Sign of the Hammer

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After getting everything right on the previous year's Hail to England, Manowar rushed back into the studio to record 1985's Sign of the Hammer -- and it shows. Despite the return of Hail producer Jack Richardson, the album sounds noticeably flat when compared to its predecessor, seriously dulling the impact of promising cuts like "Thor (The Powerhead)" and "The Oath." Uneven songwriting is also to blame, as becomes painfully obvious on the pair of epics contained here: the Vietnam tale "Mountains" and the Jonestown bio "Guyana (Cult of the Damned)," both of which alternate moments of brilliance and pointless excess. And there's little to write home about in terms of the uninspired title track, the dull, uneventful bass solo "Thunderpick," or the downright lousy "Animals." A cheesy but undeniable highlight does arrive in "All Men Play on 10," another amusing vehicle for Manowar's career-long mission to bring "death to false metal." The irony of it all, however, is that the band would promptly sell out the very next year, signing to a major label and betraying their hardcore fans with their overtly commercial next record, Fighting the World.

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