I don’t think it’s pushing things too far to posit that Kings of Metal Manowar essentially stopped being any good after guitarist Ross the Boss left the fold after, coincidentally, the Kings of Metal album.
However it still comes as a shock to press play on Ross’ new ‘solo’ album, By Blood Sworn, to be confronted by what effectively is a thinly veiled reworking of Blood of My Enemies from the Hail to England album…
But then again, why the hell not? Ross was the ferrous heart of Manowar, the man who wrote such leather crotched winners as Hail and Kill and Gloves of Metal, and if he can’t be self-referential every now and then who can?
And besides, By Blood Sworn – the song in question opening his new album, also called By Blood Sworn – is bloody brilliant, and a spectacular way to introduce new vocalist Marc Lopes. Lopes might not be quite in the same league as Manowar’s Eric Adams (in his prime at least), but he’s getting into the same post code, and his vocals are a delight though the album.
Among the Bones is more melodic – yet still crackling with power riffage, obvs – and features some neat bass from Symphony X man Mike LePond to add spice to the quiet bits, with the overall effect being not dissimilar to US compatriots Virgin Steele in their heyday.
This is Vengeance goes back to the Manowar template, allowing Lopes space to vent again and featuring a tidy amount of soloing from our hero, who clearly hasn’t lost his touch either as a soloist or a metal songwriter. This is underlined by the stinging We Are the Night, which builds on the back of some swinging drumming from Lance Barnewold before exploding into a glorious heavy metal chorus.
The balladic Faith of the Fallen works as a song, but really needs the big-budget bells and whistles it would have been afforded in the eighties. However, shorn of choirs and orchestras the listener is afforded the opportunity to listen to Mr Boss’s superior guitar playing skills, so not all is lost. Far from it, in fact…
Devil’s Day is shorter, less metallic and more rocky, and punctuates the rest of the material nicely. Lilith, on the other hand, feels a little bloated at over seven minutes long and the attention wanders before a splendid solo snaps the mind back into focus mid song. The second half of the song fares better, coming across like something Savatage’s Jon Oliva might put his name to, with some nice skewed vocal melodies from that man Lopes and a rollicking, late seventies Judas Priest-styled wigout, preceding a stately, doom-laden finale.
The last three tracks, Play Among the Gods, Mother of Horrors and Fistful of Hate are all tighter and more concise; the former being a thunderous yet supremely tuneful romp that would have sounded right at home ensconced on Fighting the World, whilst the closing brace bring to mind Ross’s punk roots (Mother…) and, via the gift of some superb drumming and bass playing from the rhythm section, the glory days of seventies rock a la Rainbow et al (Fistful…).
It’s very hard to fault this album when viewed as a whole. Ross has assembled a fine unit to back him, he plays to his strengths throughout and, if none of the material here matches what the man achieved when at the height of his Manowarish powers, that doesn’t really matter in the final washup. Welcome back, you king of metal you…
By Blood Sworn will be released by AFM Records on April 20th.
Here the track This is Vengeance HERE