Each time we delve into our classic albums series it’s always with trepidation; is this really a classic album? will the band’s fans start mewling and puking, telling us we should have opted for [insert album name here] instead? Of course, this sort of stuff is all up for discussion, all the time, but, when the chance to chat with former Manowar/Dictators/Shakin’ Street guitarist Ross The Boss was presented, there was only one album I wanted to talk with him about – Manowar’s 1988 classic Kings of Metal.
Our hero is, I think, attending some sort of Baseball practice when we hook up – the term ‘batting cages’ is used – but that doesn’t stop him holding forth on what I consider to be the apogee of Manowar’s gonzo heavy metal assault…
What we do with this is we like to talk about the original version of the album – we won’t be talking about any remasters, re-recordings, extra tracks or live versions that may have been added after the event. “There’s only one version of that record” (laughs).
Let’s set the scene – what was the mood of the band going into the recording of the record? “At the time we already had done one record for Atlantic Records (1987’s Fighting The World), which had done well in Europe, and we were looking to somehow break out in the States. We’d had the Blow Your Speakers… single do OK there… but we figured that as far as singles go we would just make the record we wanted to make. It’s hard to second guess. In the states you had MTV, and radio stations were playing more metal, so we decided to just do what we wanted to do and let the chips fall where they may. The band was in a good mood, Atlantic were pretty positive with us, and so we went back to Chicago’s Universal studios and got ready to record. We had a whole bunch of songs; We’d already recorded six albums in six years – we were pretty energetic!”
To the album then – Track one was Wheels of Fire. Tell us a little about the writing or recording of that. “Joey (DeMaio, bass) had this riff that he used to play on his Piccolo Bass, which is tuned up an octave. He used to play it to me (makes piccolo-style clicking noises) – it sounded like little popcorns popping! I said it would be a great riff if it was actually played on a guitar, so we started playing it. We’d always done biker songs or motorcycle songs since Death Tone on the first album, so we thought we’d try another one. We wanted a fast tune – we wanted to make it the fastest tune ever put on a record. I don’t know whether it is or not, but that was us ‘we’re the fastest! we’re the loudest!’ so much bravado, and self-aggrandisement, but I think we lived up to what we wanted to do”.
The title track was and is next. “Kings of Metal! I had this riff that was kind of influenced by the Beastie Boys‘ (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party). I had that riff in my head. I said to the band how about this? I changed it around slightly, so it goes to the A, which is pure rock n’roll. So really it came together pretty quickly. We wanted a simple song, with a chorus people could join in with. We recorded some fans chiming in with us on the MANOWAR KILLS! parts (at a club called the Thirsty Whale in Chicago – Ed), which sounded great”.
It’s funny you say that now about the Beastie Boys – listening with that in mind the swing of the drums on Kings of Metal really does have the same sort of vibe. “I said to Joey that that was my intent for the song, my influence. So we took it from that but the final product of course was Manowar”.
Of course! Track three – Heart of Steel. “Heart of Steel, a kinda ballad. We weren’t really into ballads, but when we worked out the melody and Eric (Adams, vocals) sang it… when Eric sang stuff like that it was so incredible. He was in his prime then. How he delivered the song, how he delivered those lyrics… devastating. No one could have touched him back then. The song just builds… it’s a great, inspiring chorus. That’s why people are attracted to Manowar, lyrics like the ones in Heart of Steel. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to stand and fight!
The next track was primarily Joey, of course – Sting of the Bumblebee. “You know, you gotta have a bass solo on that record! I could have done without it – I don’t wake up and listen to it every day, put it that way. But Joey is a unique bass player, and a unique musician and he felt he wanted to do it. So it’s all good”.
The last track on side one was The Crown and the Ring. “Yeah. It’s more organ led. Bombastic. When we were putting it together I had my doubts about that one; What we got in the end was great. It took a while to get all the parts together for that song but I’m glad that we did”.
It’s pure Manowar, though, isn’t it? I was listening to it at high volume whilst getting ready for this interview and it still causes the goosebumps to break out. “Yes, absolutely”.
Side two kicks off with Kingdom Come. “Great song. The groove is amazing on that song. Also featuring an amazing vocal from Eric. Great singing in a high pitch. I’m impressed with my guitar part on that (laughs)”.
Eric at that time, as you say, could sing anything. Was he doing multiple takes on these songs or was he nailing them straight away? “Listen, he could deliver anything, and he did. I think his American accent really helped to get those lyrics across too. When I hear Europeans sing those songs, they never quite get it. They never get our New York accent. They do it great, but they can never get what Eric could do. He’s one of a kind”.
Very true. Next up is my particular favourite, Hail and Kill. “I had this riff (sings the opening guitar refrain lustily); I had all these parts (more singing). Back then we were kinda like the Beatles of heavy metal. Joey and I were kinda like Lennon and McCartney. Once we got in the studio doing new songs, and the ideas started bouncing between us, it was undeniable… You could the sparks coming off of both of us. I think we had the title Hail and Kill before we wrote the song. At that time we were so into this stuff, shit was just pouring out of us… ideas… sometimes you wish for those moments back as you get older as a songwriter. We were so inspired. Electricity and inspiration is hard to come by! Once we got the chorus on this the song came together quickly. ‘My father was a wolf, I’m a kinsman of the slain’… you gotta live for that stuff (laughs)… It’s a great tune, great for audience participation”.
The Warrior’s Prayer was next. “The grandfather stuff? I could have done without that. People like it it. It’s part of the record. It leads into the next song well”.
It sets up Blood of the Kings perfectly though, doesn’t it? “”Yes. It sets up Blood of the Kings. What can I say? It was another easel for Manowar sound effects. For clanging swords, you know? It was another platform for us to go fucking bananas!”
Let’s talk about Blood of The Kings then, the last track. “I had this thing where I could play full chords (demonstrates chugging sound), like on Blood of My Enemies (from 1984’s Hail to England)… I call it the ‘Manowar Gallop’. It’s a signature sound for me, but Joey can do the same thing on the bas because he uses a pick. When we did it together it was scary. So fucking loud and so fucking threatening! We envisioned these things, these sounds. We envisioned the sound even before we would play. When we formed the band we would think about things like that. Blood of The Kings was just amazing – how we put it together. What can I tell you? This was our most memorable album, that’s for sure. Fighting The World was the first all-digital record in the world, we recorded that in the same studio as Kings of Metal. But when we came back, the Synclavier, all the other technology, had gotten better. So Kings of Metal sounded a lot better than Fighting The World to me. It sounded a lot bigger, the sound opened up, it feels more heavy. I love the way the record sounds. I think Manowar pretty much nailed it on Kings of Metal. I know a lot of people say ‘why did you call yourselves the Kings of Metal?’… well, it was more Joey than me, but, if you call yourself something and you can pull it off… I think that’s a good thing. Anything we said we would do, we did. Which is one of the reasons nobody would take us out on the road. Nobody wanted to follow us on the stage. Which probably harmed our development at the time but cemented our reputation as a killer band”.
You say it’s a very memorable album where would you rank Kings of Metal among the records you did with Manowar – is it one of your favourites? “I would say Battle Hymns, Hail to England and Kings of Metal. You have to say Battle Hymns because Battle Hymns started the whole power metal movement. Before Battle Hymns what was there? Hail To England is a monumental album. The Shit. There’s a lot of unbelievable stuff on that. Bridge of Death, Blood of My Enemies, Army of Immortals – what can you say? All the Manowar albums were great records. I think Kings of Metal, which was my last album with Manowar, was pretty good. People are still listening to it today! I don’t see any band ever reproducing six devesting records in six years, like we did, ever again”.
These days many bands would struggle to get two or three albums out in that time. “Exactly. I’m proud of the way we recorded, I’m proud of the way we kept pushing those records out, I’m proud of the songs, I’m proud of the band. It was my era, and it was never duplicated and never be topped. You can’t remake those records and I take exception to the fact that they did (Manowar re-recorded Kings of Metal in 2014 without Ross – Ed). I’m not going to cause a ruckus right now, but everybody knows my feelings on the subject. And a lot of people agree with me. When you make a great record you can’t redo it! you can’t make it better! But anyway, that’s history. I think about it sometimes, but there’s nothing I can do about it”.
Onwards and upwards. “Nothing’s gonna top that music”.
So true. Hail, Ross the Boss!