Kerrang - Uk 77 - 1984
MANOWAR - Sign Of The Hammer
Interview taken by Dante Bonutto
"Y'Know, I think Manowar are the only real HM band I've worked with. They've Taught me a lot about the music" - Tony Platt
The comparison may not stand up too much scrutiny, but id you had to whisper the name of Manowar in the same breath as another HM band, than that band would probably be Venom. Yeah, Venom. Both outfits, y'see, have definite unswerving ideas, knowing exactly what they want in terms of image, sound and presentation. Despite protestations from outsiders; despite those who would describe the mannish one's attitude as (in family magazine vernacular) "unhelpful", the New Yorkers - like Geordie trio - simply aren't prepared to compromise, being generally wary of those who would meddle and determined, above all, to preserve their unique style and character. You may not rate Manowar live or on plastic, but you have to admit that, for better or worse (I think you know where I stand), their sounds is their own, an intense blend of melody and might that, in conception and feel, has much in common with the film soundtrack work of Ennio Morricone. What the four have shown, however (Cronos and co take note), is that it's possible to keep a firm grip on aims and ideals and still let other people -the right people, record company and otherwise - in on the act, an inevitable occurrence if advancement beyond a cult level is ever to be realised. The band have now worked with two genuine producers, Jack Richardson and Tony Platt, yet have still retained their own distinctive rumble, using the experience of the men at the helm simply to embellish and hone rather than disrupt or dilute. Both their previous LP, 'Hail To England', and this new one (bar the title track) were, in fact, recorded under the paternal wing of the veteran Jack Richardson at Toronto's Phase One studio, though 'Sign Of The Hammer', the band's premier release on 10 Records, has been remixed subsequently by Tony Platt at the Virgin Manor where the song itself was laid down. In view of Manowar's sturdy, single-minded attitude, their refusal to bend according to trend or whim, many felt that no major label would want to get involved. But the folk over at 10, a highly supportive company, have been prepared to give the band their head. They haven't tampered with basic chemistry and the fruits of the partnership have been encouraging to say the least. In this respect, the part played by Platt has been crucial ("We now say that Platt is where it's at" informs bassist/main songwriter Joey DeMaio), bringing the band close to realising their obvious potential whilst focusing the listener's attention exactly where it belongs - on the vicious/virtuoso bass playing the pumping black heart at the core of the Manowar sound. Fusing the conventional roles of rhythm guitar and bass, DeMaio locks tight with the punch-bag pounding of drummer Scott Columbus, the two forging a firmly-rooted base from which guitarist Ross The Boss and vocalist Eric Adams take the songs spiralling into the realms of the truly epic. Really, Adams is very special, sniffing the same refined air as Ronnie James Dio and Queensryche's Geoff Tate, the man they all have to beat. His delivery is powerful certainly, though the melodic line still succeeds in making Its presence felt, and when he screams (let me warn you now, he does!), it's a musical rather than painful experience. On album opener and current single 'All Men Play On 10', for example, he lets fly with a potent, no-sellout statement of intent which, supported by a goodly dose of damage from The Boss, makes this song a worthy descendant of such fertile anthemic fodder as "Rock The Nation" and "Born To Be Wild"….. Speaking of which, "Animals", the probable follow-up single, has a distinctly wild look in its eye and a trace of hair around the palms. The bass, as ever, defines the melody, DeMaio's Jet black mane whipping back and forth as he leads the way into a catchy nocturnal romp, complete with shout-it-out chorus, furious bass-drum endeavour and the odd tumescent twitch around the sporran. A rippling guitar/drums fanfare heralds the arrival of Thor (The Powerhead) which literally brings the hammer down-hard! The band strain at the leash for a while then, breaking free, accelerate into a frenzied flat-out charge, the whole thing building to an explosive melée of dog fighting guitars and screaming vocals. The last track on Side One, "Mountains", and the first track on Side Two, 'SOTH' itself, we'll come to later; for now, let s fasten our seat-belts and hitch a ride with "The Oath", described by DeMaio as, "the ultimate statement for head bangers!" What we have here, you might say, is Manowar's entry into the shady, often tuneless world of Thrash Metal, a world from which they emerge triumphant, holding high the heads of mere pretenders such as the unspeakable Hellhammar for all to see. Simply, this is the number where Ross The Boss comes into his own. It's here that the ex-Dictator finds sufficient room to play his craft unhampered and he doesn't waste the opportunity. Get that tremelo arm fitted to your squash racket now! "Thunderpick", a bass solo in the "Black Arrows" tradition, is next up, another esoteric showcase for DeMaio's technical wizardry, though personally I'd have preferred to hear another song. Particularly one on a par with album closer "Guyana (Cult Of The Damned)", a true cautionary tale of cult worship, mass suicide and foul murder. The song has a deeply mournful, near operatic feel, with Adams' vocals veering between the savage and the spine-tingling, though a raucous rolling riff spices things up along the way. Shame about the overly abrupt ending, however. So there you have it, nope full - bodied stuff, though if it's vintage brew you're after hen look no further than 'Mountains' and 'SOTH', Manowar's most complete compositions to date...
The former really is as finely-crafted a piece of rock music as you're likely to hear, a rich ideologically-based blend of light and shade, though even better is the title track itself, a mid-paced number in best 'Blood Of My Enemies' vein. The drums gallop, the bass rips along and Adams snaps and snarls, the whole thing adding up to the finest ensnarement of the Manowar sound to date. Black Wind On Black Vinyl. All hail Tony Platt, a true brother. Hopefully, he'll have a hand (two even) in the band's next album from the off. But, for the moment, savour what we have here - a "War Volume", of course..