MANOWAR - The Final Battle I
Release date March 29/19 (Magic Circle)
I'll come clean here, I'm a big fan of Manowar's early efforts. Battle Hymns through Sign of the Hammer all being high quality trad metal; pompous, but with enough hard-hitting material to carry the chest-beating bravado. Unfortunately, things went off the rails since then (35 years ago!), with only The Triumph Of Steel being a worthy addition to their discography. Sure, you can extract individual tracks from these later releases, but it's clear the band's best material is far behind them.
Which brings us to this new EP, its title leading me to believe that the self-proclaimed "Kings of Metal" were about to hang up their loin cloths, not surprising given the death of a long-time drummer (Scott Columbus) and the arrest of guitarist Karl Logan (on child pornography charges). A quick check at the band's website though and I discovered that no such plans are in place, leader/bassist/bringer-of-the-black-wind (heh, heh) Joey DeMaio only too happy to continue fighting under the flag of heavy metal. Hail and kill ... and all that, I guess.
Sharpening my writing sword for an expected slicing-and-dicing of this latest output, I hit play and am met with a symphonic instrumental opener, glorious and overwrought as expected (cue heavenly choirs and orchestral salutations) ... yet unexpectedly (and happily) short. 'Blood and Steel' follows, a mid-tempo thumper with catchy chorus that, while certainly familiar both musically and lyrically, works in getting the blood pumping.
Two epics close out the 20-minute EP, first being 'Sword of the Highlands' that starts out like something derived out of the Shire in Lord Of The Rings. Adams then does his spoken-word shtick for a bit before the track goes for the glory-in-death route. Yes, again, its derivative of past Manowar victories, but it works. I can see the European Manowarriors raising their banners in salute while the band plays this.
Last up is the surprising 'You Shall Die Before I Die' going about things slowly, hacking and slicing up its six minutes with lots of room for DeMaio to do tons of blubbering bass doodling (like something off of Into Glory Ride). Even more surprising, the bassist steps up to the mic and delivers a gurgling/mumbling vocal performance that sounds like an aging Shakespearean actor unwilling to accept that his voice is shot. However, yet again, it works.
So here I sit, somewhat disappointed that I'm not able to carve this to shreds. While mostly derivative in nature, it is well played and produced power metal, that is easily digestible. Perhaps this was a cunning decision by the band to introduce material slowly (two more EPs are to follow), allowing us mortals to more easily digest these sounds from Odin.