“Kill! Kill!” A chorus simple yet enthralling; morbid yet glorious; chaotic yet symphonic, it embodies the heart and soul of a band that, over the past thirty years, has established a fan base that would march through violence and bloodshed just to hear their self-proclaimed Kings of Metal play.
Manowar, a heavy metal band comprised of fantastical lyrics, wild guitars, and harmonious orchestras, captivated me in my youth and remains dear to me still. And so, in an effort to spread the gospel, I’ve decided to share the experiences that lead me to one of the greatest heavy metal shows to touch North American soil.
This is the story one man’s journey through scorched earth to the Gates of Valhalla; of a destiny so great it could only be written by the Gods. It is a tale of courage, triumph and steel.
Part I: Born With a Heart of Steel
It all began when I was a mere 12 years young. An impressionable youth, I was glued to the family desktop computer, exploring cyberspace and the fascinating online communities it had to offer. In those days, the internet was a new and exciting phenomenon. There was no Facebook or YouTube, only messageboards and chatrooms where people with similar interests could trash-talk each other and pirate movies and music. Being a huge professional wrestling buff at the time, I used to peruse a popular backyard wrestling forum, where users would share clips of their own homemade wrestling footage. Most of them were brutal, barbaric and downright silly; I loved it. Things became even more fascinating when a user screennamed ‘Overhaul’ put together a highlight reel featuring the forum’s most popular clips. It was set to the classic Manowar tune ‘Warriors of the World’.
I’ll never forget the video. It featured kids smashing light-tubes over the back of their friends’ heads, slamming each other through tables, and doing high-flying dives off of ladders and rooftops. There was fire, blood and hordes of teenagers risking life and limb in front their VHS camcorders.
It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.
The soundtrack screamed “We’re warriors, warriors of the world!” The song was as epic as the clips it played beside, and together they captured the essence of the underground backyard wrestling scene: a large group of wild and passionate teens, outcasts in their respective hometowns, yet globally united through the web.
Hooked from the video, I dabbled in the ‘art’ of backyard wrestling up until I was about 16. Luckily I retired relatively unscathed, suffering nothing worse than a couple bruises and a mean shot to the groin. But I always kept that “Warriors of the World” song on my playlist. It reminded me of a time when life was nothing more than going online to see what kind of crazy stuff those boys on the coast were doing, or going into my backyard to try out new wrestling moves with my friends. It was just so damned epic!
“Warriors of the World” was my gateway into a relationship with a band that will span the rest of my life. It’s a simple tune, with a basic drum beat and a classic deep-metal guitar riff. The lyrics are absolutely over the top; they speak of war and honour, predominant themes that has lasted since the group’s humble beginnings.
Manowar was formed in 1980, when bass player Joey DeMaio met guitarist Ross Freidman in Newcastle, England, during Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell tour. DeMaio, working as a bass and pyro technician for Sabbath, and Freidman, a guitar player for Black Sabbath support band Shakin’ Street, shared a love for loud “in-your-face-metal”. Their passions intertwined, and together decided to start a band that showcased their musical ideals. The duo recruited vocalist Eric Adams and drummer Carl Canedy (soon to be replaced by Donnie Hamzik), putting together what would be the earliest version of Manowar.
The band signed on to Liberty Records in 1981 to record their debut album, Battle Hymns. The fist-pumping, jaw-dropping classic was destined to blow your speakers, boasting songs such as “Shell Shock”, “Metal Daze” and (the self-titled) “Manowar.” Utilizing the sounds of rock-and-roll and fusing them with power and speed, the first five tracks of the album pay homage to their genre’s evolutionary predecessor. As the record progresses the tunes get heavier. The song “Dark Avenger,” a progressive six-minute fable, features a monologue spoken by the legendary Orson Welles (Manowar is cited as the only band Welles has ever recorded with). The album concludes with its title track, “Battle Hymn.”
Widely considered to be one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time, “Battle Hymn” is the paradigm of its genre. It is loud and heavy while melodious and dramatic. It showcases the skills and talents of its contributing artists, giving each musician center-stage throughout its composition. Its progression is timeless and its rhythm romantic, thrusting listeners into the heart of the battlefield; it will make you imagine you’re charging enemy lines ‘with mace and chain in hand.’
Thirty years later, Manowar is still going strong. Holding the Guinness world record for Loudest Band in the World (a record they have since broken on two separate occasions), they’ve produced 12 studio albums, own and operate their own record label, and continue to organize and headline huge music festivals across Europe. Overseas, they are truly the Kings of Metal. But in North America, the title never seemed to follow them. They’ve struggled to garner mainstream success in the United States, where metal music is more underground and less culturally appealing. And so, the band has made a home for itself across the Atlantic, marking American tours about as rare as a hot blonde at a metal show.
They might be rare. But they’re out there.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of “The Road Warrior”
Feature image sourced on Google.