If you're not into metal – and can't afford the extortionate cover charge – you're not their friend
New York metallers Manowar are often seen as something of a joke band, a novelty act. With early performances featuring the muscular metalheads taking to the stage in nothing but loincloths and baby oil, such a reputation is hardly a surprise.
Throw in lyrics like ‘Got to make it louder, all men play on ten / If you’re not into metal, you are not my friend’, and the prospect becomes even more laughable.
Something very serious indeed, however, is the ticket price for Manowar’s gig in the Mandela Hall in Belfast. With prices starting at £45 and going up to a whopping £250 (which includes a tour of the venue, and a chance to meet the band), the cover charge certainly seems excessive in these austere times of ours.
However, it is evident from before the gig even begins that the seemingly ludicrous price tag was not an issue for Manowar's extremely loyal fan-base (known as the Army of Immortals). I overhear one audience member remark, without a hint of irony, that his ‘whole life had been leading up to this point’, while another couple have come from America in lieu of a honeymoon.
All the while a rather inebriated gentleman is rallying the crowd together in song, chanting the words to one of the band’s hits, ‘Brothers of Metal’. The feeling is comparable to that of a medieval banquet hall; feasting before the army goes to battle.
When the band takes to the stage at 9pm sharp, they do so in an explosion of strings and shiny stacks. Launching into self-referential opener, appropriately entitled ‘Manowar’, it is evident that this is going to be a loud gig.
Not just loud in fact, but thunderously loud, with driving force Joey DeMaio’s bass guitar rattling ribcages throughout the room. Indeed, on three previous occasions, Manowar have broken the Guinness World Record for the world's loudest performance.
Not only are the band extremely noisy, but they are also very good at what they do. The subject matter might be somewhat silly (occurrences of the words ‘brothers’, ‘metal’ and ‘steel’ surely number in the hundreds), but musically, Manowar are on phenomenal form.
Jaws drop as singer Eric Adams reaches pitch-perfect highs with his bombastic, operatic falsetto vocals. Gone are the loincloths of old, the band members opting instead for tasteful, tight leathers instead. Whilst their muscles aren’t quite as rippling as they once were, this does not look like a group of men approaching their 60s.
For the next hour and 45 minutes, the audience is treated to a smorgasbord of Manowar classics, such as 'Kings of Metal', 'Brothers of Metal' and 'Warriors of the World United' (listen below). A personal favourite is 'Battle Hymn', which juxtaposes rollicking battle-metal with a melodic breakdown that would, frankly, sit perfectly well in an Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacular.
The lyrics range from the ridiculous to the worryingly misogynist ('Let your swords stay wet / Like a young girl in her prime'), but the performance is consistently impressive, with a great sound mix.
In true rock fashion, members of the band exit stage left at various points save for the bass and guitar players respectively, allowing them time to showcase their solo skills. While DeMaio opts for a maniacal two-handed tapping bass performance, guitarist Karl Logan delights with a metal-tastic rendition of 'The Irish Rover', drenched in whammy and pinched harmonics.
This is not the only nod to the Emerald Isle, with DeMaio inexplicably bringing a delighted fan on stage to chug a pint of Guinness.
There is no encore, the band instead opting to go out on a high with fan favourite ‘Black Wind, Fire and Steel’. This concludes a performance that is melodramatic in every sense, betraying both Manowar's age and their joke-band status.
Whilst other 1980s metal giants have cut their hair and donned suits in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, it is quite satisfying to see Manowar stick to their guns. Despite the extortionate ticket prices and overpriced merch, this bombastic performance, replete with long hair swinging and daft metal posturing, delights the audience, including this reviewer. They manage to prove that they are not just talented, but still relevant: proof that there is still a place for Manowar.