Greatness waits for those who try
None can teach you, it's all inside
One Word Review: Vintage
Sign of The Hammer is Manowar's fourth album and as legend has it, it was recorded at the same time as Hail To England, over the course of a few days. I find this quite fascinating since Hail to England and Sign of the Hammer have neither the same sound, nor the same feel. They are two distinct albums both in sound and atmosphere, only sharing the same greatness.
Sign of The Hammer is a confident and altogether fantastic mix of the first three Manowar albums, added a certain ingredient, which makes it unique. The variation level is high, with two party rockers blowing off steam, two inspired epics which hold the essence of Manowar's spirit high, a profound power ballad with the ability to move deeply, a speed metal power blast, a seven minute epic about a mass cult suicide and a bass solo thrown in for good measure. The album presents Manowar as an unpredictable band, who could develop in any direction, as they show each side of their multi-flavored talents in the 8 tracks on display here.
All Men Play on 10 is a tribute to their record company at the time. Being a human Manowar jukebox, I know it by heart and have lost count of the number of times I have sung this one in a party situation of some kind. The song is simply put, brilliant and it captures, with confident strides, Manowar's core; their sense of humor, their pride and their ability take everything to that higher ground that no other band can quite reach.
I have always loved the guitar melody in the bridge leading to the verse as it is surprising and adds that Manowar touch to a seemingly simple song. The rhythm and drive is pitch perfect. The way drums and guitar work together, makes it seem as if they were synchronized down to the tiniest microsecond. But in reality, it is just great musicians playing together. I guess that is what they call tightness.
Animals is filled with sexual tension and it manages to surpass even "Pleasure Slave" as the most direct, or should I say serious song about that subject. Still, the lyrics are extremely funny and if you let the song wrestle you down, it is clear that it is a blast, and that is exactly the feeling I get the band had in the studio when they recorded it. It may be an outcast Manowar song, but I like it.
This fun and carefree opening to the album is about to change.
Thor has been a personal favorite from the first moment, I listened to the album. The opening moments of the song is different from anything else and work as the ultimate builder of tension. With the line "Black clouds on the horizon" an atmosphere is set, underlined by a slow-down in speed, pounding drums and an immensely powerful guitar riff. Ross The Boss' guitar line in the background of each chorus was something that made me go "Wow!" back when I discovered the album. It was a sublimely cool detail and something I had not heard before. It added a special atmosphere to the song and made it feel inspired. To this day I am still in awe of this song and every little element, which together build a magnificent structure. Eric's voice has a wild, flamboyant edge, which I love and the way he is both the lead singer and the choir gives the song a certain sense of urgency and an intensity that has to be experienced. Thor is a tour de force of heavy metal and an example of the level the band was on at this time.
It is not often the word beauty is inflicted upon Manowar, but in the case of Mountains, I can find no other word that sums up the song better. It is the musical equivalence of beauty. The beauty of being alive. The beauty of feeling emotions. The beauty of being in touch with your soul. Mountains successfully lives up to this quite lofty definition by means of uniting the following magical elements into one crowning achievement of a song:
· Joey's bass work has an aura of ethereal pleasure to it. He inexplicably conveys what I just described above through his bass.
· Eric Adams' vocal performance is adamant in the way he manages to convey the essence of the lyrics. He captures this essence with a flamboyant expression and true feeling, showcasing both the powerful and the vulnerable side of his voice with total conviction.
· The lyrics sum up an ideal of being in touch with oneself and overcoming any obstacles through a path of righteousness, vigilance and belief. This is very much in tune with what I find to be the main message of Manowar's music and why I have always held them close.
Mountains proudly stands as one of my favorite Manowar songs as it embodies everything that is good about the band and their music. It is one of those rare songs which can give you a heightened sense of awareness and sum up life in its own terms.
Sign of The Hammer has one of the most excellent beginnings, where the intensity is nerve-wrecking and boils over before the first verse has even begun. Quickly, drums and bass build an incredible sense of power, all to explode into a hard hitting verse, where Eric Adams' voice is an all conquering force, flying on top of the bombastic music. A special note goes to drummer Scott Columbus (R.I.P.). He delivers a pounding drive and a fantastic base for the song to explode, again and again. I'll never forget the delivery of the lines "The spell has been broken, the curse has been lifted. Black is the wind on the heels of the gifted" as the song reaches its climax. This is one vocal passage which has etched itself into my mind as immortal.
The Oath is a speedy assault and my least favorite song on the album. It lacks a varied punch compared to the rest of the album. Sure, it was probably on purpose, but I find the song constantly punching my face when what I am really hoping for is the occasional punch to the stomach. Overall a cool blast of power but a bit too sterile.
Thunderpick is a bass solo experiment of musical extremes, harboring both moments of utter chaos and utter beauty, side by side, with one relieving the other without asking for permission or waiting for admission. That said, it is Joey's most interesting bass solo so far.
Thunderpick also works as an intro for the album's final song, Guyana (Cult of The Damned), a 7 minute epic in the tradition of Manowar album closers. I love how the first words out of Eric's mouth takes the listener right into the song as it builds its tense atmosphere. From here on out, the song builds intensely towards a grand finale and delivers a very special end to the album.
Joey DeMaio's bass work is splendid, no inspired, throughout the album. He underlines passages, often leads the music, adds fine detail to parts of songs and overall just inhabits the music as some kind of entity that was born to be there.
You can say whatever you will about Manowar's lyrics. I find them inspiring on several levels and most important of all, they hold true. I first discovered Sign of The Hammer around 1993 and it became my soundtrack, while playing Ultima Underworld 2, a classic PC game from way back when. There was something about this album, which just fit as background music for that game and to this day I remember it fondly whenever I listen to the album.
Sign of The hammer is a heavy metal classic. One that both encapsulates exactly what Manowar is about and works as a perfect example of what this kind of music can be.
Thus ended what I call the first era of Manowar.
Written By Steen
Online: Friday, December 6, 2013
All Men Play On 10
Thor (The Powerhead)