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Music To Kill By 

War with Iraq? It's in the bag, dad

Wednesday, Oct 2 2002
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”Lusting for blood and death again.“ ”I will hunt you down and tear you limb from limb.“ ”Ride through their blood.“ ”Today the blood of battle upon my weapons will never dry.“ ”My enemies all shall die. Die! Die! Die!“

Such is the balladry of Joey DeMaio, from Warriors of the World, the latest document by Manowar, a true heavy metal band of the old school. Why should it be, the bassist-songwriter has always wondered, that he and his platoon have not ascended to rock Valhalla in their American fatherland? For lo, they have toured and recorded these long 21 years, slogging like legionnaires, putting all opposition to flight in Europe, where metal has never bowed its head.With their animal skins, their black leather, their pumped muscles straining against breastplates, the Manowar four don‘t lack for an image that’s . . . strong. Their instrumental chops are cutting edge. And voxman Eric Adams possesses a harshly operatic tenor that can make any singer this side of Ronnie James Dio cower. So what‘s been the problem? Could it have been something about the blood and killing?

Thanks be to Thor, blood and killing are for everybody now. March homeward, Manowar. Your time has come.

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Following 9112001, every veterinarian, florist and taco vendor grabbed a flag and a saber, so metal musicians, kings of aggro, were far from putting a sock in it. These included some of my fave artists among the old-line rock crushers. Approaching the event from the flanks, Dio, who has always brought a poetic and philosophical turn to his excess, contented himself with ”Oh to never be afraidOf wolves at the door . . .Time to be killing the dragon again.“ KMFDM, a more ambiguous gang, titled their latest CD Attak and observed, to a lurching, mechanical beat, ”Temper tantrum you communicateIt’s your nature to be coldAutomatic how you operateSystem failureBraincontrol AttakReload.“

Others just went for the throat. ”My God will kill your god,“ foamed WASP‘s Blackie Lawless, a former military-school student who descends from a family of religious devotees. Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde used his recent Ozzfest pulpit to storm, ”When we kick Iraq‘s ass, they’ll know the reason -- rock and fucking roll.“ This was no shocker coming from a man whose beloved father rolled tanks in World War II, who plucked a lovely acoustic-guitar rendition of ”America the Beautiful“ to conclude his monster-mashing 2002 release 1919Eternal, and who has opened a number of sporting events with his explosive electric extrapolation on ”The Star-Spangled Banner.“

And the banner waves worldwide. Derek Sherinian, an American playing keyboards on the road with Swedish metal axman Yngwie Malmsteen soon after 911, posted the following from Porto Alegre, Brazil:

Midway through the set, Yngwie finished his guitar-solo spot with ”The Star-Spangled Banner.“ The crowd of about 1,500 people started immediately booing very loudly and throwing shit onstage. The crowd started chanting, ”OSAMA!! OSAMA!!!“ . . . After the final song, the band went to the dressing room. I told Yngwie, ”I refuse to go out for the encore under any circumstances, FUCK THESE PEOPLE.“ Yngwie went back onstage by himself and played ”The Star-Spangled Banner“ again to a choir of loud boos. He then said on the microphone, ”God bless America, and FUCK YOU ALL“ and walked offstage. The crowd went into a riot.

Malmsteen‘s 2002 CD is called Attack. With a C. But he was already a model of military preparedness; his last one, in 2000, was War To End All Wars.

Well, times have sure changed since 1969 and Woodstock, when Jimi Hendrix interpreted the national anthem for its ”land of the free“ implications rather than its patrioticmartial content. Hendrix is always cited as a progenitor of heavy metal, and so, of course, is Black Sabbath, which kicked off its 1970 Paranoid with ”War Pigs.“ But Jimi and Ozzy were hippies.

Joey DeMaio is not a hippie. He was influenced by Black Sabbath. He was even a tech roadie for Black Sabbath. But something about the Sabs’ ”the war machine keeps turning“ nonviolence propaganda must have chafed his cuirass. In fact, there was little peace in the Sabbath sound, and starting a band that combined warlike sounds with a warlike message must have seemed as natural as hamstringing a hoplite.

DeMaio co-parented Manowar around 1980 with Adams and Ross ”The Boss“ Friedman, who a few years earlier had been lead chopsman of the Dictators, a rather well-respected New York joke band. While some would say that Ross‘ enlistment reinforced his predilection for joke bands, both groups walked unusual tightropes, and hardcore metalheads speak of the early Manowar albums with considerable awe.

The Boss really blew his chance at historic convergence, though, when he split in 1988, setting off a Manowar personnel crisis that wouldn’t be resolved for years. In the meantime, before the band could record its next album, a little thing called the Persian Gulf War came and went.

Now, that must have hurt. Here was a battlefield made to be blitzed by Manowar. But while Hank Williams Jr. and others were out there pumping up flaccid careers by throwing down on ol‘ ”Sodom“ Hussein, DeMaio’s restless regiment was bivouacked far behind the frontlines. Subsequent Manowar manifestoes would show no loss of balls -- the group released two back-to-back double live CDs in the late ‘90s -- but there was a lurking impression that their time had passed.

Today, once again, war has become an American obsession. And this time Manowar are right there with the goods: Warriors of the World is one fabulous hunk of music, a suite so diverse, sincere and masterful that, even if you think it’s stupid, you can‘t help but admire it. Unless you’re a woman.

Start with the cover. It features the latest illustrated image of the iconic Manowar himself, busting with bare-chested musculature, the region above his neck swishing with hair while lacking any evidence of an actual head -- make of that what you will. With his right hand, Manowar thrusts his gore-smeared blade through a whole stack of dark-skinned bodies at his feet. In his right he brandishes Old Glory, the very Star-Spangled Banner. And behind him, rallying to his command and rippling their own flags, stride the Warriors of the World. Well, maybe not the whole world, since the colors are nearly all from Europe, with not an African or Middle Eastern standard in sight. Skulls. Fire. Victory.

The music keeps pace. The jackbooted tromp of ”Call to Arms“ is the quintessential opener. ”The Fight for Freedom“ starts with delicate piano and a campfire narrative before swaggering into drum-corps snare rolls and a stirring vocal chorus. Puccini‘s aria ”Nessun dorma“ serves as a tribute to singer Adams’ recently departed mom, all right? You will not believe the Wagnerian extremes to be found in Mickey Newbury‘s ”An American Trilogy,“ a meld of ”Dixie“ and ”The Battle Hymn of the Republic“ made famous by Elvis. ”The March“ boasts angelic choirs that will make you weep. ”Warriors of the World United“ is a fist-pumping classic, singable from now till doomsday; you’ve got to love the way Adams always barks fight, like he‘s really punching somebody in the face. And regardless of style, it’s all metal.

Real, righteous, radical heavy metal, you see, is the war. Manowar are engaged in ”the fight for metal,“ as the notes proclaim. ”This CD . . . is our way of saying FUCK YOU to the disbelievers who try to deny the life we have chosen.“

Come clean, now, reader. You didn‘t really think that, for over two decades, a band called Manowar, with album titles like Battle Hymns, Fighting the World and Sign of the Hammer, was about real war, did you? Did you?

A few years back, during the Balkan conflict, Arto Lehtinen of Soundscape Webzine posed DeMaio a question that, for some reason, he doesn’t seem to get asked very much.

”Manowar is quite popular in the ex-Yugoslavian area,“ said Lehtinen. ”How do you think your war metal applies there, where people are fighting for real?“

”I don‘t even want to see a dog or a cat get run over. I’m not into that,“ DeMaio replied. ”You know, honestly, I think war sucks.“

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