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Review: Manowar - Sign of the Hammer
Sign of the Hammer

Label: 10 Records
Year released: 1993
Originally released in: 1984
Duration: 40:33
Tracks: 8
Genre: Heavy Metal

Rating: 4.5/5

Review online: March 16, 2010
Reviewed by: MetalMike
Readers Rating
Sign of the Hammer

Rated 4.39/5 (87.84%) (51 Votes)

Sign of the Hammer, Manowar's fourth release, on their fourth record label, finds the men of the cloth (loin, that is) further refining their take on Epic Heavy Metal. While the powerful vocals of Eric Adams and the nearly insane bass playing of Joey Dimaio remained constant from the band's previous three albums, Sign of the Hammer ends up being a little bit more than its predecessors.

The "classic" period of Manowar began with Battle Hymns, which has an almost "commercial" feel to it (it was released on Capital Records initially). Songs like "Fast Taker" and "Metal Daze" rock hard and heavy but these are easily the most accessible songs the band would write until Fighting the World. The follow up, Into Glory Ride, with its hilarious cover art, only remotely resembles Battle Hymns on songs like "Warlord" and "Gloves of Metal," one of the best Manowar songs ever, by the way. Instead the band opts for a slower, almost Doom sound with soul crushing songs like "Hatred" and "Revelation (Death's Angel)." They also ramp up the lyrical intensity several notches with vivid descriptions of war and evil. Hail to England marks the band's first recognition that their homeland will never embrace them the way the fans across the pond will. Much of the Doom of Into Glory Ride is jettisoned for the more familiar and melodic Traditional and Power Metal sounds of Battle Hymns, while retaining the powerful lyrical themes of Ride. Hell, it can be argued that Manowar was in the vanguard of Black Metal with the openly satanic "Bridge of Death." Strong stuff for 1984.

Sign of the Hammer, album #4 and the last of the classic era as the band would sign with Atlantic Records for 1987's Fighting the World (and sell out a wee bit), brings everything together in one unassuming package. Released on a tiny independent label (10 Records), Sign of the Hammer was next to impossible to find upon its release. I can remember feeling like I'd found the Holy Grail when I stumbled across a cassette copy (my medium of choice in '84). That cassette is long gone and it was too much of a pain to break out the turntable to play the vinyl copy I "forgot" to return to my cousin when he moved, so Sign of the Hammer was forgotten. Well, I found it again on in the MP3 section for under $4. How could I resist? (and how can you? There is an Amazon link to the right of this review, check it out).

Sign of the Hammer brings all the successful elements of the first three albums together resulting in Manowar's most consistent and cohesive album to that point in their career. "All Men Play on Ten" is the "single" with a great hook to support Adams' while he implores you to crank up the volume. "Animals" and "Thor (the Powerhead)" will have you throwing your fist in the air in time with their anthemic choruses. "Mountains" is a huge epic poem to he-man ideals that would be silly if there was any doubt to Manowar's sincerity on that topic. "Sign of the Hammer" is another trad rocker and "The Oath" is a speed metal fan's dream. "Thunderpick" is the obligatory (and pointless, unless you are a bass player) bass solo. The closer, "Guyana (Cult of the Damned)" has a fantastic Doom vibe that starts with the line "Thank you for the cool aid, Reverend Jim" and proceeds to plant the weight of the world on your shoulders with the tragic story of mass suicide in South America. The only real downside is that, in addition to poor distribution, Sign of the Hammer has a very thin production that sounds a bit dated. The songs are able to rise above it, but a remastered release would be welcome.

Manowar are a "love them or hate them" band, but if you're like me and in the former camp, you need to own this album. It is essential, along with Battle Hymns, Into Glory Ride and Hail to England. It is also as good a place to start as any if you've never listened to Manowar, as everything you need to know about the band is right here.

Other related information on the site
Review: Battle Hymns (Silver Edition) (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: Fire & Blood (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: Gods of War (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: Hail to England (reviewed by Hermer Arroyo)
Review: Hell On Earth Part I (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: Into Glory Ride (reviewed by MetalMike)
Review: The Triumph of Steel (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Warriors Of The World (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
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