Manowar‘s 2007 release “Gods of War” is alternately laughable, despicable, powerful, and pathetic. A band that took all of the satirical fictional excess of Spinal Tap and made a career of trumping it, this is not new territory for them at all. It’s amazing that they’re still capable of displaying the same level of clichéd raw and brutal intensity on the same tired and trite themes of blood, death, and warrior prowess 25 years after their first album. It’s also awesome.
In their storied past, Manowar has set Guinness records (Loudest Musical Performance, 1984) and promoted misogyny with lyrics even Spinal Tap would shy away from (see “Pleasure Slave“). Throughout it all, the one constant has been music that revolved around the brotherhood of fighting men in terms simultaneously epic and stupid. “Gods of War” is more of the same. The packaging features caricatured, cartoony Viking warriors in all their impractically-armored-glory, ravishing topless women and defying demons. They even went so far as to do all of the lyrics in runes. For the slavishly devoted/overly bored, there is a key for translating the characters into the Roman alphabet at the end of the CD booklet.
“Cartoony” is a word that describes their lyrics as much as it describes their cover-art. Manowar’s universe is very simple. The gods put men here to fight and die. Glory and virtue stem only from blood and honor on the battlefield, and the ultimate gift a man can ask for is to die in battle and be whisked away to Valhalla, where they can… die in battle. Again. And again. And again.
Like I said, it’s very simple.
I can’t tell if this album is multi-faceted and deep, or the most retarded thing I’ve ever encountered. I suspect it is both. There are three sorts of songs: sweeping, grandiose instrumentals, spoken-word narrative tracks (including “Blood of Odin,” a biography of the chief Nordic god, and the first quarter of “Sleipnir,” a biography of his horse), and fist-in-the-air, heart-pumping metal. Technically there’s one ballad about friendship, but it’s… well, it’s really bad. No redeeming characteristics whatsoever, outside of the tears of laughter to which listeners can’t help but be reduced. I feel kinda bad for Manowar whenever I listen to it, so I tend to just skip it.
The instrumentals are competent but show no virtuosity or even heart; they remind one of nothing so-much as the sort of music that plays during the credit-sequences for low-budget fantasy flicks from the days when the world still made low-budget fantasy flicks. The narrative-tracks all revolve around Norse themes, with the latter half of the album (from “Blood of Odin” on) consisting of the tale of the Sons of Odin, who were gifted by Odin with the “Berserker rage” so that they could slaughter all their foes on the battlefield despite being outnumbered thousands-to-one.
But you listen to a Manowar album for the METAL and that’s both good and bad on Gods of War–the number of tracks that feature rousing guitar riffs, tight drums, and epically sung lyrics are few in number. Of the 15+1 tracks, there are eight tracks which contain parts that are “metal”–the rest are either boring instrumentals or narrative spoken-word songs.
Whenever they break into the metal, however, you forget about the doldrum-like dreck you had been hearing, and live in the beautifully pure, heavy-guitar-filled moment of METAL that is the reason, like I said, you listen to a Manowar album. When they’re good, they’re really good. The crisp simplicity and raw power of the music somehow imbues their unbelievable lyrics with a tinge of believability after all, making it possible to just revel in the awesomeness for the duration of the track.
All things considered, this is a pretty weak album. But the moments of brilliance that shine through make it absolutely worth owning for aficionados of old-school metal. If you want music you can take seriously, that will move you to contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and everything… if you want music that speaks to your soul, assuages your insecurities, and reminds you that you are not alone… well, you’d best go elsewhere. This is not that music. Manowar doesn’t make that kind of music. But if you’re looking for balls-to-the-wall METAL in all its glory, with magic and lightning and fire and blood and swords and gods and epic battlefields, you’re in the right place. It sort of feels like Tolkien for the lobotomized.
Author’s Note: No mention of women whatsoever on the whole album. Presumably, they had issues getting laid after women heard “Pleasure Slave” and decided that they’d best just keep their mouths shut about the better-halves of the world. So you can rest assured that if you purchase Gods of War you will not be exposed to any vitriolic woman-hating. Just if you were wondering, y’know.