Sounds Uk - 35 1982
SWORDS AND DEBAUCHERY
Interview taken by Tim Sommer
"Tim Sommer confront thieves, warriors, gladiators and Metal Kings Manowar"
Backstage, reunions, Center, Dallas, Texas. Amidst a maze of gear, folding chairs, cinder blocks, roadies, and beefy security, Manowar guitar hero Ross The Boss beckons me over and puts a thick, tan arm around my thin, white shoulders. "Tim," he boasts, one hand sweeping proudly over a sea of larger-than-life Marshal cabinets, "This is what real men play through."
Manowar. Manowar! Barbaric, hi-tech warriors, armed, united, passionate, and fighting to bring Manliness (note that capital M!) back to rock'n'roll and save the dying spirit of True Metal! In American hearts. Not an easy fight, but it should be interesting - Manowar don't fit in at all with most of the slick, layered, radio oriented hard rock and HM you hear around these days - no way, no how. Manowar are a MONSTER of a band, fearless, powerful, loud, macho, adamant, and grotesque. They've also got super-manager Bill Aucoin and the combined forces of Capitol/EMI on their side, which should probably help.
Bassist Joey DeMaio: "American audiences don't know what true heavy metal is. They really don't have a taste of metal. They don't have Motorhead or anything like them, they don't hear it."
Ross The Boss: "What's out now is not the kind of music that got me off, got me into heavy metal in the beginning. It sickens me - I get physically sickened to listen to the music that is today, it is garbage, it is shit, and I can't stand it and I'm embarrassed for America, I really am. America is bordering on losing its rock'n'roll soul - if it's not gone already."
That's the battleground. Manowar, swords raised high-are the troops. Dallas Texas. They really do say "Y'all" and a lot of 'em wear big hats, too. I feel something is amiss from the moment I touch down - if airports are supposed to convey any feeling of welcome. Dallas/Fort Worth airport (a massive affair, bigger than the island of Manhattan, they say) is a dismal failure - an ugly, concrete giant, as repulsive as it is devoid of any human personality. But sadly, the airport very much sets the tone for the city: Blank, grey-white humid air thick and twangy dissonant accents, a whole metropolis of flat, flat brand-new dull sand-coloured concrete, ugly, ugly, ugly. Downtown Dallas is made up of angular, colourless skyscrapers and office towers - way expressionless and inhuman. I didn't expect to see architecture like this for at least another twenty years. There's plenty of sidewalks, but no people on them - this city belongs to the autos and the motorways. As for the legendary Texan women, they seem to have pretty good tits but otherwise fall well below expectations. It's such a contrast to my living, breathing, reacting, human New York City that it really overwhelms me. Later on in our stay in Dallas, photog. Geoffry and I will visit the spot where Kennedy bought the farm nineteen years ago - green grassy knoll, bright red brick warehouse, white federal NRA memorials, it's very American and perfectly preserved straight out of infamy - it brings forth more nasty images for a cold money run city that grew too fast for the humans to catch up and give it any style or warmth. And it all seems a decent enough place & take in Manowar's gross music - 'cos that's the best word for Manowar, gross. And I don't mean that in a bad way, no, not at all - that's just what Manowar's particular adjective is. Their sound is a great, spitting, metal retch, sputtering knobby steel and chunky rhythms across this vast wasteland. Their debut LP, Battle Hymns (just out in the UK) is a pretty good (sometimes great, occasionally medium duff) showcase of Manowar's mutant hard rock. Extreme, persistent stuff resounding with majesty, chops, enclarity. I think Manowar will eventually do better - really spear the barbaric blood'n'guts thunder volume speed metal they're laying claims to and do attain in their better moments, but Battle Hymns is none the less a fine, loud, and rude awakening to the America metal public; trashtoons like 'Metal Daze', 'Death Tone', and 'Manowar' are classics, stomping Oi/Metal earthquake killers, pretty much the first decent American Metal that can hold a candle to Tank, Motorhead, better Judas Priest or Blitz. Absolutely revolting in its volume and persistence, Manowar are the sound of American metal completely overindulging in itself and heaving every clichéd, overloud, and overused gut it's got into the toilet - and leaving the door open for everyone to watch!
My first encounter with Manowar comes down by the hotel's echo-laden indoor pool.
Going outside in Texas is a bit of a joke; the summertime weather is quite literally hell-like, a lot worse than anything I thought possible, stepping outside from the air-conditioned indoors is just like stepping into a steambath - waves of very damp extreme heat. So even the pools are inside. Though (like myself) Manowar are all Noo Yawk boys (Ross is from the Bronx, Joey and singer Eric Adams are both from Syracuse, and drummer Donnie Hamzik is from Binghamton - Syracuse and Binghamton are both decaying, metal-ruled upstate college towns), they're down here in the land' o Big Hats and JR to play support on a string of large arena dates with Ted Nugent and Pat Travers.
They're third on the bill, and even still they were doing such a good job at blowing off the headliners that Manowar's been booted off the tour, and tonight in Dallas is the last date.
Nugent and Travers are both (to use Manowar's words) "On the other side of the mountain" - that is to say that their careers have peaked here in the U.S. and the early '80's finds their popularity and sales clout fading, so naturally they can ill afford to have some young and energy-charged upstarts stealing their thunder. Their kind of chug' lug thunderless and riskless metal seems to be dying…
"And we feel it should die," Joey clearly and sensibly states. He's a sharp thinking, articulate and driven young man - his tight-lipped, emphatic, hard working yet amiable passion defines the band.
He's handsome, too, about eighty times better looking than the pictures - sort of a cross between Alice Cooper and David Lee Roth while being substantially better looking than either.
"What these people are doing should be swept by the wayside," he continues. "It's just that in this band everybody is giving their all, a hundred percent - 'cos we're young and we're Hungry, we've got a fire burning inside of us. Whereas Ted, he's been playing for years; he's kind of laid back, he's the headliner, he comes out and he knows the crowd is there to see him . he's really not out to kill anybody. And we are. We're out to stomp our way through. We feel like we've got a very aggressive attitude because everybody's been in different groups and had absolutely nothing - we've had to fight for every inch of ground that we've gained personally, and that's why our heart are filled with hatred and our veins run with black blood now, (note the barbaric imagery!) because of all this, we've been kept down so long now, and now that the four of us have met with the same ideas about what we want to do and how we want to be and how we want to present ourselves and how we want to play, we just feel that we're on our own path now, we want to cut through everybody else that's there. We're not trying to get in anyone's way - but God help anyone who gets in our way."
Heavens! Talk about your zealous rock bands! More than anything, Manowar mean business. In all their band-related thoughts and activities, they uniformly display an ultra-passionate, ultra-serious, almost religious attitude towards their music and their mission. There are not boys who are playing games, not for a minute, not for a second.
Joey again: "We're just here to go straight through, to show people that they've been getting ripped off, frankly; they're paying money to see egotistical people who get up there and stand there and do absolutely nothing on the instrument - they don't give the kid's their moneysworth, they don't get out there and sweat, they don't put on a show, they're not there to do for an audience - they expect the audience to do for them, they expect adulation, and that's just not what we're into. We fell that's what separates us."
When Manowar talk about past struggles, Eric and Donnie are speaking of an endless string of upstate cover bands of varying degrees of quality and success; Joey used to play with future Rod David Feinstein in Thunder, a Syracuse-based original HR band known for their extreme pyrotechnics, which left Joey with some major league scars on a lot of his body - after Thunder cleared up and packed off, Joey took a job as the pyrotechnician for Black Sabbath. It was on the infamous Black and Blue Tour that Joey met up with Ross The Boss, then languidly existing in French metallurgists Shakin' Street, who supported headliners BOC and Sabbath on that tour (the Bronx boy even throws a few words of French my way to prove that he did get something out of his stint in Shakin' Street). P'haps more importantly, before Shakin' Street, Ross had handled the guitar chores in seminal New York metal punks the Dictators, the legendary loud'n'fast'n'funny outfit who managed to elude fame, fortune, and proper recognition over six years, four albums, and three record companies.
The Dictators story is very much the opposite of Manowar's - it's a tale of misplaced energy, uncertain direction, conflicting talents and ideals, and public ignorance.
No one was quite sure what the Dictators were at any given time - were they a punk band, a heavy metal band, new wave, hard rock, or just a joke? Even the Dics themselves didn't know, and changed their individual minds in every album and every interview. They never got a fair shot, not even from themselves.
Ross: "We had a lot of nice times, but it was just frustrating, totally frustrating. You put so much work into something, and it's just… and the rest of the band just totally squares out, it's unbelievable. But I always managed to keep practicing, they couldn't keep me down; my goal in life was to get better and better and better - still is. And I think their problem was just kissing ass to the new wave, being trendy, really going for the new wave, and I just said 'What the f*** is this..' But I just chose to keep getting better at the guitar - not that I had the spots to burn a lot - when I had it I tried my best."
Certainly Black Sabbath must have taught Joey something he could apply to Manowar.
Joey: "If I learned anything at all from Black Sabbath, I learned that honesty is the only way. 'Cos they are what is considered now an old fashioned band; they don't really use a lot of special effects, they don't try to gloss their records up too much, they just go out on stage, plug into gear, and play music for the crowd. Heavy music. They burn and they give the kids metal. The band would say 'Hey - we are Black Sabbath, we are what we are, we developed a following for doing what we do, we will not turn around now and slap the people who have been with us so long in the face by changing.' So I guess honesty is the best policy. They really are Black Sabbath, and they believe in what they are, and it was so refreshing to see that."
With similar ideas in mind, Joey and Ross put together Manowar, recruited Eric, and cut a few demos - then they went label shopping.
After many offers, they secured the kind of deal they wanted, and they headed down to Florida to record the album, where they found Donnie, who had been living down there for a while.
Sound wise, Battle Hymns is very nearly a masterpiece; the instruments crunch and vibrate as if you had your head stuck in the cabinets themselves - the sound is deadly and very alive, capturing every dynamic of the instruments themselves along with the pure animalism of the people playing them.
Joey says they got that sound by recording "through the exact amount of equipment we play through on stage," a monstrous amount that - I'll detail later. "We drove everyone nuts, " Joey happily remembers, "everybody hated us, we stacked everything up in the studio, the full wall of voodoo - which is what we call our gear - we just stacked it up. The Bee Gees were doing a commercial two studios away - they had to stop. We shook the whole place!"
And though Manowar don't use any studio musicians on Battle Hymns, a very interesting guest appears on one of the tracks, 'Dark Avenger'.
Ross: "We had a song that needed narration, and we just thought of The Voice that would fit, so of course he came to mind."
Now, when you think of The Voice - I mean, The Voice - who else could possibly come to mind but Orson Welles? And well, rather than just say 'let's get someone like Orson Welles', Manowar simply got Orson Welles. I said this band means business, didn't I? Ross explains:
"The record company found his manager who sent him the lyrics and he wanted to do it. He like the lyrics, so he did it."
"It was great," Joey continues. "What an experience. It felt like you were sitting in the centre of knowledge in the universe - so vast! Unbelievable. And he's a gentleman, too - treated us great. He was knocked out by the concept, we talked to him - as we're talking to you - about the way we feel about The Concept, and he was just really bowled over, really impressed. A true gentleman."
In fact, Orson was so impressed that he stuck around to cut yet another track with Manowar (what'll probably appear on their second LP) and even taped an intro for them to use for their live shows. Another rather unique point to Battle Hymns is 'William's Tale' - a two minute adaptation of Rossini's William Tell Overture, played solely on the bass and soley by Joey DeMaio. Non matter what you feel about recorded bass solos, it's a remarkable piece of musicianship, and it's simple, straightforward performance and arrangement is an interesting contrast to the grandeur and pomp of the rest of the album. (Bollocks, Ed). It's played so damn fast, too - you would think that it's been sped up or altered in some way, but it's not. But why a two minute bass solo on a debut LP?
"To tell the world that I am the fastest bass player in the world, the most unique," Joey calmly but firmly states. "I wanted a departure on the album, because I've practiced long and hard and I feel that I can get sounds out of the bass guitar without using effects, just by using techniques I've developed over the years, and I wanted to get some of that technique out. I believe in my playing. It's a very emotional solo, it's not a technical solo, so I left the mistakes that are in there in."
Ross, by way of further explanation: "I thought that it would be a good idea for Joey to put something like that on, a classical piece, because the rest of the album is like nuclear bombs going off."
Ant enough description. So this is no conventional album, not by any means, by a band that abhors convention or wimpiness of any sort. A band that stands for individuality and takes a great deal of pride in their own approach and own honesty, and aren't going to bend for anyone, particularly radio.
"Somebody has to follow through," Joey says. "Somebody has to have pride. Somebody has to turn their back on the radio - 'cause the radio's turned their back on us. The point is, we really believe in what we're doing, we really believe in the music we're playing, we really believe in the concept behind that music. Because we've been kept down for so long, we believe it's just a war out there, simply a war, nobody gives you a break in this world, no one is going to do anything for you, you must go out there and fight for it. And that's why we adopted our mode of dress - 'cause we've gone back to the old days, when there was no huge society, no corporations, no business…"
"No bubblegum world," Ross interjects.
"Nothing", Joey continues, "It was just man doing what he does. We feel mannishness has gone from the world - pretty much, from what we see. We've chosen to make the Final Stand - do what is known as live or die. In other words, if we are to gain success in America, it will be because we have stayed on this path, and in fact we intend to go much heavier on the next album, and heavier on the next - we want to stay on this path, this is what we feel."
The interview ends unceremoniously when a hotel authority tosses us off the pool deck; we adjourn and head to the show.
Despite this being their first tour - not to mention first gigs - ever, Manowar are travelling in full style - tour bus, semis, the whole lot. Manowar's got the bigger back line than Nugent and Travers combined (though being third-billed they don't even rate a sound check!), and though tonight's show is only Manowar's ninth gig ever, they're already spending twenty thousand dollars a week!
"They ask us how we can do it," Joey says proudly, "and we say 'Bill Aucoin is our manager' - and Bill's name is synonymous with two things: the biggest and the best. A lot of managers were interested," Joey had explained earlier, "but they really didn't adhere to the concept of Manowar; they didn't really understand that it goes beyond 'Okay, how many dollar are we going to get for this show…', they didn't really understand that there is belief in this concept, there are twelve people who have banded as one. They didn't latch onto that, they just said how is your band going to present itself, how are we going to market you, where will you go, what about radio… we talked to them and we kinda sat back and said 'Oh God, it doesn't sound like any of those people are what we want'. And then we talked to Bill Aucoin and he said 'Doesn't sound like any of your stuff is commercial' - commercial in the sense of radio today, and we said No, it isn't, and we were waiting for him to say the same thing everybody else says, but he goes 'That's really great,' and we said Why is that? And he said 'If you have a hit right out of the box you will have no credibility. Your road is a long one and it's a battle all the way to the top. That's the way it's gonna be. You need to play in front of people and for them to see you crush the groups they've been led to believe are true metal when you are really true metal. You have to go out there and show them the difference and nothing else will do.' And we had told him that other managers wanted to break us by following radio's lead - he said 'You must take the lead, and let radio follow you.'"
The hall is an awesome, air-chilled Madison Square Garden type affair; loads of security, dressing rooms with showers and massive amounts of food - this is big league rock'n'roll, and if you've never been exposed to it before, it's fascinating and very seductive; the groupie/money/fame/indulgence trip come true. The Rock'n'roll dream… aeons away from what I'm used to, i.e. ratty overcrowded vans and toilets masquerading as dressing rooms and a couple of warm beers if you're lucky. Less than twenty-four hours earlier I had been in Passaic, New Jersey, hanging around some shithole with Chelsea - there was no food, no security, no Ted Nugent, no Carmine Appice, Bill Aucoin, or record company execs milling around - but this here in Dallas is another world. Manowar's pre-gig preparation is passionate, physical, and almost unbelievably intense: Joey and Eric and going through exercises and callisthenics that would put this white boy under, Ross is warming up through a practice amp bigger that what most bands actually play through, and Donnie steadily drums away on two chairs. And that's not even the serious stuff - before long, Eric retires to the echoed confines of the shower to go through some inhuman and scary vocal workouts, and the make-up goes on and the band begins to become MANOWAR… the four very committed but basically normal New York Boys suddenly transform into a four man primeval army that is to be feared… while marching on to the stage, through Reunion Center's winding circular back walls, the band works themselves into a muscle-bound superhuman frenzy by chanting KILL!!! KILL!!! KILL!!! Over and over again in front of the cowering legions of the Travers and Nugent bands and crew. They are coming from the gut and the heart, not from any mind or anything that's easy to control. When Manowar hit the stage, they've become monstrous, glammed-out metal savages, committed to victory without compromise, total surrender and the allegiance of the audience, and dam it, they're willing to work for it. For the next half-tour, Manowar wallop the Dallas audience with a non-stop, no rest blitzkrieg of energy, flash, and MANLINESS.