"There’s been a song on every album that really carried for the the attitude of the band and the audience we have," said vocalist Joey DeMaio talking about Manowar on MTV in 1992. "It’s a singular thing. It’s almost like at a Manowar show I’m playing for my own family. It’s that type of a feeling. And that’s the attitude that we share. We’re there for a good time. We’re there for heavy metal. And all the wimps and posers should leave the hall. I mean if they happen to wander in there. I don’t imagine I know what they would be doing at a Manowar concert. But it doesn’t take long once the band fires up for all the squares to leave the place. It’s always quite a laugh when the band strikes up to see the audience we have so happy, and the jerks that wandered in to be so outraged. We want them out as quickly as possible.”
To really understand how purely metal Manowar is, let's turn back briefly to 1980 to just before the fiery birth of Manowar. Prior to getting things rolling with Manowar, vocalist Joey DeMaio (who was going by Joe at the time) was helping the now Dio-led Black Sabbath look good on stage by running their stage effects along with another native of Auburn, New York, Peter Restey (RIP) who spent 30 years on the road with various versions of Black Sabbath. And this is where DiMaio's metal credibility gets very metal.
As detailed in an article in a local Auburn, New York newspaper in October of 1980, after selling some musical equipment to Geezer Butler, DeMaio joined Restey behind the scenes on the tour and together they pulled off some pretty dicey effects for Sabbath during their time together. Such as shooting off twelve flame propellers filled with gunpowder at the band's Madison Square Garden gig. Another effect the pair named (somewhat ironically) the "The Wizard of Oz" effect which involved the propulsion of fire balls powered by propane into the air. Not only did DeMaio get chummy with the members of Sabbath, his mother Caroline had the band over for dinner and then took them on a local bar crawl. He would depart his gig with Sabbath before the end of 1980 and travel to Miami, Florida to record the first Manowar (spelled Man o War according to the article), with Ross the Boss (original Manowar guitarist Ross Friedman).
So as far as origin stories go, Joey DeMaio's is a good one and helps affirm the group's "Death to False Metal" mantra. But all you dedicated Manowarriors (the official nickname for Manowar fans), already know this to be true. Let's celebrate this truth by spending some time exploring the band's seventh record, The Triumph of Steel (1992) on the 30th anniversary of its original release. You might want to adjust your eyes for this one as we're going to discuss DeMaio/Manowar/The Triumph of Steel's inclusion into an academic paper, Achilles in the Age of Steel: Greek Myth in Modern Music (2009), written by Eleonara Cavallini, the chair of Greek Language and Literature at Bologna University, Italy. Let's start where it all started with Triumph, a nearly 70-minute album. And that's because side A contains only one song, and it's almost 29 minutes long.
The Triumph of Steel was recorded at the rather mysterious sounding Haus Wahnfried (aka Haus Wanfried, N.Y.) studio in New York. According to Discogs, Manowar appears to be the only band noted to have recorded there. The album credits are massive and include nods to the folks that helped make Triumph. Such as John "Dawk" Stillwell, the Commander in Chief of All Weapons (Design and Maintenance), and Dennis "The Mad Snake" Dragone who took care of anything related to Revenge, Death & Destruction To All In His Path. While the band is clearly having fun here, Stillwell had already earned his heavy metal stripes before working with Manowar. Stillwell (RIP), provided his own innovative modifications for the Rickenbacker bass while working with Elf, Rainbow, and Deep Purple, to much acclaim. And we can't really talk about Manowar without acknowledging the indelible images of the band created by the great Ken Kelly (RIP). Kelly's cover for The Triumph of Steel is as iconic as they come. It, as images of Manowar do, bring to mind the instantly recognizable artwork of Frank Frazetta, Ken Kelly's uncle. This is an important connection to make as the uncompromising image of Manowar (you know, loincloths, swords, sweat, leather and studs all clinging to washboard abs) kind of stand on their own in the world of metal. Kind of like Thor. Kelly has said that his work with Manowar were some of the "most challenging" in his storied career, noting that the kind of artwork he created for the band, "just isn't done in the music industry anymore." In Kelly's book, Escape (2004), Joey DiMaio wrote the following words about the artist who was instrumental in implanting fantasy images of Manowar into our collective conscience:
"From the very moment we met, an adventure began that continues today. It is one of total artistic communication on a level few can comprehend and the only way to describe it is to witness the outcome, namely the immortal Manowar art."
This brings me to someone well known in the metal community, Italian artist Paolo Girardi whose work has graced the covers of albums for Power Trip, Black Breath, Bell Witch, and Revocation. Girardi is the very definition of a Manowarrior, so it made sense to include his thoughts on Manowar and The Triumph of Steel:
“I bought Triumph of Steel when it came out and I’ve always adored it. There were only a few vinyl shops in my town (in 1992), and it was a miracle that any of them had any heavy metal records at all like Iron Maiden. I think my friend and I both ordered it from the record label (Atlantic). I’ve listened to that vinyl for so many years it has become totally flat. Manowar is my only religion.”
Amen to that. Turning back to the actual jams on the record, let’s briefly touch on one of the best known pieces of metal mythology surrounding Manowar, the infamous Side A of The Triumph of Steel and its singular yet segmented track, "Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts." This sounds like a good time to bring in Ms.Cavallini, the author of the Manowar-mentioning academic paper we noted earlier. Here is a piece from Cavalini’s paper, Achilles in the Age of Steel: Greek Myth in Modern Music, asserting DeMaio’s comprehension and depth of knowledge of Greek Mythology and his skill in incorporating both into this 28+ minute jam:
“In the final five parts of the song, where the vocals play a leading role, the lyrics appear to be far more accurate than in most contemporary musical interpretations of the Trojan saga (of the Iliad). As a matter of fact, DeMaio’s lyrics imply a careful and scrupulous reading of the Iliad. The songwriter has focused his attention essentially on the crucial fight between Hector and Achilles, has paraphrased some passages of the poem adapting them to the melodic structure with a certain fluency and partly reinterpreting them, but never altering or upsetting Homer’s storyline.”
Cavalini’s impressions of DeMaio/Manowar’s work on one of metal's more ambitious songs provides us with a very insightful take on Manowar’s personal 1992 musical odyssey from The Triumph of Steel. The album shows up regularly on lists written by people who know their metal and are not afraid to show their appreciation for the band. And it’s thanks to other jams on Triumph that make your blood pump like “Ride the Dragon” and the pick-up-your-fucking-sword-it’s-time-to-fuck-shit-up battlecry, “Metal Warriors.” It's also an album to admire due to the extreme shredding of guitarist David Lee Shankle who was a very important part of Manowar's appeal from 1989-1995. Here’s a a few lyrics from “Metal Warriors” just in case you need a reminder that in 1992 Manowar took their job of not fucking around very seriously:
“Heavy metal or no metal at all / Wimps and posers, leave the hall / Heavy metal or no metal at all / Wimps and posers go on get out / Leave the hall”
When it first came out in 1992, vinyl was just starting to have a resurgence and it was pressed as a double-LP housed in a gatefold with different cover art by Kelly as well as an impressive illustration in the gatefold, as well as one featuring the barbarian image from inside on the cover. To anyone putting out vinyl these days, please take note. In 2011 we saw the first reissue of Triumph since its debut, then again in limited runs in different colors, in 2019 including a piss yellow variant, and agin in 2020. In April of 2022 French label Listenable Records put out a Record Store Day edition of the album pressed on red vinyl. So if after reading this you’ve found yourself wondering why The Triumph of Steel isn’t in your collection already, you've got plenty of options, pal.
Let’s wrap this up with some footage of Manowarriors adoring fans in France when the band arrived to play there following the release of The Triumph of Steel as well as some live footage of Manowar from 1992.