Fun fact. I am a 2nd generation metal-head. My father raised me on metal, and my musical tastes are very much a part of who I am as a person. Another thing my father raised me on, was dragons. Some parents teach their young children to draw stick figure people, or flowers, or suns with happy faces. My dad taught me how to draw fire-breathing dragons. I grew up in the 80s when high-fantasy movies were quite popular, and thanks to my dad, these are the movies I grew up watching. I was, and still am, obsessed with dragons (and all things High-Fantasy). I’ve always had a love and appreciation for metal thanks to my upbringing, primarily Thrash Metal, but it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I discovered that my two greatest loves in life actually came together.
Fantasy story-telling + Heavy Metal = Power Metal!
The first time I discovered Power Metal was when I heard Dio’s song “Killing the Dragon,” from the 2002 Killing the Dragon album.
“Holy Shit! A heavy metal song about dragons!” I remember thinking. It was a metaphorical dragon, but still. It left a HUGE impact on me and opened the gates to Power Metal.
I had heard Dio’s music before that album, mainly his greatest hits from the 80s, and I always liked him, and I knew who he was, but I had not yet delved extensively into his career. Once I did, I was hooked! I have, ever since, been a hard-core Dio fan, and to this day, he is my FAVORITE band/artist/singer/person of all time.
After finding Dio and learning that there was a whole musical sub-genre of Heavy Metal that took heavy influence from High-Fantasy, I discovered even more bands. Bands that wrote about dragons, epic battles, magical worlds, wizards, knights, gods, monsters, fantastic beasts, and everything that spoke to my fantasy-loving soul. Bands such as Blind Guardian, Grave Digger, HammerFall, Rhapsody of Fire, Iced Earth, Nightwish, The Sword, Savatage, Wuthering Heights, and the band I’d like to talk about today – Manowar.
Power Metal tends to be more positive with its musical messages, unlike other subgenres such as Black Metal or Death Metal. Power Metal is also more heavily inspired by classical music and is usually paired with powerful and often operatic vocals. Many musicians who perform Power Metal were originally classically trained, and you’ll find many Power Metal albums and songs accompanied by full orchestras and choirs.
I’ve spent nearly seventeen years listening to Power Metal, and in that time I have listened not only to some amazing music but some amazing stories. Through lyrics and music, these bands tell epic tales of adventure and magic, and even history and mythology. Sometimes an entire story can be told in just one song, other times in one whole conceptual album, or, an entire series of conceptual albums to complete one epic saga.
Everyone in the Power Metal community obsesses about the music, but as a writer, I can’t ignore the stories. Some of these songs/albums deserve to be looked at from a literary standpoint. After all, theses Heavy Metal musicians are the bards of our time.
So, I have decided to do a literary analysis of a Power Metal album. And what better place to start than with the kings of metal – Manowar? Let’s take a literary look at their 2007 God’s of War album (and 2007 Live album).
Most of the songs were written by Joe DeMaio and are inspired by the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner, and you can hear some very familiar tones reminiscent of Wagner’s Ride/Flight of the Valkyries.
Joey DeMaio has been quoted as saying; “Wagner’s music changed my life many years ago. I don’t know if I could live another day without the feeling his music gives me. He was the greatest composer ever. He invented metal.”
The first song – Overture To the Hymn of the Immortal Warriors, is an instrumental which starts with a bombastic orchestral introduction that quickly grows somber. A choir begins to sing, and the music swells to uplifting tones that transition back into the orchestra that starts to incorporate a heavier use of brass instruments. The rest of the song rides the highs and lows with more addition from the choir and evokes a sense of both tragedy and triumph and ends on a high note.
The second song – The Ascension, is a retelling of the ascension of Christ from Acts 1:9-11 where Jesus departs the Earth and appears in the presence of God.
“To ascend the Throne of Light
And He Alone shall forever be known
As the King of Kings”
This Christian allegory is often paralleled in other myths and religions, and such is considered the case with Norse mythology when Odin sacrificed himself upon the World Tree for the sake of obtaining knowledge. The album is already setting up a central theme of “sacrifice.”
The third song – King of Kings, tells the story of a different king who has “nothing to sell but the power of hell.” This king commands an army and speaks of a prophecy and the “need to be paid for a pact that was made,” which bespeaks of vengeance. Despite “summoning demons that live on the wind,” this king embodies that which is just and good.
“All the days of his life
He walked without fear
All whose lives he touched
Were made better for knowing him
As he returned goodness with good
So true he justice and retribution were unfailing”
The fourth song – Army of the Dead, Part I, is a warrior’s hymn sung in Iambic Pentameter and speaks of fighting to the death and dying with glory to be allowed within “Asgard’s halls.” This is where it becomes apparent that the album relies heavily on Norse mythology which centers around themes of battle and death with honor.
“Valhalla waits so choose thy fate
For all of us must die!”
The fifth song – Sleipnir, is my favorite of this album. It begins with a spoken narrative introduction that gives the Norse mythology backstory on Odin’s magical eight-legged steed, Sleipnir, before starting a very heavy and fast song. This song, again, continues the themes of the glory and celestial rewards obtained through valiant death in battle.
“Bringer of the valiant dead
Who died but never yielded”
The sixth song – Loki God of Fire, is one of the more straight-forward songs of the album and is a simple telling about who Loki is in Norse mythology.
“The father of a wolf
And the serpent of the sea
The ruler of hell
A giant is he”
The seventh song – Blood Brothers, is about a friend (presumably as close as a blood brother) who stands by you in your darkest moments.
“And in your darkest hour
In your darkest nights
Whatever life will do
I am here for you”
The eighth song – Overture to Odin, starts as a soft instrumental that slowly builds into the notes from Army of the Dead that prelude to the next song “The Blood of Odin.”
The ninth song – The Blood of Odin, is not sung, but spoken over the continued instrumental accompaniment from the overture and tells the story of Odin, the chief god of the Norse pantheon. This song segues into the next song with the closing lines;
“His sacred blood mixed with black wind and rain wept down from the world tree deep into the earth.
He commanded the earth to crack open and to spew forth the strongest of the strong!
On this day he did bestow unto the world the sons of Odin!”
That’s right, the blood of Odin is responsible for creating the badass heroes of this story.
The tenth song – The Sons of Odin, continues with the exploits of Odin’s blood born children who seek vengeance for their “fallen brothers.” Planning to fight to the death “sons of the gods today we shall die,” they enter the battle but are outnumbered. Then enters the spoken end to the song which tells that Odin will decide when “they would enter Valhalla” and blessed them with “The Berserker Rage” which allowed them to wield “absolute power” as “no blade or weapon would hurt them,” and thus they defeated their enemies. But what is their fate? Did they live or die? Those questions are answered in the next song.
The eleventh song – Glory Majesty Unity, starts with the sounds of pouring rain and thunder, which emphasizes a dark time of battle, followed by spoken narration that tells of how Odin decided that he would not call the heroes to Valhalla, and thus he granted them the “Berserker Rage,” which allowed them to defeat their enemies “not by tens, but by hundreds, by thousands.” Upon their victory, the heroes address the masses and offer up their prayers to the gods.
“Gods of war I call you
My sword is by my side
I seek a life of honor
Free from all false pride”
The twelfth song – Gods of War, begins with pounding spears (made obvious if you see the below video) and a chanting chorus. The heroes acknowledge that Odin has made them immortal, but pray that those who died a valiant death during the battle be allowed to pass through the gates of Valhalla.
“Odin here the fallen wait
To join thee by thy side
Let Valhalla’s gates open wide”
UPDATE: aaand the YouTube video link is dead. Right when this post goes live. Sorry guys. I guss I can’t show you the video. :*(
Included on the Gods of War Live album was a concert-video. My husband bought me this album back when it was first released, and we both listened to it, but the video bothered him. Between live concert footage, it depicts a dramatization of a primitive Viking village being raided by chainmail-clad foes who carry swords. A lone woman, not specifically a warrior judging by the fact that she’s female and has to retrieve a concealed sword rather than already having one on her person, stands in defense of herself and her village. Her enemy defeats her in combat, where she falls on the ground and is stabbed through with a sword as blood pours from her mouth. This, at face value, seems horrific and depressing (which is what my husband thought of it at the time), but the end of the song/video depicts Odin raising his cup as the gates of Valhalla open to receive the soul of the fallen women, and her body is burned with honor in the traditional Viking manner. At the time, I explained that it wasn’t horrific or depressing. It was moving and triumphant, because even though the woman falls in battle, she fought bravely, and as a reward for achieving a valiant death, she is granted access through the gates of Valhalla. Only those who die in battle can achieve such glory, and therefore, it’s actually a positive ending. I found it to be particularly empowering because few women in those times would be allowed such an honor as to pass through the halls of Valhalla. The ancient Norse did not look at dying in battle as a weakness, or even as an end, but as a chance to prove their worth to the gods, to Odin, and as their chance for their souls to go on to a better place.
The thirteenth song – Army of the Dead, Part 2, is a continuation of Army of the Dead, Part I, and asks everyone to take up arms and join the heroes on their fight, but also, to join them in Valhalla.
“Asgard’s halls await with heroes
Brothers that have died”
The fourteenth song – Odin, is sung from the perspective of Odin who recounts how he obtained his great wisdom by offering himself as a sacrifice as he was speared and hung upside down from the world tree to starve for nine days. This is similar to how Christ sacrificed himself upon the cross to offer salvation, so too, does Odin, who promises that those who died the valiant death shall join him in Valhalla.
“I promise thee that on this night
Ye shall be by my side”
The end of the song continues with the cadence from Army of the Dead, yet this time it’s sung exclusively by Eric, perhaps to represent Odin’s voice personally answering the prayer of the warriors. It is also worth noting that Odin is also the Norse god of poetry and so perhaps praying in a traditional Iambic Pentameter is a way to further please Odin, but also how one might receive Odin’s reply.
The fifteenth song – Hymn of the Immortal Warriors, is the last song of the story (except for the bonus track). It tells of a great hero who died, but because he fought and died in battle his soul will live on in Valhalla and that he has been granted immortality.
“And so it was by the hand of Odin
Did the immortal warrior pass through
The gates of Valhalla and into legend.”
Death is not looked upon as an ending, but as a beginning.
“Reborn from thy steel
All thy wounds be healed”
The immortal soul living on is another parallel theme between Norse Mythology and Christianity.
The sixteenth song and bonus track – Die for Metal, seems like a tonal-whiplash compared to the preceding songs, but is an appropriate end to the album. This song is heavy and uplifting with more casual and contemporary lyrics such as;
“Quit my job this morning said forever
I would hold my head up high
Cause I need metal in my life
Just like an eagle needs to fly
So I walked outside into the street
From a hall, I heard thunder and screams
I walked inside so I could hear
And the guy beside me gave me a beer”
This song is an ode to true fans of metal and is a reminder that even here, even now, we stand together, brothers (and sisters) in metal, just like those who fight beside each other.
“They call themselves immortals
They’re the truest of the true
And in that very moment
I was born again like you”
Here, metal is described as being a religious experience, and this final song serves to uplift the listeners, the metal-heads, and remind them that they all share this passion together. This last song is a send-off that ends on a high note and serves to remind us why metal is great.
In conclusion, the Gods of War album is a fantastic story that calls back to the ideals of Norse Mythology through music; brotherhood, valor, victory, and salvation. It’s a story filled with highs and lows and evokes powerful emotions in the listener and is a perfect example of storytelling through music.
NOTE: WHEW! That took forever to write! I bit off way more than I could chew by choosing to do an entire conceptual album. If I do any more heavy metal music analysis, I will probably stick to just doing a single song and not entire albums as the amount of research and thought that goes into writing such a post takes waaaay more time than I have to throw around these days. But, even though this was more effort than I originally imagined, I did enjoy doing it, and there are lots of Power Metal songs that I would like to analyze, so eventually, I will do more.