underrated. Amazing vocal talent. Maybe its just his actual voice causing people to forget to talk about him, because the talent applied to that voice is unquestionable.

This track has no drums or guitars, it feels sort of like it should either be the first or final track on an album, and not so soon after a ballad. Strange move, momentum-wise in my opinion. That said, this is very strong. This is what I think Hammerfall should write instead of the ballads that they do write. Its bigger and grander than just a ballad. I guess its what you would call “epic” before the word got diluted so much recently (although; in Metal, “epic” things usually also have to be at least 10-minutes long for most reviewers to classify them as such. I guess that’s “an epic” as opposed to a song that is epic though).

After all that questionable epicness; “Kingdom Come” starts off with a chugging riff that sounds like it might be quite commercial, but could go either way, either into a quick-paced Metal track like the first one on the album, or into an MTV ready hit like Priest’s “Living After Midnight.” Then it reveals itself. It kind of reminds me, strangely, of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason-era Pink Floyd…but in no way I can articulate. I guess maybe there’s just a touch of “Learning To Fly” to the pace and drum sound? Either way; this isn’t a thrashy blaster of a song. Its like a way-slower “Metal Gods” (Ironically, given my Metal Gods/Kings Of Metal question) drum beat, with a ballad hidden over the top, these shuffly drums transforming it out of a ballad, and an into MTV ‘80s Rock song, but the enthusiastic and ultra powerful vocals making it metallic enough to fit on the record.

“Pleasure Slave” comes next, and is in slightly the same mould as the previous track during the verses, but with heavier guitars and indeed a nice Iommi-style riff in the chorus. Its not speedy thrashy Metal. Its enthusiastic ‘80s Rock…with a nice doomy riff in the chorus. It sort of reminds me of Kiss’ “God Of Thunder” in its slow power.

Aside from the music, the most notable thing about this track is the over the top sexism… I mean it is arguably even more objectifying than what most Hair Metal bands wrote about. There’s a big difference between Poison’s lyric “I got a girl to the left of me and a girl to the right, I know damn well I slept with both last night” and Manowar’s lyric “Woman be my slave, chained onto my bed… your body belongs to me… the greatest gift I could ever give.”

I kind of wonder if they are being ironic, perhaps a touch of Steel Panther here? I mean, I always read the sentence that Manowar’s fans take them with a pinch of salt but the band themselves are serious about it. Or maybe I’m looking at it wrong and its not even sexism, but just about BDSM. Maybe they are just writing about BDSM from a reporting perspective, in the same way that Slayer wrote about Nazis without being Nazis. I’d like to hope they aren’t ridiculous sexists at any rate… in the same way I hope Carpathian Forest aren’t really as Right Wing as they say they are. Hopefully its all just good fun. (Just playing-up to expectations etc.)

“Hail And Kill” follows that, opening promisingly with a powerful ringing guitar chord and some aggressive-yet-melodic dual guitar in the spirit of Painkiller-era-Priest. Yay! The album had slowed down quite a bit…hopefully this is a fast one.

Hmm…nope, it broke down to some nice acoustic arpeggios and more of that Greg Lake-but-louder stuff vocally; and then… Yay, it explodes into lovely 80s Speed Metal sounds!

Oh, nice Maideny guitar bit. Catchy sing-along-gang chant of the song’s title. This is right up my street. Exactly what I’m in the mood for. I love this chorus!

Nice guitar solos, quite flashy. You can really feel the instrument being played, you can visualize the bends really easily. Excellent production now that I think about it. Yes. This song is the bee’s knees.

That long “Yeeeeeeah” scream where all other music cuts out… that is something I always love in music. Also, impressive! “Nice pipes” as they say in our musical world.

Then comes “The Warrior’s Prayer” which in all honesty is kind of ridiculous. Its essentially a spoken word intro, which you hear on lots of Metal tracks in lots of various different styles. Sometimes they appear in the middle of tracks or have music underneath them. Yes’ “Circus Of Heaven” has one with a little kid talking about a circus with no animals etc. It is too long, and it is already in the middle of a song and has music underneath but still a lot of fans find it unbearable. This track doesn’t have much in the way of music, and lasts for an entire FOUR MINUTES. Four minutes of just talking in a slightly silly old-man-telling-a-kid-a-story voice. Not fourty seconds, which is already a bit too far. Four ENTIRE minutes! – I’m not that keen on it, can you tell? We’re talking about the guy who deleted the intro to Exodus’ “Deranged” because it wasn’t worth my time. Oh well, at least they were kind enough to have it as a separate track, so I can skip it from now on. [I’m sure as fuck leaving this one off my phone considering there’s space limitations.]

Finally we end things here with the seven-and-a-half-minute album closer “Blood Of The Kings.” This song is explosive, powerful and excited. The vocals are so over-the-top, the main riff is incredible fun and the verses are like a supercharged “Diamonds & Rust.” This song just sounds absolutely massive. Its real Thor-on-a-mountaintop stuff.

The guitar solo is pretty impressive. Accept/Deep Purple/Yngwie style neo-classical stuff in there, filled out by muscular shred. The song also continuously does the thing I love where the vocals continue when the rest of the song stops.
At the five-minute point they also go into an almost-pisstaking Prog style bit-by-bit ending. (You know, like when they tease ending over and over and over, sometimes note-by-note, slowly decreasing speed and volume in their actual playing rather than with the mixer). Then after doing that for a very long time, the main riff comes back as if the song is going to erupt again…but then that fades out with the mixer. Hmmm. Definitely feels a bit pisstaky. In a good way.

So, there we have it. My first exposure to the field of true Metal, my introduction to the kings of said True Metal, and the righting of my wrong (“if you don’t own this album, you aren’t a Metal fan” etc.) in ignoring the band for this long. I don’t know if its as instant a KCP classic as Land Of The Free or Keeper Of The Seven Keys but it was certainly far from a waste of time. I think it’s a sort of uneven album… three rock songs, two ballads (or there-abouts), three Power/Speed Metal songs, a bass solo, and a really overlong intro/skit/spoken word boredom-fest.

I wonder if it may be better without the spoken word bit (or at least at a severely, severely reduced length), with more space between the two ballads (perhaps the “epic” one as the final track and the “normal power ballad” as the exact middle of the album). Oh yeah…and don’t listen to “Pleasure Slave” when there’s any women in the room. [Fuck it; actually…do listen to it when there’s women in the room, but lie and say the song is called “50 Shades Of Grey” and then they’ll lap that track up!]

Still, even if it is oddly disjointed and has a weird momentum, and lacking that maybe-one-more-fast-song that would make it work, this is a pretty neat album and I’m sure I’ll listen to it a lot in the coming months. The highlights (the three fast songs, the fun-as-hell title track and the Viking funeral) will certainly get a real pounding and make it into my regular-listening for a long time to come.

Ok. That was my first experience with the band and the album.
Any thoughts, opinions, corrections or recommendations guys?