I’ve been wondering what happened to the live album and if Iron Maiden’s Live After Death is the last truly classic one. I’m going to be looking into some post-1985 live releases to see if there are any overlooked belters out there.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. From the United States of America… all hail… Manowar.”
Being a Manowar fan brings with it both agony and ecstasy. Ever since their debut Battle Hymns in 1982, the New Yorkers have pounded out albums where epic, awe-inspiring classics have been accompanied by unwelcome bass solos and monologues. So the question that always has to be asked of any new Manowar release is: does the filler outweigh the killer?
Arguably, the band’s golden-era ended with 1992’s Triumph of Steel (one of my Top 10 albums of the 1990s) so the release of their first live record, Hell on Wheels, in 1997 seemed a bit belated but also had a tantalising wealth of material to draw from.
The album kicks off in thrilling style. Orson Welles heralding the band’s arrival on stage for their signature tune, Manowar. The album does a fine job of capturing Manowar’s punishingly loud live sound, vocalist Eric Adams fighting to be heard amongst the din. Unfortunately, the momentum created by the strong opening is damaged by the ill-conceived grouping of a guitar solo, piano interlude and the ballad, Courage, which creates the feel of a last dance too early in the album’s running time. Blood of my Enemies and Hail and Kill close off the first disc and should be the album’s centrepieces but their effect is neutered by the poor pacing.
Thankfully the second CD is slightly more even. Once again it opens well and although Joey DeMaio’s bass solo Black Arrows is well played and varied, it’s too long and Fighting the World struggles to restore the excitement levels. The back end of the album is over-weighted with newer material from 1996’s disappointing Louder Than Hell but the songs are more convincing live than in the studio and the final stages of Hell on Wheels are great fun, culminating in the moving Battle Hymn.
Ultimately, what should have been the definitive statement of Manowar at their absolute best is hobbled by the inconsistencies that often dog their studio output. You can press “skip” or stick the kettle on and this is a great live album, but victory is barely snatched from the jaws of defeat and I expect more from the Kings of Metal. Thankfully, Manowar had now developed a taste for the live album. There would be more… and they would be better.
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