Terrorized Uk - 99 2002
THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD
Interview taken by Damien
In these secular times, are we still able to recognise the few metal Gods left in our midst, and how worthy are they now of our veneration? Damien, for whom Manowar's 'Hail to England' was a full-on religious experience, finally got to meet its maker, founder and bass player Joey DeMaio, to discuss the new, somewhat surprising album "Warriors Of The World", higher purposes and, of course, devotion.
"Brother, do you know the meaning of the word 'transcendent'?"
On the line from LA, the Manowar mainman's voice is as forceful and commanding as I always imagined it to be. I think for a second or two about why the question is being asked, but to no avail.
"Sure," I reply blankly, before recounting my understanding of the word like a chastened school kid. A pause ensues four seconds, maybe five.
"'Transcendent," DeMaio proclaims as if beginning the Gettysburg Address, "is that which is above or beyond what is expected or normal. It has existence outside the created world. It is based on intuition or innate belief rather than experience. It is supernatural or mystical."
This particular interview is something I've been waiting to do for a very long time. Since four in fact. Not 4pm either - 1984 the year that the band's 'Hail To England' platter first slammed onto my turntable like a lead sundial, crushing all around it and telling me it was time. Time for what you may wonder, as did I. Wondering be damned, it was simply time, and I never imagined that so much more of it would slip through our fingers before I finally caught up with the King Of Metal. Time in which so much has changed, in which the four Gods have made way for the many men and in which Manowar's metal has been sorely tested. And somehow I never expected our conversation to be like this.
'Warriors Of The World' is the ninth studio album from the four fur clad horsemen of the rock apocalypse, and it's a strange and diverse beast indeed. As I endeavour to probe its depths, DeMaio emerges as what you might call a firm but fair interviewee - don't infer anything: it doesn't work. Don't be even slightly ambiguos it'll confuse things. Down the end of a telephone, it's difficult to tell if silences are studied or not.
"Diverse in what respect?" comes the question to head off my leading question. "Damien, can you hang on one second?"
"I gotta turn up the air conditioning. It's hotter than hell in here."
Ah, aircon. Okay. I see. When he returns, I find myself having to run through the entirety of my conjecture once again...
"If you listen to any of our records you'll know that there's always been a huge diversity in the material", reasons the bassist. "We don't believe in being like most of the other bands where the first song is the same as the other ten. That's such a fuckin' rip off. We believe in giving the fans value for money and also artistically, you know, the band has always had a wide range."
I do wonder however, how some people view the pacing of the new album, specifically the decidedly laid back tone of side one (in olden days, CDs were 12" across and could be played on both sides D) with its juxtaposition of material such as 'Nessun Dorma' and 'An American Trilogy'. Joey harbours no such reservation.
"If you listen to the flow of the album," he explains, "it starts out and has a real beginning and by the end of the album it's certainly taken you up a stairway, if you look at it in those terms. The songs are separate entities and it's arranged this way because we felt that it would best take the listener on the journey in a way that would make the most sense. I think you'll have to sit down and listen to the whole CD at once."
It's been six long years since the band's last studio album 'Louder Than Hell' though they've busied themselves with no less than two live albums and a DVD in the interim - and this begs questions about what a Manowar album in 1998 or 2000 might have sounded like and whether they've been away from the fray too long.
"We don't look at it that way, bro," says Joey intently. "Bands that put out too many records end up repeating themselves and become caricatures of themselves and that's bullshit. Any artist needs room to breathe and take in fresh inspiration. If you think of yourself as a shoe factory or a tuna fish factory, you can churn it out, but that's not our style and never has been."
Recording for the first time at the professional, completely digital, studio that Joey has built within his own home, the band are certainly embracing technology. Is the great tech god an entity we should pursue and put our faith in?
"If somebody tells me there's a guitar string out there that's gonna sound five per cent better rather than the ones I've got, you're asking me would I change?"
You know what? That's not what I'm asking. Maybe I'm being naive to expect anything other than Manowar talk in a Manowar but I became engaged by the thought of we, the 'decadent' West, who can offer the world only technology. Though not through necessity, music and technology have become symbiotic, and while the latter may never lead us to ultimate understanding, music, at least, offers more answers than questions. Whatever else they may be, Manowar are about music 100 per cent, and I fancied there was something in all of this to unravel and decode. Joey continues:
"If someone says there can be a five per cent improvement in anything I do, I'll do it. If it's one per cent I'd have to think about it, and most likely I would try it. I'm a fanatic, but I'm a practical fanatic. If I can hear it, I'll go for it. If I can't hear it, I'm not gonna go for it. No matter what the cost, no matter what the effort, drive man and machine to the fuckin' limit."
Okay, so machines didn't get us fired up let's try 'man'. Does this full on philosophy manifest itself in your everyday life?
"My evervday life is lived trying to take what we do to a higher level," Joey replies. "I have no life. That is my life. It's all consuming the way a priest has given his life to God."
But the priest still has to deal with life's tedious administration and perform its mundane chores.
"I try to minimize interaction with people as much as possible," he states categorically.
Is that in order to stay focused or to maximise your time? Or do other people the wrong sort of people simply sap your energy?
"I feel as though time is very important and I don't want people to waste it. We have a short time on this earth and we've all got a mission."
Aha. A higher purpose perchance? Manowar have never seemed religious in the conventional sense, nor have they displayed any interest in politics. Demonstrating for the most part an intense interest in themselves and their fans, one wonders if there's room in their absolutist outlook for a humanist outpost to thrive? It could make sense. Searching for a foothold, I ponder what the fans actually gain from the band's music. Escape if Manowar have perhaps a more positive and pragmatic worldview to espouse would seem more, accurate than escapism?
"It's not escapist," agrees Joey, though it's unclear whether he's taken up the thread or not. "It's about choosing a direction and sense of purpose that's right for you. I've chosen this."
At what point did you realise that this is what you are here for?
"Since I was 11 but I had a real turning point when I got outta high school."
So it was then that anyone else you could have been or anything else you could have done faded away?
"There was no fade away. It was beheaded."
All right then, here's another thought: being the best that you can be. Isn't that what Manowar, none more than in the musical sense, have always been about? The evolution of the human race has effectively ceased. We may in time lose our hair completely and perhaps a toe or two, but for the most part, this is as good as it gets. Like the failed dead end species of past aeons, we'll round on each other in time like angry ants, destroying and degrading until we ourselves, or something(s) smarter, wipes the whole mess away. You strive to be the best in everything you do - doesn't this frustrate you?
Joey, perhaps sensing another nebulous non metal diversion, tackles the musical aspect.
"I once made our singer sing the word "the" 120 times. I made Ross (The Boss, original Manowar guitarist - D) play the solo to 'Blood Of The Kings' 96 times. To me, nothing is done until it's done. And nothing is done until you can safely say to yourself, 'There's nothing left to try, nothing left to improve upon', and you've given all."
Although, as Joey triumphantly points out, Manowar have been "often imitated but never duplicated," there can be little doubt that they must feel infinitely more at home in today's somewhat metal resurgent climate than they did during the dark days of grunge.
"It was a really fucked, weird time for England. There were a couple of heavy metal bands that have always toured and done well but it's just a shame that the country that started it all really took a shit in terms of metal. From radio, TV and the magazines turning into toilet paper, the only people who didn't fuck up are the fans."
Recently, of course, the metal landscape has become a little more complex. While it's easy to dismiss such prime time pusballs as Alien Ant Farm, Creed or Nickleback (about as heavy in the metal stakes as Bon Jovi or Bryan Adams ever were), a band like Slipknot present very real conundrums. Undeniably heavy and citing discernable death metal influences, their UK number one album was a divisive event. Metal or not?
"Y'know, a lot of music I'm hearing in America is this rap metal bullshit and I'm just not into it," retorts Joey dismissively.
Okay, where does the definition of metal end and of bullshit begin? Even Manowar require reasonably flexible laws of metal within which to operate, but stretch them to far and where does their useful meaning go?
"I really don't know. I can only tell you that the music we play is, by definition, heavy metal in the classical sense. Where the line is drawn I don't care. If you listen to the tradition and the lineage it encompasses a lot of the classic heavy metal bands, and a lot of them were English Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep. They defined the genre but took it each group in their own right into their own realm, yet kept the melody, the power, the beauty, the majesty of heavy metal. That's what we are and that's what we do."
Erase the past. Could you start Manowar tomorrow and still succeed?
"Yeah of course," comes the casual reply, "because we built our reputation on quality and not bullshit. We built it on giving everything we have. We are on a path forged by fate and destiny."