Fall of 1988 was a glorious time. Not just for me, but for all of heavy metal. We were all still basking in the afterglow of a spring/summer of great albums from the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Cinderella, Queensrÿche, Sanctuary, etc., and the promise of new ones from some of our other heroes. One such album took hold of me on a chilly November Saturday night on my way to a party. Four of us walked over to Uncle Phil’s and there it was…Kings of Metal from Manowar. Released a year and change after Fighting the World (YES, bands used to put out good music pretty quickly back then!) this one beckoned me from the shelves. As soon as I saw the cover I took my last $10 and plunked it down for the tape. I don’t think I heard a word anyone said to me all night, all I could think about was getting home and playing that tape in the top left pocket of my denim jacket!
At last, I was home, jacket tossed aside, and tape in the deck of my rack system. First thing that hit me was the speed and brutality of “Wheels of Fire”. Say what you want about Manowar’s chest-thumping brand of metal, these fuckers could flat out play. Drummer Scott Columbus takes off on this unholy gallop and guitarist Ross the Boss matches him stride for stride, eventually unleashing a fiery solo that burns with a vengeance. Without a doubt, their biggest anthem is next in “Kings of Metal”. This is a song that 18-20 years later I was still turning people onto, and now at 25 years I just love to play the shit out of it…LOUD. You can see metalheads anywhere, and all you have to say is “Other bands play…” and they’ll roar back with, “MANOWAR KILLS!!” faster than you can get your devil horns in the air, trust me.
One constant on all Manowar records is the grandiose ballad or two…or three, in some cases. But in my anything but humble opinion “Heart of Steel” is one of the finest songs they have ever written, and vocalist Eric Adams displays a depth not seen on previous releases. Going hand in hand with this is “The Crown And the Ring (Lament of the Kings)”, a sweeping, majestic affair about warriors and gloriously dying on the field of battle. Hey, I never said it was rocket science, but it sure as hell is entertaining. “Saddle my horse as I drink my last ale. Bowstring and steel will prevail.” Come on, you can’t make this greatness up! Sandwiched between these two is Joey DeMaio’s “Sting Of the Bumblebee” a bass solo take on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s OTHER bumblebee song. What was that again? No matter, this one fucking jams!
Side two opens with “Kingdom Come” which was 15-year old me’s favorite after the title track. Eric’s howling wail as the song draws to a close gave me goose bumps, and is another one I crank the shit out of often. Now this will be a first, a Classic Album in which there is a less-than-perfect song, and that song is Pleasure Slave. It’s very misogynistic and dated, with its themes of wenches getting down pleasuring the warriors before and after their battles, but it’s a small blemish on an otherwise excellent record. Besides, “Hail and Kill” more than makes up for it. Two things you could always count on from Manowar: Epic tales of bloodshed and proclamations of being THE only true metal band in the land. Well, this is an example of the former, gleefully singing about vanquishing thine enemies and raping and pillaging the conquered.
Now, a lot of people don’t like the narrated “The Warrior’s Prayer”, but I have to tell you that listening to that in my headphones on the bus to school, or as I walked to work on a cold winter’s day was something I will always cherish. And from the last spoken words of that we come to closer “Blood Of the Kings”, a seven-minute ride into battle that names every previous Manowar release while also serving as a rallying cry to the Manowar armies the world over, you and me included. It is a fitting way to close out an album of oiled-up, loincloth and leather-clad stories of swords, hammers, ale, battle axes, blood, wenches, and just playing fucking louder than everyone else! Not only do I have great memories of this song and album from 1988, I also have the satisfaction of me and my buddy Scott using it to torture the twenty-something’s we worked with in 2006 for hours on end. Little shits had no idea what music was.
So there you have it, my take on Manowar’s Kings of Metal. There’s not much else to say except:
“OTHER BANDS PLAY, MANOWAR KILLS!!!!” \m/ \m/