Raw Uk - 108 1992
TITTER YE NOT... IT'S MANOWAR!
Interview taken by Dave Ling
Manowar have just release a double album, "the triumph of Steel" which includes a 28-minute interpretation of a mythological poem recounting the siege of Troy! Bassist Joey DeMaio tells a shellshocked Dave Ling that it's all in the name of giving the fans what they want...
I'm shellshocked. Totally incapable of speech and quivering like a bath full of Thunderbird jelly. The reason? Manowar's long waited seventh album ha just dropped into my expectant mitts. A 70-minutes colossus, "The Triumph of Steel" will be available here in the UK as a double album. The first 28 minutes are devoted to "Achilles, Agony and ecstasy in Eight Parts", the quartet's outrageous and highly individual interpretation of The Iliad, the celebrated mythological poem of the siege of Troy in 700 BC. The tale is told via brazen slabs of pounding Metal, church organs, choir and orchestras, plus the inevitable solo section from bassist Joey DeMaio and new drummer Rhino. The remainder of the album id comprised of more straight-ahead Manowar fare like "Metal warriors" complete with chorus of "Wimp and poseurs...leave the hall!" Inevitably, many will scoff and titter, some will invest in a pair of industrial earplugs and others will run to the hills at the mere mention of the troupe's name, but Manowar have delivered exactly what their following have been anticipating during the four-year gap since "Kings Of Metal" platter. In the whispers had been true, Manowar would by now have been dropped by theirs label Atlantic Records, been forced into a more "commercial" direction due to poor sales or - gasp! split up and finally stashed away those broadswords in the broom cupboard. Not so. Manowar have returned with their most outrageous recording to date. More overblown that Hurricane Andrew, more ambitious that JR Ewing and heavier that Gazza, "the Triumph of Steel" is so ridiculously bombastic that not even yours truly a Manowar nutter since 1982's essential "Battle hymns" debut, could tell if I liked it or not in just one sitting. Joey DeMaio is amused.
"Ah! It's hard to digest in one go, right?" he laughs "But the Iliad is the greatest story ever written - it even pre-dates The Bible. It's and epic masterpiece and as Manowar have always been an epic, over-the-top band, it seemed a logical move. It's a timeless theme because, let's face it, a lot of contemporary movies and books have been based around the hero coming in a just kicking total ass. There was a lot of work involved in making this record, it took two and a half years. The point was that we didn't want to make another record that sounded like 'Kings Of Metal, and we certainly didn't want to follow in the mould of some of the shit that's in the market today, the crap that's being passed off as Heavy Metal."
To the uneducated ear, the lengthy bass and drum parts are something of a bitter pill to swallow. But apparently they're vital to the story.
"You have to understand the concept of the song to know why the solos are placed where they are," assures DeMaio. "They're placed strategically because they correlate with the actions of the story. The title of the drum solo, 'The Armour Of The Gods', describes Achilles being re-armoured for his battle with Hector. When Hector kills his best friend Patrocoles, he then stripped Achilles' armour from Patrocoles, so the pounding of the drums describes Vulcan's anvil forging new armour for Achilles. And the bass solo, which is in two parts, describes Achilles after he has killed Hector -brutally and without mercy, I might add, which is a wonderful thing! - cutting holes in his ankles, lacing leather strips through them and hitching him to his chariot. That describes the first part of the desecration and the four-string bass tells the second part. The story is told on the sleeve and the idea is that you follow it. If you don't understand you can just assume it's a wild solo going on, but hopefully it's thought-provoking enough to make people want to find out more about what they're hearing."
It's heavy going, though ... 'Well, Brother, it's a heavy hand," offers Joey "If peoples are put off by the mood of the album that's life. At the end of the day we make heavy music for Heavy Metal fans. We get lots of requests from the fans to keep doing the epic songs like 'The Warrior's Prayer' (from 'Kings Of Metal), 'Guyana (Cult Of The Damned)' (from 1984's 'Sign Of The Hammer') or 'Dark Avenger' (from 'Battle Hymns'). There are people who want to sit back and have a drink or a fuck and listen to these longer songs, and people who liked those big, long epics will be happy that they've got one that's bigger, longer and more epic than anything we've ever done. For the people who like the faster, crunching mini-epics there's burning stuff like 'Ride The Dragon' and 'Power Of Thy Sword'. We wanted to give all the fans their own favourite style of what Manowar does."
The track 'Spirit Horse Of The Cherokee' sees the band pursuing a slightly different lyrical avenue, but one that still fits their style.
"The Indians were brilliant warriors and it's a great subject," comments DeMaio. "There's a lot of Indian blood in this band and without getting into the heritage side of it all, the point is that those people got fucked. I'm so sick of people waving flags for all those other nationalities who've had rough times, when everyone's had them. The Indians were amazing, spiritual people and they shouldn't be ignored."
They wore loincloths too!
"We don't wear loincloths anymore," says Joey, "but they also threw women on the backs of their horses and rods off into the sunset to fuck 'em, so there are a lot of similarities!"
The band built their own studio called Haus Wanfried in New York in which they recorded the new album. Like all their work since1987's 'Fighting The World' it was done digitally and sounds bone-crunchingly heavy. Whether '..Agony and ecstasy..' would work live, though, is something the quartet have yet to decide.
"We'll probably do parts of it live," says Joey. "and if the song gets the kind of reaction we're hoping for maybe we'll do a special performance of it for a video. To do it properly we'd need a full orchestra and choir which would be expensive, but money's not the point. We've always spent whatever's necessary to make sure the performance is right.
It would be a good way of integrating the solos into the show.
"Absolutely. But I've always done a bass solo live because I'm just there to burn up all the false bass players and let them know what a joke they are," he says depreciatingly. "It's the same with Rhino, he's just there to establish himself as the number one drummer, which he is. Rhino plays double bass drum as fast as anyone out there and that, for him. Is medium speed. He plays as hard and solid as Scott (Columbus) did, but at the speed of light! There's nobody on the planet what can outplay this guy, anybody's welcome to try. It's an embarrassment for these otherdrummers, I feel bad for them."
Guitarist Ross The Boss (last seen in Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, quickly dropped by MCA Records and now married and a father, according to Joey) and drummer Columbus both hand-picked their replacements so that the original True Metal concept behind Manowar would not be diluted. Enter David 'Death Dealer' Shankle and the aforementioned Rhino.
"Dave was a friend of Ross' and had hung around the band a lot while we recorded 'Kings of Metal', " explains the bassist. "He was a big fan and knew all the songs the minute he stepped in. Rhino was as close to Scott and it was logical that he should step in. Band spirit-wise, it's almost as though there has been no change. Of course, we were sad to lose Scott, who left to concentrate on his family, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if you hear something from him in the future."
The departing Columbus bequeathed his customised stainless steel kit to his replacement, who was so excited that he reportedly set fire to his old equipment!
"It's true! He wanted to burn away his past and begin anew. And there's plenty of other drummers who'll be burning their own kits when they hear him," chuckles Joey. "And it would be a smart move If they did, rather than continue to live a hoax."
Talking of all things bogus, since 'Kings Of Metal' we've been subjected to the increasingly tiresome Seattle explosion. The media have waffled themselves into a state of apoplexy over 'New Metal' breed and their infernal passion for Grunge. Nirvana have to be False Metal, right?!
"No, they're just not Heavy Metal at all, although I suppose some might call it Hard Rock," he spits. "That whole Seattle scene could hardly be considered Heavy Metal in the way that, for instance, classic Black Sabbath or Metallica could. It doesn't excite me. There's more shit out there today than when we first started, that's why Manowar are getting bigger and bigger with each album."
'The Triumph Of Steel' is something of a rarity for the band in that it's their third for the same label, Atlantic. DeMaio won't disclose actual sales figures ("It depends upon who you ask"), but rumour that band and label are about to part company is never too far away.
"That's because it's happened so often in the past," guffaws Joey. "Atlantic have been good to us, the guy who signed us says 'This is your band, this is your music. we're just here to help you get it to the people'. They've never fucked with us and, er... I don't understand it either! They've probably noticed that Manowar are their own entity, and as they were the label who had Yes, King Crimson and Led Zeppelin and a lot of bands that were unique, I can only hope that that's the way they feel about us too."
The way I heard it was that the band sell records in Germany than in the rest of the world. and they subsidises the deal worldwide.
"That's not true, but we do sell a lot in Germany," he denies. "We sell a lot or records in Spain and Greece, too. In fact, inGreece we sell about 1,000 records less than Madonna and Prince and they're both massive there!"
As if to prove the fact, Manowar will soon be playing dates in mainland Europe. We'll have to wait 'til early December before they hit the UK (a Hammersmith date is pencilled in), but in the meantime their entourage is headed towards the biggest venues that Greece has to offer. One reliable rumour suggests that the convoy will contain two tour busses; the first for the band and a second for their groupies!
"Not quite," announces DeMaio sternly. "There's gonna be three buses. There'll be one for the band, one for the road crew; and another for the girls. But It'll only be a bus that sleeps 16 - It's the biggest that we could get! Y'know," he ponders, "some people have suggested that we have this macho image and that we treat women badly, and we thought we should dispel that rumour completely. So we've got the girls their own driver, their own bus, their own booze and a person to kinda look after them. We wanted to keep them comfortable because it can get crowded when you get ten guys and ten girls together on the band's bus, It can be hard to get to sleep at night. After we've had a good fuck or two - or three!- We have to catch at least a few hours sleep. We have to be fair to our fans, otherwise we can't perform right. It's hard to sleep in those bunks when you've got a couple of girls trying to pack in there with you. And they need their rest too, because their show's almost as difficult as ours"
Joey DeMaio: A scholar and a gentleman!