In the same year that Grunge was well and truly selling billions of CDs worldwide, US Heavy Metal legends Manowar released their seventh full-length studio album – 1992’s The Triumph Of Steel.
It must have been no easy task following up their immensely popular and loyally beloved 1988 release Kings Of Metal, nor must it have been easy having to train up a new drummer and guitarist after losing Scott Columbus and Ross “The Boss” Friedman. In fact, nor can it have been fun trying to promote an album of blistering, powerful, OTT Heavy Metal after “Man In The Box” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” changed what must’ve felt like every journalist on earth’s priorities in the pre-internet culture of the day.
Despite all that was going against them, Manowar released what must surely be one of their greatest ever albums (certainly its my personal favourite at any rate). Call it ambition, or call it arrogance, but the band even opened up the record with a twenty-minute long song. A song with a bass solo, a drum solo so indulgent that it has a separate solo for the cymbals and for the drums, two minutes of somber guitar violining… all telling the story of Achillies and Hector from Greek Mythology. The world wanted “Touch Me I’m Sick” …Manowar gave ‘em “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts.”
Despite how easy it is to skip a twenty-minute album opener with three solos in it, the song isn’t poor. In fact, some sections of it are absolute genius, such as the furious Thrashy “Death Hector’s Reward” part, which feels like the musical equivalent of being battered upside the head.
After that, the first normal-length track comes in. Its my favourite track on the album, or by the band. “Metal Warriors” is the most perfectly-pitched, sing-along tribute to Heavy Metal that’s ever been written. Ludicrous to the point of featuring the lyric “If you’re not into Metal you are not my friend” and yet musically out of this world. Its some kind of supercharged version of Kiss’ “I Love It Loud” filled with Painkiller screams, mountain-top chants and the screech of guitars that feel only-barely in control.
There’s more blistering speed, in the sword-and-scorcery realm of “Ride The Dragon” with its constant double-kicks and incredibly catchy chorus.
The band then take a different tack, choosing to sing about Native Americans in a surprisingly tasteful way, in an interesting mid-paced affair that sonically evokes cowboy movies subtly, but doesn’t loose that Manowar sound. Maybe they were jealous of Anthrax? Who cares why they did it, but it works, really well!
Then they follow it up with another mid-paced track called “Burning” which you’d imagine might be a momentum killer, but is actually one of the more interesting compositions in the band’s catalogue. It’s a bit different than their usual any of their usual directions… epics, ballads, rousing anthems or blistering speed. It’s a nice change of pace. Sort of experimental, with a lot of emphasis on dynamics and Eric Adams trying out as many vocal techniques as he can imagine.
“Power Of Thy Sword” comes next, and its what I would consider the quintessential Manowar song. If you wonder if the band are for you, this is one of the tracks you should use to decide. Its got everything that’s great about the band in spades. Its so powerful, OTT and fun. Its beyond catchy, the solo is awesome, there’s slow bits, fast bits and there’s a touch of the orchestral epic-ness that the band aspire to. With this one song, you get a good musical, technical and lyrical picture of Manowar… oh, and by the way its a great song too!
Even if the last one felt good enough to be an album closer, it doesn’t stop there. There’s more Metal in the form of “The Demon’s Whip.” A robust, interesting track which is half crushing Sabbath-inspired Doom and half double-kick Thrash attack, almost-ending the album with a jarring reverse-whiplash effect as the too-slow doom accelerates out of control to the tune off way-too-loud whip samples.
It all closes with the grand, cinematic, vocally-impressive “Master Of The Wind” which kind of evokes Greg Lake-era King Crimson with its chiming bells, big reverb, dynamic production and haunting singing. Its probably the best ballad/orchestral-track that Manowar ever did. Not something to be skipped, but a genuine album highlight in itself.
Overall; Triumph Of Steel is a really diverse and almost strange album. Despite its seeming lack of focus, it really feels like Manowar just doing everything they could think of to absolute perfection. Anthem – nailed. Ballad – absolutely nailed. Fast bits – nailed. Slow bits – nailed. Exploring new ideas – nailed. Keeping true to what makes Manowar, Manowar – nailed. It might not have gotten the attention it deserved at the time, but for my money this album is a straight up-and-down masterpiece that shows what superb musicians, performers and songwriters Manowar are from every possible angle. Highly Recommended!