MTV Headbanger Ball Uk - 1994
HAIL & KILL
Interview taken by Mark Blake
Think about the world's ultimate Heavy Metal band. Think about the world's truest, purest and loudest Heavy Metal band. By now, you are - of course - thinking about MANOWAR.
If anyone band can reasonably lay claim to epitomising the term Heavy Metal then that one band is undoubtedly Manowar. Their thunderous arrival coincided with a music scene desperately trying to polish its image: with bands like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and a slew of American Soft Rockers teasing their hair, squeezing themselves into their girlfriend's trousers - and raffling her make-up bag for lipstick and blusher! But Manowar were having none of that... They were sticking to, and developing, the time-honoured traditions that had established and ensured Heavy Metal's reputation as the loudest and most primal of musical art forms.
Manowar's 1983 publicity shots (see below) showed four guys looking more like extras from the set of 'Conan The Barbarian' than a serious Heavy Metal band: fur codpieces, bare torsos, broadswords... Surely they could not be serious?! But yes, they were. Over 10 years since those pictures were taken very little has changed. A couple of shifts in the band's line-up (founder-member/guitarist Ross The Boss quit in 1988 to be replaced by The Death Dealer, himself replaced by Karl Logan this year, whilst current drummer Rhino took over from Scott Columbus in '92) has done little to alter their original intentions. Manowar still pride themselves on being the ultimate Heavy Metal band. Bassist, band spokesman and some-time wielder of a particularly mighty broadsword, Joey DeMaio remains the same unquestioning bastion of Metal. Ask him how he feels about each of Manowar's seven albums, which songs are his favourites, what changes he might make given the chance and it's like coming up against a brick wall.
"There's nothing I'd change," he snaps drily. "I still love each of our albums, because each one was made by the band with a combination of blood, sweat and Metal." He spits out the words slowly as if driving home their point. "We stuck to our guns. Because when we formed the band that's what we set out to do: to fly the flag for Metal. It's a rare thing in this business to stick to your ideals, not to sell-out, which is why I think we've been rewarded by being recognised as the greatest band in the world. That is our thanks," he adds, refreshingly devoid of all modesty or self-doubt. "For other bands the trappings have always been fame, money, recognition. For us it's always been the music. To be rewarded for all the work and the love and the devotion that goes into the music we're rewarded with the greatest, strongest following in the world."
The Band's fan club, the Army Of Immortals, based in the Heavy Metal bastion of Leeds in England, certainly remains one of the most ardent followings any band could hope to have. Scouring the music press for any reference, however scant, to their heroes they have been known to bombard magazine editors and journalists with corrections to any factual errors published about their favourite band, or harsh criticism whenever they think Manowar have been rubbished. It's a brave journalist whose hand doesn't tremble when opening an envelope bearing The Army's chilling insignia. For Joey DeMaio, the struggle may have been hard, but the memories make it all worthwhile:
"It would be impossible to pick favourites from each of those albums," he insists. "It shifts all the time, which certainly presents us with a problem when it comes to choosing a set-list. Each song holds a specific memory at the time in which it was recorded. None of those records were easily made, there was always a struggle at whatever time we were doing it. And there still is now. There is still that whole ongoing effort, even more so now that the band has grown and our following has grown, and for us, nothing is taken lightly. We're perfectionists, we want to deliver the best possible recording we can. Every time."
Who are the guilty parties that have tried to undermine Manowar over the years and what are their tactics?
"It's always the same thing. Whether it's a record company executive or a producer. There's always someone in a position of power and responsibility who believes that whatever the current musical trend or the fashion is, that's what the band should be following."
Has it become any easier over the years?
"The situation now is that we're a little less questioned in terms of who we are. Because people know who we are - and that we won't compromise. I think people have given up trying to persuade us. They know that they're fighting a losing battle. One walk through a Manowar showand it's pretty much self-explanatory to the people there that we're Heavy Metal; the ultimate in Heavy Metal."
Back in 983, DeMaio made a solemn pledge:
"We're everything we say we are and more. We'll never wimp out. The band will break up before we do that, and we won't turn our backs on our fans - on that you have our word!"
He's never looked back.
"They were very hard times, but good times as well," he says wistfully. "Because we knew that we had achieved something unique. The most important thing that any band or artist can do is to create a following of people who say, "l like this because it's different and I like it just the way it is". That means you're bound by your own laws, not the laws of other people. How could we have made those records all those years ago if we had had different views about what we wanted to do?" he shrugs. "There was no choice. How else could four people stay together under the most difficult circumstances, and sometimes prejudices, and still go out and sign a recording contract in blood?"
Manowar inked their record deal with Music For Nations in 1982 in their own blood, coaxed from the band's collective veins with a dagger, while a concerned paramedic looked on.
Does DeMaio feel any regret or embarrassment at the memory of this gesture? You must be kidding.
"It was a group decision that we sign in blood. We figured that now was the time we had to show people our true commitment to the band. Liberty Records had dropped the band after our first album, 'Battle Hymns', because they didn't agree with what we were doing musically. We figured that as we were signing a new deal it was only fair that we showed the company exactly what we were about."
Did they try to stop the band?
"No record company could have talked us out of it. No record company could have had a say. They didn't even try. You have to understand Music For Nations at the time. Their biggest selling record before Manowar did just 5000 albums worldwide. They did that on the first day with 'lnto Glory Ride'!"
Joey DeMaio put together Manowar with guitarist Ross The Boss (aka Ross Friedman) in 1980, after the latter had left French Hard Rock band Shakin' Street and DeMaio had completed a tour as a roadie for Black Sabbath - although today he is unable to remember which tour! (Actually, It was 'Heaven And Hell - Ed.) Their single-minded aim was to create a real Heavy Metal band, in honour of their musical heroes.
"You have to understand that Heavy Metal is my whole life," declares DeMaio. "There's nothing else for me. Except maybe a little classical music. But overall Heavy Metal is what I live for. I've always liked all the classic, classic Heavy Metal bands and their albums. The real classic records still cannot be faulted. It's impossible for me to list my favourite albums and bands, but anything by Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath would figure in there. They're all incredible bands. Judas Priest? Another incredible band and obviously a great influence. Iron Maiden? I consider them to be the last classic Metal band. They just caught the tail-end of that classic Metal era. After that I feel that It's just been ourselves and a handful of other bands who have come along in recent times. After Maiden I just think that fashion got a hold of everything and everyone, and the media became too concerned with trends, rather than what it was that had kept the whole Heavy Metal movement together. It's like a great piece of art that you might see hanging in a gallery or a museum," he continues. "There are plenty of people painting today, but the art-form began with great art and that will live on forever. At the time it was being created, great art wasn't always recognised. Sometimes it can take a lifetime or more for an artist to get that recognition. Heavy Metal is like that. And so are Manowar."
DeMaio is as disparaging about many of his contemporaries today as he was 10 years ago.
"I'm just oblivious to Grunge," he announces. "Bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden have no place in Heavy Metal. That isn't Heavy Metal - and don't let anybody tell you otherwise! Have I listened to any of the music? Why would I do that? The last album I personally walked into a store and bought was an album by a Japanese keyboard player called Kitaro. Before I arrived at the studio I was listening to 'The Best Of Wagner'. I only listen to people that have talent and that can make an original statement and can add to the art-form. I think Metallica's last record was a great album. I've always believed they were a great band. The new Pantera record is good. They're a high energy band. There's always going to be a few great bands among all the shit. That's the way it's always been."
And Manowar's future plans?
"We're be our first record for the Geffen label right now. I'm unable to give further details at this point. Rest assured though, it will be the ultimate in Heavy Metal..."