By Robert Bayley
The first thing it showed was that, contrary to belief, Manowar is not a band that takes itself too seriously. The New Yorkers are currently touring in support of Battle Hymns MMXI. A re-recording of their 1982 debut album Battle Hymns, Manowar are returning to the UK for the first time in 16 years. Secondly it confirmed they were clearly having whale of a time on stage. This boundless enthusiasm and enjoyment couldn’t help but surge into the audience despite it taking over an hour for them to appear.
The atmosphere from the get go was truly joyous and unlike any of the metal gigs this reviewer has been to this year. Never has there been such goodwill in a crowd in front of a band that so repeatedly screamed the words ‘war’, ‘death’, ‘die’, ‘blood’, ‘swords’, ‘hammers’ and ‘Hell’.
However it wasn’t only the band’s enthusiasm that influenced the audience reaction as Manowar were remarkably precise. Every track of the set list was almost studio perfect; the only misstep being Adam’s initially forgetting the words to King of Kings. This is fairly understandable though as the extensive set list consisted of well over twenty-five songs.
A full run through of Battle Hymns (the longer, Christopher Lee narrated MMXI version) started proceedings, ending that section with a rapturous rendition of the title track that sent the crowd wild.
Following this was a greatest hits list from a group that clearly knew what the audience wanted after so long away from their shores. Highlights were Hail and Kill, Kings of Metal and Army of the Immortals.
Faster tracks like House of Death and Hand of Doom were somewhat less distinguishable however by the overpowering bass guitar. While living up to their twice-held Guinness World Record of Loudest Band in the World, the lead guitar was drowned out in much faster tracks that needed especial definition.
Joey DeMaio’s bass work, however loud, was still a treat. Notes elicited power rarely seen, as a genuine physical force rocked the crowd to their bones. DeMaio’s strutting showmanship was also almost a match for Adams’, displaying a flare and arrogance not seen outside of Spinal Tap.
Indeed so many bands take such pains to avoid the clichés or stereotypes of heavy metal that Manowar are actually something rather unique. Clad in leather armour, hair flowing and posturing incredibly, singing lyrics of war, dragons, Thor and fighting all while punching the air, Manowar have become something rather unique. The concert was a pure distillation of everything associated with ’old-fashioned’ heavy metal. The O2 Academy somehow had become a metal cathedral and the crowd, especially during more signature tunes such as Warriors of the World, became a devout congregation in a richly cathartic experience.
Almost every song on the list ended with typically metal and increasingly self-parodic extended bouts of distortion. Nearing the end Adams held DeMaio’s and lead guitarist Donnie Hamzik’s instruments aloft as their respective owners played them before DeMaio ripped the strings from his bass and tossed them into the crowd with earth shattering sound.
As Manowar exited the stage the unreal fervour that they had managed to whip up was properly realised. As the hymn like Army of the Dead Part 2 played over the speakers, the congregation stood for the whole length in reverence of what had become a religious ceremony, staring at the stage, proudly holding aloft the Sign of the Hammer.
So, good as the music is, that isn’t Manowar’s achievement with this tour. Their true crown is making an altar to metal and allowing us, for one night, to fully embrace all we pretend to dislike about it but secretly love.