On a quiet and tired March afternoon in Cleveland, Ohio, the day unfolded with a growing sense of uncertainty: heavy snowfall left many wondering when winter would ever end, Mayor Frank G. Jackson was yet to provide his annual State of the City address, and sports fans across the town prepared for a potential NFL lockout, a circumstance that would render their beloved Browns inert for an entire season.
The tension lingered in the coldest corner of the Rock n’ Roll Capital of the World, where four men stood onstage in an empty Agora Ballroom. The vacant venue was a striking contrast to the common taste of fame they might have been accustomed to: with a capacity of merely 1,800 constituents, the building was a harsh reminder of the perils of longevity in the music scene: a familiar pattern of rise and fall that most 30-year-old bands would attribute to a decline in fandom that comes after the peak of a career. But with sold-out stadiums waiting for them across the Atlantic, Manowar’s decline was still the subject of some unwritten sentence.
So the Kings stood before the open floor and rows of vacant seats, while visions of a roaring crowd rushed through their minds. They assumed the positions that would form their respective stables for the evening’s show: Donnie on the drums, Karl on the six-string, Joey on the bass, and Eric on the mic. Behind them, their servants rushed about—roadies, equipment managers and the sound crew—together working hard to ensure the lighting and PA systems were up to par with the band’s demands.
With each sound dial set to full blast, an adherence to the musical maxim that All Men Play on Ten, all it took was a strum of the guitar and a crash of the drums for a lightning bolt to strike 5000 Euclid Avenue. The lights went out, the amps went silent, and the entire city block was without electricity.
When the smoke cleared, the air remained saturated with bad-assery: Manowar’s soundcheck had blown an outside transformer, and the connected power grid was blacked-out completely.
A mob of tradesmen rushed to ballroom, hurrying to bring electricity back to the historic venue, let alone the entire city block. Sure enough, it was soon evident that it would take over 24 hours for the power to be restored. With the concert scheduled a mere seven hours ahead, the news was disheartening; a brash hurdle to what was Manowar’s first North American show in nearly ten years. And while many feeble artists would soon cancel the concert, the Kings refused to stand idle; the band had generators rushed to the scene, operated the ballroom on partial power and allocated all energy to their hellacious speakers. Public utilities may have been dismantled for the evening, but dammit, there was heavy metal to be played!
Hours later, with my blissful little brain still ignorant of the sound check struggle that would later become the subject of legend, I found my way to the tattered exterior of the Agora Ballroom; the anticipation building up inside me; my palms sweating; my heart racing; greatness awaiting. Was I actually about to see Manowar!? The proposition was still unfathomable. I flashed my golden ticket to the doorman, who gave me a cherry smile and waded me through the doors. And there I stood, behind the sold-out gates of Valhalla, greeted by a group of wild strangers that will forever be my brothers.
The immediate sounds were violent; the harsh harmony of a giant crowd screeching the mantras of their motherland: “Hail, hail, hail and kill!” and “Die for Metal!” The show hadn’t even started yet! But the tension was rising, and as it bubbled over the edge, I had no choice but inject my voice into the madness. I began to scream, involuntarily, the words obscured by the chants of my comrades. I made my way through the corridor, shoulder to shoulder with the freaks, and slowly became amalgamated with the metalheads as we uniformly slithered towards the stage.
The moshpit was a stuffy sea of long hair whose depths were comprised of studded leather jackets and baggy black leggings. Above the surface blew the many flags of fanhood: from the state banners of Florida and Washington, to the national colors of Canada and Mexico; there was no doubt that this was the heaviest metal hot spot in all of North America. I took a deep breath and dove beneath the shoulders of the crowd, swimming as far forward as my lungs would allow. When I resurfaced I found myself in the center of the pit, with about three rows of bodies separating me from the stage. Satisfied with my surroundings, I had nothing left to do but wait for my heroes with bated breath, and scream ‘Manowar’ as many times as I could before they actually came on stage.
When the lights finally went down my body almost lost consciousness, but I was quickly enlivened by the magnificent roar that emerged from everyone around me. The roof started to vibrate; the noise deafening. A glance towards the stage showcased a silhouette of the warriors; four Kings, clad in leather, standing tall, powerful and triumphant atop their army.
Suddenly a war-cry thundered in from the heavens: Ladies and Gentleman, Manowar!
The roaring opening riff of the band’s self-titled track exploded from the speakers, a sound so loud I could feel it in my chest. Gale force winds rushed through my hair with every beat, while every flawless note of musical mastery danced through the air. The Kings were on their game! But I still had but one concern: was Eric Adams going to hit the scream?
Eric Adams has one of the most complete and versatile voices in the history of heavy metal. Its incredible range stretches across four octaves, and he can hold a note longer than ever thought humanly possible. His operatic tone has seen him sing alongside talents such as Sarah Brightman and has allowed for marvellous renditions of Giacoma Puccini’s Nessun Dorma and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera. But more importantly, his talent has placed him in front of some of the most powerful and raspy heavy metal songs ever created, all the while honing a sound and scream that defined a genre and epitomized its beauty.
However, over the years, it seems that Adams’ voice has aged, and who could blame it? Sitting for sixty years in a box that bellowed out some of heavy metals highest pitches, it’s no wonder that the voice has moved past its prime. Adams’ vocals have become low and heavy in tone, and the band has responded directly by recording their newer studio albums in lower octaves.
But now he stood (right in front of me, I might add) ready to confront the sounds of his past: he had to perform “Battle Hymns” in its entirety, an album whose greatness rests on his shoulders; an artwork that was painted by his youthful screams. Could he do it!? I was worried, scared I might see an uninspired performance of a heavy metal masterpiece. And with that, all my preconceptions went out the windpipe with one single line:
“Oh, Manowar, born to live forever more, the right to conquer every shore!”
The first scream of the night! Executed with the eloquence of a young Eric Adams with the ruthless vigour of his modern form! It was a thing of beauty, an alluring noise that carried both youth and wisdom in a single pitch! Oh sweet justice, never question the Kings of Metal!
The show carried on, Battle Hymn’s played from cover to cover, no note forgotten but a unique flare added— there was more power! The tunes were heavier, the screams were longer (at one point I thought Adams’ head would explode!) and the speakers were Louder Than Hell!
The audience raged on as song after song we grew more wild, passionate and ecstatic; the men onstage holding us in the palms of their hands! When they asked us to scream louder, we screamed. When they hushed us, you could hear a pin drop. We cried along to their ballads, thrashed beside their solos’ and moshed almost uncontrollably—all the while rejoicing in the greatness that stood in front of us.
A Manowar show is unlike any concert I have ever been to. Upon reflection it doesn’t seem like a concert at all. The themes of worship and honour that, at the end of the day, are just playful gimmicks that define a metal band, somehow slip from the realm of the imaginary and embed themselves in reality; the men onstage became Gods. Coupled with the rarity that it is to see the band, especially on American soil, the concert upheld an aura of fantasy and prestige that everyone became a part of. In that prolonged moment that lasted some twenty-something songs, nothing else seemed real, nothing else existed; there was only balls to the wall metal that commanded every shred of our consciousness.We became an extension of the band, together creating our own little corner of the universe where the only things that mattered were deep riffs, loud screams and bobbing heads.
The next day, content and with time left to spare before I made the journey home, I stopped by the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, where I was met with one comical yet pervading image: everyone inside was wearing the same Manowar t-shirt, including myself. As we all circulated the hallowed halls of stardom, we met each other with quick glances and smiles, carrying with us a unique connection that need not bother be spoken of: we had all traversed a section of the globe in the name of music, our lives intersected for this one brief moment in time. We were all part of something; respondents to a call of duty, unified for the sole purpose to revel in the glory and majesty that is Manowar.
We were all Road Warriors…
…at least that’s what the t-shirts said.