There were a few sniggers amongst the girlies in the office when I announced that I was going to speak to MANOWAR about their new album, «The Metal Kings». Chest beating Vikings in leather codpieces don’t cut much ice with the Hammer Raunchettes and tracks like «Pleasure Slave» (the extra track on the «Metal Kings» cd) bring hoots of derision from a bunch of wimmins who are all more than willing and able to club any unsuspecting geezer over the head and drag them back to their cave. And as for the news that Ross the Boss has left the band to get married…! Hey, we thought he was a real man!
But then I gave the new album a spin and found that it’s an impressive piece of work with an astounding depth of sound and an imaginative breadth of material, from the speedy opener «Wheels Of Fire» to the awesome ballad «Heart Of Steel» And when you speak to Joey Demaio, you find that he is passionately committed to Manowar’s music, to the whole Manowar concept and to delivering the best possible product to Manowar’s followers — and you can’t ridicule sincerity, can you?
So,Joey, spill the beans on Ross’ departure, which occurred just after the band had finished work on the album,. He didn’t really leave to get married did he?
«No — he’s go a really nice girlfriend and they are going to get married next year, but that has nothing to do with it! There’s really not a whole lot to tell. I know it might be nice to have some big, dramatic story to go along with it and usually when things like this happen, there is some type of big falling out or a problem — it really didn’t happen for any of those reasons.
Over the years Ross has been getting back to his roots, which is a more blues oriented style of guitar playing.. Ross is probably one of the greatest blues guitarists in the world. That’s probably not a well- known fact because, since he’s been in Manowar, obviously his metal influences came to the fore front. Over the years he’s started getting back into blues, because he really didn’t;t dig the direction that a lot of the new metal guitarists were going in their style; in other words, there’s a lot of very, very fast playing right now that doesn’t have a lot of emotion and that seems to be a style. In wanting to keep his own identity musically, he reverted back to his blues beginning and that’s the direction that he wants to purse. He wants to play more if a hard rock/blues type sound, which has been in his blood from the start.
I’m happy because I want Ross to play what makes him happiest. He certainly has made a great contribution to Manowar over the years — he’s been there all the way — and he left on an upnote, when he felt that he’d given Manowar all that he could»
So who will be daring to step into Ross’ boots?
«The guitarist that we have now is a guy called David Shankle and the German Metal Hammer fans are going to be happy that he is of German descent! He is the top gun from Chicago; I met him when we were out there a couple of years ago, doing «Fighting The World».He has the reputation for being the top guitarist in the whole mid-west. He most recently won a «guitar war» against 5 other guitarists, Neal Schon presented him with a limited edition guitar for the first prize.
He fits really well with the band; he’s a wild man on stage and he is right with the Manowar followers. He has declined to do any interviews or to talk to anybody until he has proved himself on stage with his playing for the followers of Manowar and then he will be glad to talk to anyone. But first he wants to prove that he belongs in this band and to earn his place with the fans»
Let’s talk about the new album. There does seem to be a theme running through the whole record is it intended as a concept album?
«It would be nice to say that it was a concept album, but this is the year for concept albums and the rash that’s out there that people are calling brilliant concept albums are really an insult. I wouldn’t want ours compared to that garbage, so we didn’t call it a concept album. Let’s just say that you’ve hit the nail on the head by saying there’s a strong theme.
The thing with the theme of the Kings of Metal — it wasn’t an type of hype that led us to name the album, it;s just simply a fact that we are the Kings of Metal! Guess the reason I’m able to say that — and I hope I don’t sound like a pompous ass, because I don’t mean it that way — is that what we tried to do when we put the band together was to look at the heavy metal scene, like at the artform of being a heavy metal band, analyze it and then take it to the nth degree in every facet of the genre. That’s what we do; we just try to take everything and blow it totally out of proportion in a music al sense and actually be what these other people are pretending to be»
Can I take it from that that you’re not overly impressed with the current metal scene?
«Come on., let’s be honest — the music industry is rally at an all-time low. People are so afraid to take chances and do different things. I guess that’s why we stand up doing these things sometimes, like having a full choir, pipe organ and orchestra, because somebody has to do it. Maybe it’s not going to sell millions of albums and maybe it’s not trendy and current, but at least you can say we;re trying to do whatever we do the best we can. on our own terms, and I think that’s more important — it is to us anyway.
It’s a shame that future musicians growing up now are being influenced by trash; it’s really upsetting. You are basically formed by what your influences are and if you’ve got losers for influences, you’re going to have a hard time overcome that. I’m very, very thankful that I was fortunate enough t be raised on all the wonderful music that I grew up with — Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, the true, classic great, talented heavy metal bands. Because a lot of the stuff out there, particularly in metal , s just so substandard, it’s unbelievable.»
It is nice to see that the album contains a great degree of variation in the songs. So often these days we seem to get albums were every song basically sounds the same
«The following that we’ve built up over the years expects to buy a Manowar album, and hear the diversity in the material. Everybody in the audience wants something different and that;s the way we approach a record. When we’re on tour, we are constantly hanging out with our followers; we love to be in the bars, drinking and partying with them, because that’s the only way to really know your audience. When you take in everything they are saying, you can’t help but be influenced by that and I think that’s really the only true inspiration.
It’s nice for us to be able to have the freedom to not worry about putting a slow song, a fast song, a song with orchestra or choir, because that’s what our audience expects. That’s what makes us Manowar.»
I see the band have produced the album themselves.
«We have worked with other producers and there’s been some good and bad points about that. We’ve come away from each experience learning a little more, but when you have an identity and you have a sound that you understand intensely, I think the best production is to reproduce the sound faithfully and not get caught up in ‘how can w make this effecty or artsy?’ What we’re trying to do is bring as true a reproduction on record as we can of what the band is live good sound quality is what we’re concerned with.»
One of the surprises on the album is the inclusion of a full orchestra and a hundred strong, male voice choir on the record.
«It’s been a very long hoped for thing between Eric, Scott, Ross ad myself, because we always wanted to work with a choir, an orchestra, and a pipe organ. A lot of people don’t understand this, but the first instrument was the voice and other instruments evolved from trying to imitate the voice. The pipe organ is the single most powerful instrument and you know power’s a big thing with Manowar. A lot of people look at classical music and they think, it’s soft, but its not. There’s very little more powerful than a pipe organ, a full choir, and an orchestra, all fired up together. It is to the max!»
The pursuit of excellence led Joey to insist that the choir was recorded in St Paul’s Cathedral, Birmingham, rather than in a sterile studio in order to capture the right ambience on tape.
«It was kind of funny to see me with blue jeans and a ripped up T-shirt, conducting these guys dressed in suits and ties. We’ve got some of the footage on video; I think we’ll use it at some point»
The cost must have induced coronaries at your record company!
«There were some people in the record company here in America saying ‘You’re going WHERE? What does that have to do with heavy metal!?!’ But we had to have the traditional classic vibe. The thing about manowar is — when we do it, we do it all the way! There is no other way for us.»
When can we expect to see you tour?
«We’re going to start a massive world tour in the middle of November. In England you will probably see us around March. We love being on the road;we really,really enjoy it. It’s funny, I hear a lot of people say,»I can’t stand being on the road.’ Well then,- go home!»
And are you still the loudest band in the world?
«Are you kidding? Are the Kennedys gunshy?!»
I guess that’s an affirmative then…