Manowar - _Battle Hymns MMXI_
(Magic Circle Music, 2010)
by: Johnathan A. Carbon (Too mythical for review)
It is almost impossible for me to introduce this album. In 1982, upstate New York heavy metal band Manowar released _Battle Hymns_. _Battle Hymns 1982_ would be followed by nearly 30 years of albums, DVDs, festivals and general laughter. On the eve of 2011, Manowar has descended the fabled mountain to offer us _Battle Hymns MMXI_: a re-recording of their debut album. Re-recordings are not common unless you're Dimmu Borgir or a grindcore band making a compilation. The general practice of rebooting or remaking your debut is popular in Hollywood, but very rare in the musical landscape. To release a re-recording of a 30 year old album is pompous, arrogant and slightly insane. This is why it makes sense for Manowar to do so. This is also the reason why it is so amazing.It is almost impossible for me to review this album because of my mixed feeling regarding Manowar. Manowar was my first exposure into heavy metal and, for a period of time, -was- heavy metal. I thought every band was a walking cartoon; concerning themselves with dragons, women and motorcycles. The slightly ironic position of enjoying a band's ridiculous nature diminishes slightly when they refuse to break character. Manowar's unrelenting dedication to their craft in the face of harsh criticism only strengthened my enjoyment for their albums. Manowar's music became a beacon for unwavering optimism in the face of doubt, cynicism and hardship. This, coupled with their heavy fantasy themes, made me more of a believer in "The Kingdom of Steel". The Kingdom of Steel, for any unfamiliar, is a mythical segment of the afterlife dedicated to Manowar fans. This place, which most likely resembles a cross between Asgard and a leather bar, is referenced constantly by the band and fans alike. The absurd nature of a spiritual haven for metalheads is ridiculous, but somehow works in favor of Manowar. This is a band who, in all likelihood, believes they will be playing on top of a flaming mountain upon their departure. Manowar, for me, has transcended traditional aesthetics and resides in a place beyond the conventional realms of logic and taste.Manowar's albums have been met with fairly consistent negative reviews. The majority of criticism revolves around their lack of versatility, macho showmanship and over-abundance of lunacy. For the most part, they are right. _Battle Hymns 1982_ began the career of the battle metaphors mixed with sermons warning against the dangers of false metal. To this day, I have no idea what is involved with false metal or who would be guilty of heavy metal charlatanism. _Battle Hymns 1982_ was rooted in heavy metal's history with fantasy based celebrations of masculinity and longevity. _Battle Hymns 1982_ could be considered the peak (or death throes) of heavy metal. _Battle Hymns MMXI_ is as much reactionary as it is celebratory. For the past couple of years, original drummer Donnie Hamzik has been reappearing while veteran drummer Scott Colombus has been on his way out. This year it was made known that Columbus silently left the band with Hamzik as his replacement. _Battle Hymns 1982_ was the only album to feature Hamzik and seems to be the catalyst for this re-recording. _Battle Hymns MMXI_ is faithful to the original, as Manowar's intention was to bring their debut through the proverbial carwash of high fidelity. What is presented sounds like an in-studio concert or an alternate reel of mixes. The one noticeable change in the album comes from the dialogue for "Dark Avenger", originally read by Orson Wells. Since Wells' passing, Manowar has hired the voice talent of Christopher Lee. This choice is obvious to any Manowar fan, as Lee has been featured on multiple Rhapsody (of Fire) albums and the fact that Lee adores power metal (his own symphonic metal album based on the life of Charlemagne was released in 2010).The highlights of _Battle Hymns 1982_ are retained in the re-recording, with the second half of the album stronger than the first. The fantastic worlds of Dark Avenger and Battle Hymns would later become the standard for subsequent releases, most notably _In Glory Ride_ and _Hail to England_. _Battle Hymns MMXI_ comes packaged in redesigned liner notes and photographs taken during the band's formative years. Those associated with Manowar's music cannot help but feel a part of the celebration. I can imagine coming into this album with no preliminary Manowar experience is much like walking in on the laughter of a well told joke. It is almost impossible for me to give this album a rating. In the Kingdom of Steel, _Battle Hymns MMXI_ is a landmark achievement and only strengthens the roots of Manowar folklore. In fact, _Battle Hymns MMXI_ could be considered a presage to a future discography of re-recorded albums. In the mortal world, however, _Battle Hymns_ hardly exists and to most people is just a re-recording of another album. It would be like reviewing aether or the speed at which a unicorn runs. There is a disconnect which bars any sense of convention. To fully review a Manowar record, I would need the trusty steed of a dragon and an ancient rune sword at my side. If anything can be said about Manowar, it is their ability to be constantly surprising after 30 years. _Battle Hymns_ to many is another way to stave off witting a new record, but to some it is a battle call signaling another 30 years under Manowar's reign.
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