This is an album that changed everything. It changed Manowar, it changed Heavy Metal and it changed the world as we know it.
Reviewing an album that you have been totally familiar with for over 25 years is a tricky task and I've purposely never reviewed a re-release, re-issue, re-package as what more do you ever need than the original but it's been a pleasure listening to this one and the key question is - has it added anything to the original?
But first, an anecdote. I once made a tape of around a minute long that was basically the intro of the original 'Kings Of Metal' album which is the start of the opening track, 'Wheels Of Fire'. Those familiar will know that this is a monster motor revving up and screaming flame and hellfire and I made this tape so a band I was managing at the time could use it as their onstage intro. They shit their pants when they heard it and wouldn't dare use it as there was no way they could follow it.
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That sums up the original 'Kings Of Metal' album for you. It contained songs that were the loudest, hardest, fastest, biggest and baddest Metal anthems of that era plus emotive anthems, spoken word and real lighters in the air hymns that glorified our 'religion' in a bombastic way that had never been done before. It was glorious. It still is.
The hard songs were comprehensible and the lyrics clear; nothing had ever sounded this good before. It changed Heavy Metal because it dragged the genre into a new age of quality and craftsmanship and raised the bar by a considerable level and it has more than stood the test of time.
It changed Manowar because it dwarfed all of their previous five albums in terms of sheer quality. There are many excellent tracks and anthems on those previous offerings but this outshone them all. It is definitive Manowar, an album where every single track is an absolute killer and worthy of inclusion in the live set. ('Pleasure Slave' apart, but this only appeared on the CD version.)
'Kings Of Metal' is Manowar's masterpiece, their pièce de résistance, the highlight of their long career. So how does the newly recorded MMXIV version shape up?
In a nutshell, it is superb and it does add something to the original. It's not just a cheap re-issue created for cash in purposes, it's a valid offering that does not overshadow the original but rather showcases what that would have sounded like had it been recorded today.
I touched it! Now I am immortal!!
Added harmonies and orchestrations make for an interesting listen if you know the original well and added Karl Logan guitar parts sit well amongst the fresh sounding re-recordings.
The running order has been completely reshaped and some of the song titles slightly reworded, for example 'The Crown And The Ring' has become 'Thy Crown And Thy Ring' and 'Heart Of Steel' has now become 'The Heart Of Steel'.
I mentioned the intro to the original album earlier and this is the first noticeable difference. MMXIV starts with 'Hail And Kill' but it's about far more than just a different running order and the slight renaming of these nine classic tracks.
It's all in the feel of this new recording. Here is a band who have revisited their most well known and classic work and brought it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, despite there being no requirement to do that.
It's not an improvement as such; it's an enhancement. You can't really improve on the original 'Kings Of Metal' but MMXIV has given it brand new life and added interest, extra zest and is a reminder of just how important a release this was.
The production is absolutely superb and the orchestration is part of the cake and not just the icing upon it. Both give it that unique feel that make this recording special and neither take over or overshadow the essence of the songs.
I've mentioned the future of Heavy Metal in these pages several times and touched on where we are going now that all the classics have been written. Well here's another example of how Metal will never die. Take a seemingly untouchable classic and re-record it with the best of available modern technology. That way you breathe brand new life into it and introduce it to a brand new audience.
And if you can get Brian Blessed to do the narration on your spoken track ('A Warrior's Prayer') then even more kudos to you.
There will always be those who ridicule Manowar for seemingly becoming a parody of themselves when they released this over the top album but surely that was the whole idea, wasn't it? Heavy Metal is theatre, pure and simple, and these guys do it better than anyone. But the best thing about it all is they sure as Hell mean it, no question about that!
"I believe in the fans, I believe in Metal more than anybody you've ever met. And you've known me a long time. I've never pissed on you even though you constantly do it to me. And I don't stab the fan in the back. And another thing, I'm prepared to die for Metal. Are you?"
Joey DeMaio 2006
Scott Columbus: November 10th 1956 – April 4th 2011
The album is dedicated to the "eternal memory" of Scott Columbus, the drummer who played on the original album and who tragically passed away three years ago.
Hail And Kill MMXIV
Kings Of Metal MMXIV
The Heart Of Steel MMXIV
A Warrior's Prayer MMXIV
The Blood Of The Kings MMXIV
Thy Kingdom Come MMXIV
Sting Of The Bumblebee MMXIV
Thy Crown And Thy Ring MMXIV (Lament Of The Kings)
On Wheels Of Fire MMXIV
Thy Crown And Thy Ring MMXIV (Orchestral)
The Heart Of Steel MMXIV (Instrumental)
Hail And Kill MMXIV (Instrumental)
Kings Of Metal MMXIV (Instrumental)
The Heart Of Steel MMXIV (Orchestral)
The Blood Of The Kings MMXIV (Instrumental)
Thy Kingdom Come MMXIV (Instrumental)
Thy Crown And Thy Ring MMXIV (Lament Of The Kings) (Orchestral)
On Wheels Of Fire MMXIV (Instrumental)
Points of interest:
'Kings Of Metal' is the sixth album by Manowar and was released in 1988 by Atlantic Records.
The album was the last to feature guitarist and founding member Ross "The Boss" Friedman, who later went on to rejoin punk band The Dictators.
Drummer Scott Columbus left the band after this album as well, but rejoined for 1996s 'Louder Than Hell' and remained with the band until 2008.
The track 'Kings Of Metal' has been covered by German a cappella Metal band Van Canto on their album 'Hero', as well by German Alternative/Punk-Band Beatsteaks on their album 'Launched' and the German death Metal band Debauchery on their album 'Back In Blood'.
'Heart Of Steel' has been covered by Finnish Heavy Metal band Thunderstone.
'The Crown And The Ring' has been covered by the Celtic folk band Rapalje and by Italian Metal band Valiance.