This is Manowar's first full length album since 2002's Warriors of The World, an awesome album that was filled to the brim with tunes that rank as high as any in their entire catalog. Songs like "Hand of Doom", "House of Death", and "Call To Arms", became personal anthems. That album came out during the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and contains the perfect amount of emotional drive.
Mixed with the historical context of that day, I felt that it was successful in its attempt to portray a call to arms, time for us all to get off our collective asses and fight. Even though I had been a fan of their music for years, that was the first time I actually took them seriously. It was then, because of the context, that I came to realize they are serious about their message, and it is this message that never wavers. Unfortunately, it is a message that never wavers. It starts and ends with the big guy, Odin, and the goal of all Norse warriors, to fight valiantly and die in battle so he can cross over the rainbow bridge and chow down in the great mess hall that is Valhalla, sitting next to their King, Odin.
It is this imagery, though, that causes people, including me, to snicker and visualize a bunch of white dudes standing around a fire with horns on their head, waving animal carcasses on a stick, and shouting "By the power of grey skull!". This is a different time than it is was then. Yes I know, the age of war is not over, but without the real world context this time around, I cannot take the message seriously.
Gods of War isn't another call to arms as Warriors of The World was. It is a concept album, one in a series of tribute albums to come covering the Norse Gods of legend. The series kicks off with this rousing tribute to the head honcho himself, Odin. In a series dealing with Norse Gods, to begin with anyone else would be completely disrespectful and potentially catastrophic. Odin just might send over Thor to jam a lightning bolt up your ass if you didn't.
I am not much of a fan of concept albums, because what it really boils down to is this, I want to hear the music, not all the peripheral stuff. Such is the same with Manowar, I want to hear multitudes of rising anthems, crescendos that come fast and furious. I want to heat their version of power metal, long carrying the torch of true metal, played like they just invented it. The new album contains several of those moments, but there are as many moments that do not.
Believe me, I get concept albums, there are going to be lulls, ebbs, and flows. There is a story to be told, and sometimes a band has to go outside the song to lay the groundwork for the story. Something the songs cannot do this by themselves. So, what eventually happens is, concept albums tend to wander off on tangents and normally I will let it take me with them, for short necessary trips, but with Gods of War, nearly half of the album is spent ring around on these tangents.
And that is what kills this album in the end. The flow is needlessly thrown away in momentum damaging overtures that don't necessarily assist in telling the story. Example: Beginning the album with two overtures, lasting nearly nine minutes. That's too much set up, when all I really want is to hear the metal, this is a metal band after all, am I wrong? Another example is the placement of the hymn, "Army of The Dead Part 1", which stops the momentum that "King of Kings" created dead in its tracks. When "Sleipnir" gets going, which is a nice little power metal diddy actually, the pace quickens again and stays moving forward through to the next tune, my favorite track, "Loki God of Fire". The guitar riffs that accompany the chorus are deliciously different than everything else on the album. Coupled with their only real attempt at groove, the song might actually make it into a personal top ten Manowar list.
Manowar is not a stranger to ballads, and this album does include them. I just question the placement of them. After the double shot of good metal I mentioned earlier, I think it was too soon to slow it down. In this case what did it was "Blood Brothers", a good ballad for sure, but it is repetitious, and quite frankly, would have been great at the end, fading away as the album closes. If that didn't fully kill the momentum, what followed further cemented my desire to hit the skip button. The Odin trifecta, situated directly and smack dab in the middle of the album. "Overture of Odin" is exactly what it says, "The Blood of Odin" is nothing more than atmospheric dialog, and then, finally, the band gets around to picking up their instruments again to finish off the trio with "Sons of Odin", a typical Manowar song, and really, not all that good.
There are more overtures and dialog to come. I'm not quite sure why, after all that. "Gods of War" sounded so good to me, after all it is a pretty simple hymn. Either it really is good, or it was the fact that I had to wait almost a half an hour to hear it. In the end, I came to the conclusion it's combination of both. Only one track remains on the regular album that is worth noting, the curiously titled "Odin", a mid-paced rocker that could have been better suited sandwiched in between "Loki God of Fire" and "God of War". The copy I received has a bonus track "Die For Metal" which is a classic fist pumping anthem for and about the desire to save metal. Falling completely outside of the concept box, which I suspect, is why it is a bonus track.
RATING – 4/10 – I am just not a big fan of the over indulgence of the set ups, overtures, quiet instrumentals, and dialog. Is this Manowar? or is it Rhapsody of Fire? Much of this could have been cut out, the track listing consolidated, and emphasis placed on the actual metal tunes. Then, follow it up with a ballad if you must. But after forcing myself to listen to the entire album, as is, several times, I cannot in good faith say that I ever really want to listen to the tangents anymore. In the age we live in though, you can just take a big giant axe to much of the album, rearrange what's left to your desired listing, and you can actually salvage this album.