Manowar! Long have I waited for this new opus! Yes, Steel Druhm loves him some Manowar. I recognize their sword and loincloth schtick is silly and almost as cheesy as Rhapsody of Fire, but I’ve loved them since I was a wee little warrior and they’ll always have a place in metal heart (of steel). After the symphonic, overwrought (even by Mano-standards) disappointment of Gods of War and a ridiculous five-year wait (I’m not counting the 500 live albums), we finally get to see how Joey DeMaio and company decided to followup their prior misstep. Now we get to test the mettle of the metal contained within The Lord of Steel. Does it measure up to the glory of past victories and triumphs? Well, no. After the promisingly ballsy material on the Thunder in the Sky EP, this is another puzzling release by the former lords of all things metal. While many of the typical Manowar lyrical clichés remain in place, the music takes an odd turn toward a generic, mid-tempo, lifeless plod. While a few songs remind of past odes to epic battles, most of this is like tales of office cubicle drones. As I played and replayed this, all I could keep thinking was: this is all they could come up with in FIVE YEARS?? Steel Druhm is not happy.
Lord (of steel) knows things open well enough with the title track. It’s a thundering, massive slice of metal with an oversized new bass sound and the expected amount of alpha male bombast from the oiled ones. It’s fast enough to qualify as quasi-thrash and has a ton of gritty attitude. It’s right in line with the teaser Thunder in the Sky EP and sets expectations rather high. “Manowarriors” is another in the long line of braggadocio songs wherein Manowar regales with tales of how “metal” they are. With lyrics like “we drink a lot of beers and play our metal loud at night,” you know it ain’t deep, but it’s still fun, cheesy, anthemic silliness. There’s the expected emotional power ballad with “Righteous Glory,” and though it isn’t their finest hour, it’s nicely epic and Eric Adams proves there’s still plenty of life in those leather lungs. The standout is the curiously titled “El Gringo,” which recaptures the bigger-than-life macho charm of older material and has a nicely hooky chorus.
Sadly, there’s a lot of sub par, dull and uninspired material cluttering up the battlefield. “Born in a Grave” isn’t bad exactly, but it chugs along without much energy or enthusiasm and is only saved by a slightly memorable chorus. “Touch the Sky” has a generic feel and leaves you waiting for something big to happen as it grinds along spewing self-esteem building lyrics. Worse are filler demons like “Expendable” and “Black List” that sound more like third-rate stoner rock than Manowar. Things end a bit better with “Annihilation” which has a little muscle, and “Hail, Kill and Die” which does the “let’s name all our albums in the lyrics” thing but at least has the feel of their Kings of Metal era material. Still, this is far from a metallic conquest.
To me, the thing that always makes Manowar worthwhile are the vocals of Eric Adams. The man is one of the best vocalists in metal and he’s right there with Halford, Dickinson, Dio and Tate. Though their recent material sees him shout talking more than singing his balls off like the olden (Odin) days, the man can still wail when called for, but that happens far too infrequently here. Still, he shines on songs like “Righteous Glory” and he can still impress a jaded metal fan with his power and range. Evil Bass Lord Joey DeMaio has adopted a new, buzzing, distorted tone, more like what you would hear on a crusty doom or stoner rock album (Kyuss in particular). Its cool and works on some songs but it seems he’s also decided to slow the material down to stoner/doom levels and that doesn’t work so well.
While one must expect a king-size serving of testosterone with extra cheese sauce on any Manowar outing, The Lord of Steel forgets to pack the aggression and energy. With nearly half the album stuck in plod mode and too many of the songs ending up dull or flat, it makes me wonder if the leather lords have finally run out of ideas and inspiration. This is a worse song writing effort than the super symphonic Gods of War and that really hurts my black heart of…steel.
I’ll always love these guys and still go back to their early albums regularly, but I’m starting to feel my youthful hero-worship wearing off after TEN YEARS without a killer record. The Lord of Steel isn’t awful but it sure isn’t what Mano-fans were waiting and hoping for. Maybe it’s time to scrap new material all together and just do “greatest hits” tours where they can live off past laurels of battles won, ales quaffed and wenches ravished. Please prove me wrong Manowar, I’m daring you. I’m double dog daring you.