Sometime around 2001, I found a website which claimed to be “the future of heavy metal”. In the twenty-first century, the very notion of calling metal ‘heavy’ metal was at complete odds with any kind of “future”. The website also had a logo which dripped blood. After I stopped laughing, I realised that these guys weren’t being ironic. They were still partying like it was 1982 and incapable of forward thinking. They probably loved this album by Manowar and were probably even naive enough to take it completely seriously.
As tight as they are musically, there’s no way Manowar aren’t playing their audience, with tongues firmly in-cheek. ‘The Triumph of Steel’ – their sixth studio album – was released in 1992, in the middle of a very exciting time for alternative rock and metal. With that, they were outsiders – even more so than usual. With Soundgarden and Pearl Jam appearing regularly in Kerrang!, it was hardly likely Joey DeMaio and his gang were ever likely to be cover stars, with their battle songs and grimacing rock faces.
The album was released over a decade into the band’s career, so surely by then, their testosterone driven, Thor-hammered schtick should’ve worn a little thin?
They’ve thought of that.
In a move far braver than most weaklings would even consider, the album opens with a 28 minute epic ‘Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy In Eight Parts’. It takes their fascination with mythology and gods to whole new levels of pompousness. Over the course of nearly half an hour, Manowar churn out lyrics inspired by Homer’s ‘Iliad’, where the best bits are coupled with monster-sized guitar riffs, but there’s a lot of padding. At worst, there are bits which sound like horrible musical theatre (think Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of “Sparticus”, but even worse) and surely the four-and-a-half minute drum solo could’ve been edited out? Overall, while Manowar deserve points for pushing their brand of battle metal to new extremes, at almost half an hour, it was bound to fall on its arse somewhere. Realistically, the best parts of ‘Achilles’ could have created a career-defining, brilliant ten-minuter.
The second half of the album returns to more tried and tested formulas, with Manowar tackling standard length tunes. ‘Metal Warriors’ begins with the claim that ‘Every one of us has heard the call / Brothers of True Metal, proud and standing tall’. I’m still laughing inside, whenever I think about it. Musically though, it pays homage to everything that’s decent about old-school metal, so despite being ridiculous in the extreme, that’s just enough to make it stand up. ‘Ride The Dragon’ ploughs ahead, 80s metal style, with double bass drumming (courtesy of Kenny Earl “Rhino” Edwards…not to be confused with Status Quo man, Rhino Edwards) and some flat-out hysterical lyrics: ‘Demon’s blood and dragon fire, falling on my wings / Racing to the battle in the sky / Ancient gods are calling me, I hear them when they sing / Of all the heroes who wait for me to die / Beneath the cloak of magic, I’ll meet them in the air / I am invisible, I move without a sound / They look but cannot find me, they think that I’m not there / With a spell I send them crashing to the ground’… Death to false metal, indeed!
Both ‘The Demon’s Whip’ and ‘Cherokee Horse of the Spirits’ are stomping, slower numbers – the former, rather worryingly, seems to have been recorded without any bass (maybe Joey DeMaio was off having an Ægirian sized piss) – but on the plus side, finds space enough for a belting guitar solo. By this point, though, things are in danger of flagging, with most of the material feeling like an afterthought to fill the second half of the disc.
Most of you will be approaching this album knowingly. Despite a reasonable amount of musical prowess, Manowar remain big, brash and dumb. But then, since Manowar once featured Ross “The Boss” Friedman of Detroit garage punks The Dictators, they’re almost certainly having good-natured fun at the expense of eighties style metal.
Just don’t tell those guys at that website.