Out of the classic Manowar albums (1982 thru 1990), you could make a case for this one being the best, or at least the most consistent. Kings of Metal‘s best moments are better, but it’s worse moments are far worse. I can never get comfortable with that album, despite the greatness of “Hail and Kill” and “Blood of the Kings”. Listening to it side to side is like sleeping on a luxurious hammock that has several large holes in it. There are no Manowar albums with all killer and no filler, so don’t look for them, but there’s a difference between normal crappy and “Pleasure Slave” crappy. On Sign of the Hammer I merely skip a few tracks. On Kings of Metal I actually deleted several mp3s so I can pretend they don’t exist.
1. Shitty songs: “All Men Play on 10” and “Thunderpick”. The first is an annoying Spinal Tappish self-parody – Manowar is at their best when they’re playing with absolute conviction, not winking at the audience. The second is four minutes of unlistenable bass guitar masturbation. Can someone keep Joey DeMaio away from those higher frets? It’s like giving Bashar Al-Assad access to white phosphorous. It’s nothing personal, he just does not use them for the betterment of humanity.
2. Good songs: “Animals” and “The Oath” – really fun high-energy rockers, the first reminding me of KISS, the second a NWOBHM inspired speed metal song. Not much songwriting going on here, just a shot of Manowar’s larger than life energy, like an Epipen in your arm.
3. Great songs: “Thor, the Powerhead” and “Sign of the Hammer.” Holy crap these rule. Elaborate early power metal, rivaling anything done by Manilla Road and Fates Warning. Great vocals, great instrumentation, and great songwriting equals two bona fide classics. If Manowar sounded like this consistently I’d quit making fun of Joey DeMaio’s ego forever, because he’d have earned it.
4. “Mountains”: the standout track and one of the most incredible moments of Manowar’s career. A long-winded ballad that finishes on a massive emotional crest. This is the sort of song you point to when trying to convert someone on a band. Eric Adams has never sounded better than this.
5. The outlier: “Guyana – Cult of the Damned”. An odd doom metal song that I don’t hate, but it doesn’t really do anything to sell me. Some more bass shredding, some heavy doomy riffs, and a bizarre chorus that sounds like the band flailing around in free-time. An odd lyrical choice for Manowar, too. Just a strange, strange song all around.
I’m torn on whether to recommend this as a first Manowar album. One other thing is that Sign of the Hammer opens with terrible cheese while Kings of Metal opens with the great “Wheels of Fire.”
As is always the case with Manowar, you can get a much better album by just deleting all the garbage and dogshit. The trouble is: sometimes this results in a 20 minute long album. Sign of the Hammer fares better, you still get 33:00 or so of good stuff.