For the first three years of their existence, Nanowar of Steel operated under the shortened moniker of Nanowar, adding the of Steel subtitle through a hasty MS Paint logo re-work in 2006. As NoS’s Facebook page states, this was done “not in order to spoof Rhapsody of Fire, but for REAL and TRUE copyright issues.”1 There’s some serious power metal in-jokage going on with the title alone, an infectious cheekiness that has spread to every corner of Stairway to Valhalla’s musical and lyrical execution. By some miracle only explainable by divine intervention from the Gods ov Gouda, this has not resulted in a disastrous record. Far from it, in fact; Stairway may be the lyrical equivalent of a 4 a.m. shitpost, but musically speaking, it’s a tightly executed tribute to the power metal genre as a whole.
By “the genre as a whole,” I really do mean the entire genre, or at least pretty close to it. Nanowar of Steel uses each track on Stairway to ape several of power metal’s most essential players, and they do so with instrumental accuracy so precise that some of these “joke” songs could match the quality of their targets’ best years. Want primo Rhapsody? Throw on “Barbie, MILF Princess of the Twilight.” Miss 3 Inches of Blood? “Heavy Metal Kibbles” has you covered. Yearn for mo’ Manowar? You shouldn’t, but “In the Sky” is here just in case. There are several more examples of high quality emulation spread across this Stairway, from Blind Guardian (“The Quest for Carrefour”) to Mötley Crüe (“Uranus,” because of course), all carried out with a wide range of vocal stylings, excellent musicianship, and surprisingly strong all-around production. The album lacks a defined musical identity, but the results are so strong that I wouldn’t change a thing about its instrumental delivery.
While there isn’t much to say for NoS’s originality, I feel like I could have spent this entire review (and then some) yammering on about how fucking funny it is. Of course, doing so would be spoiling the fun to be had on first exposure, but some highlights cannot be overlooked. In particular, it is absolute gold hearing guest vocalist Fabio Lione on “Barbie, MILF Princess of the Twilight,” engaging in a full self-parody of the very style of symphonic power metal style he helped pioneer. Many tracks, such as “Heavy Metal Kibbles,” (“metal” being here pronounced as “meow-tal”) see the band embracing utter absurdity, but others are quite clever. “Tooth Fairy,” for instance, rails against the tooth fairy’s inflationary business practices, while “Call of Cthulhu” pokes fun at the dissemination of the Cthulhu mythos via media over-saturation.2 Let’s not forget “Images and Swords,” either, a brief interlude sketch that accuses Dream Theater of building their career off of plagiarizing Manowar. Amazing.
The only real drawback to Stairway to Valhalla as a comedic record is that, due to the members’ Italian accents, some of its lyrics are quite hard to decipher. The inclusion of a lyrics sheet would have done wonders for my overall listening experience, but even without one, there are still plenty of musical in-jokes to enjoy. Musical quirks like the hilariously abrupt pivot into ska following the first refrain of “Barbie, MILF Princess of the Twilight” abound, as do a number of explicit references to popular songs. Most of these are obvious yet well implemented, such as the nod to “Baker Street” in the solo of “Ironmonger (Copier of the Seven Keys).” Other, subtler references, including a hook from Mike Oldfield’s “Moonlight Shadow” sneakily tucked between verses of “…And Then I Noticed That She Was a Gargoyle,” make for fantastic Easter eggs.
At roughly an hour in length, Stairway to Valhalla is quite the potent parody, and one that should elicit grins and guffaws from any power metal fan sick of the scene not fully embracing its inherent silliness. Aside from that specific audience, I’m not really sure how to sell Nanowar of Steel; they offer a helluva good time, but their appeal is admittedly limited strictly to people who enjoy both power metal and comedic bands. One listen is all you’ll need to decide whether their shtick is a good fit for your tastes, so in that respect, I implore you to scroll just a bit more to witness the only lyric video that has ever mattered.