Battle Hymns MMXI

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Manowar weren't always Manowar. Their first album, 1982's Battle Hymns, hinted at the epic warriors-of-metal style they'd pursue on every subsequent record, but it also had strong hints of Kiss and other '70s hard rock acts; a few numbers even pointed to a rudimentary social consciousness with lyrics like "You were sittin' home and I got sent to Nam/I went to the big house, you just worked a job" from "Death Tone," and further references to Vietnam, albeit more cartoonish ones, in "Shell Shock." Guitarist Ross the Boss seemed inspired by Ted Nugent as much as by Judas Priest, and he injected a lot of blues into their sound; bassist Joey DeMaio and drummer Donnie Hamzik were a thunderous rhythm section; and vocalist Eric Adams was a post-Robert Plant shrieker with an extremely broad range and terrific control. With Hamzik's 2010 return to the band, three-quarters of the original lineup is back on this re-recorded version of Battle Hymns, but it's a different album. Some changes are subtle, others not so much. The track listing is the same, and the lyrics haven't changed, but the band's style is a little more ponderous; many of their recent songs have been death marches rather than groove-based rockers. The mix is different, too; Joey DeMaio's bass and Karl Logan's guitar are more or less equally loud, which actually works well. Orson Welles (who did the narration on "Dark Avenger") is long since dead, so the band hired Christopher Lee to re-record his part. Some production flourishes (a brief stereo panning of the guitar on "Death Tone," a reverb effect on the chorus of "Manowar") have been omitted from the new versions. And, most notably, the studio album's final song, "Battle Hymn," has been extended from seven minutes to nine-and-a-half. The new version also comes with two bonus live tracks, recorded in Texas in 1982, which are a fierce reminder of the time when Manowar toured the U.S. It's easy to wonder why this record was made at all -- perhaps it's a stealth strategy to earn royalties on the songs, like what Gang of Four did with 2005's Return the Gift -- but fans will enjoy it.

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