In 1984, just two years after their debut, the legendary US Heavy Metal band Manowar released their fourth full-length studio album, Sign Of The Hammer. This was no rushed affair, just the shining output of a prolific and incendiary band hungry for success.
The album opens with the absolutely brilliant “All Men Play On Ten” which is like some kind of Heavy Metal mixture between Kiss’ “I Love It Loud” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Working For MCA” with its storytelling approach and behind-the-scenes setting, coupled with the love of high amplifier volumes. Musically, a bit of a slow groover, with lots of neat guitar work and a chorus designed for singing along to.
The rest of the album, with the exception of the brief guitar solo “Thunderpick,” is all pounding, exciting, varied and interestingly structured classic Heavy Metal.
Tracks like the catchy “Animals” and the thunderous Title Track, alongside the Speed Metal of “The Oath” and the absolutely superb album-highlight “Thor (The Powerhead)” are some of the most consistent and enjoyable tracks you could hope for. The band sound so right, but so unique. There’s no messing about, no filler, not even any ballads this time either. Instead the diversity comes from within the tracks themselves, with tunes like “Mountains” containing enough exploration and deviation from the norm to stop it all feeling samey.
If you look at the back of the record and see the title “Guyana – Cult Of The Damned” you’d be forgiven for thinking this was also a track about Greek Mythology… “Who is Guyana? She must be the goddess of cults or something” but it turns out that the track is about the Jonestown mass suicide where over 900 people died – “Thanks for the Cool Aid, Reverend Jim” – and then you remember where Guyana is. The track itself is an interesting, theatrical, seven-minute mini-epic that tastefully explores a lot of ground and is a fitting closer to the well-crafted album. All the choral sounding backing vocals and the “grand” sound of the production really makes it feel like something important.
Overall, Sign Of The Hammer is a concise, interesting and entertaining album from Manowar that is both surprisingly tasteful and still good honest fun. It may not feature any half-naked barbarians on the cover but it should be in every Manowar fan’s collection without exception.