Inside the Voodoo Lounge there is a very strong sense of high expectation tonight as evidenced by the early arrival of a large number of heavy metal enthusiasts. This is promising to be a rather special evening, spent in the presence of Ross “The Boss” Friedman, former guitarist of power metal legends Manowar. As if this isn’t enough tonights set is to be comprised entirely of classic Ross era Manowar songs alone. Indeed it’s been 30 years since his last visit to Dublin on the ‘Fighting The World’ tour in the now sadly gone but never forgotten SFX Hall.
The venue fills up quite nicely before openers Elm Street take to the stage to much applause. I haven’t seen these guys before and it appears that I’m in the minority. To say that they hit hard and fast would be quite an understatement. Opening with ‘Face The Reaper’ and ‘Kiss The Canvas’ it’s immediately apparent that this is a band on a mission to kick some serious ass and not take too many prisoners in the process. It’s a pretty powerful combination of thrash and old school heavy metal fronted by vocalist/guitarist Ben Batres who is certainly on fire tonight and well capable of getting an already vocal crowd fully behind his band. There is so much energy coming from all directions onstage that it’s almost impossible to keep up with at times. Bassist Nick Ivkovic assaults the instrument as much as he plays it and is constantly prowling the edge of the stage fully encouraging the crowd to partake in the whirlwind that is encompassing the band. His rhythm partner in crime, Tomislav Perkovic, absolutely pummels the drums while maintaining a rock steady foundation for Ben and Aaron Adie, guitar, to utilise to full effect.
Songs such as ‘Heavy Metal Power’ and ‘Elm St’s Children’ maintain a pretty unrelenting musical backdrop but there is always a sense of fun and enjoyment coming from the band. Ben is an excellent frontman who seems to know just what to say, and when to say it, in order to whip the crowd into a heaving mass quite happy to fully partake in tonights set. The set ends on a high with ‘Metal Is The Way’ before they succumb to the audience genuinely wanting an encore and playing ‘Heart Racer’ during which Adie’s guitar decides it’s not going to play any more. These are the moments that define bands. Do Elm Street stop? Do they hell! Ben gives Adie his own guitar and continues on vocals alone. These boys have balls!! I’m not sure that Elm Street know any way to play a show other than full throttle and they win me over to their camp tonight. (7/10)
Any mortal musician would have an extremely hard time following the high octane performance of the openers but tonight is all about Ross The Boss bringing ‘The Discipline Of Steel’ show to Dublin and, as evidenced by the growing audience, this doesn’t appear as though it is going to be a problem. Spontaneous outbreaks of various Manowar songs during the break between bands merely help charge the already heady atmosphere, you sense something special is about to happen tonight and you should be grateful to be there to witness and join in.
The band walk onstage to loud cheers, the loudest being reserved for Ross. It’s like witnessing the return of a conquering hero and all before even a single note has been played. How can the band hope to follow and surpass the bedlam that is already erupting around me? Extremely easily as it turns out.
They open with ‘Blood Of The Kings’ which immediately whips the audience into a fervour. To say that the band are up for tonight’s show wouldn’t do them justice. Vocalist Mark Lopes throws himself wholeheartedly into the song, actively encouraging the crowd to sing like their very lives depend on it. All the time the Ross The Boss is a focal point onstage, not through showmanship, merely by his very presence and the way he plays the classic Manowar songs. We barely have time to catch our collective breath before ‘Death Tone’ from the classic debut album is thrust upon us and we sing it back as though we are claiming it as our own tonight. For me it’s like taking a trip back in time watching and hearing Ross play the lead guitar solos I grew up loving and still remember him playing all those years ago in Dublin. Make absolutely no mistake, this is most certainly not a tribute band in any way, shape or form. This is a band of extremely accomplished and talented musicians being led by a man who has the absolute right to play these songs. Bassist Mike Le Pond is incredible to watch, his fingers dancing across the strings while laying down incredible bass lines which are fundamental to the very fabric of the songs. Behind the band, laying down a thunderous barrage on drums is the one and only Rhino, how the drums can withstand the beating being inflicted upon them is beyond me but it’s an absolute joy to feel the bass drum kicking me in the chest.
‘Blood Of My Enemies’ is surprisingly early in the set and is absolutely incredible, there are times when it’s difficult to know if the audience is singing louder than Mark, and he seems to be taking an enormous amount of joy from it all. He really knows how to interact with the audience, at times thrusting the mic in for audience members to sing the lyrics and other times recording the audience reaction to the songs. These simple actions just serve to turn up the heat and volume in the venue and are making for an unforgettable night. ‘Kill With Power’, ‘Thor (The Powerhead)’ and ‘Each Dawn I Die’ all follow rapidly after each other and the front row is rapidly becoming a seething mess of humanity, all singing and playing air guitar like tonight is the last gig we’ll ever attend. Throughout all this the band continue to interact with the audience which has the desired effect of increasing the volume.
When ‘Dark Avenger’ is played the venue erupts and it’s one of the songs we really see Ross really shine though on and it’s clear that he’s having a fantastic time playing these songs as they are meant to be played with razor sharp riffing and note perfect solos.
When I see Ross take out his Les Paul and Mike unleashes an eight string bass then there can only be one song coming and then Rhino plays that unmistakable drum intro and we’re treated to possibly the highlight of the night, the glorious ‘Battle Hymn’. I defy anyone to stand still during this immense song without feeling the urge to thrust their arm upwards to the refrain ’Kill, Kill’. I may have even noticed our normally unflappable photographer partake in this. The set ends with none other than ‘Hail And Kill’, age becomes irrelevant throughout this song as everyone in the venue appears, to my ears and eyes anyway, to sing every lyric along with Mark and indeed singing the guitar licks along with Ross. What a song to have in your arsenal to close a show.
It’s only April and I’ve already been to a number of gigs but tonight is definitely going to be extremely hard to beat, already a contender for gig of the year for me. Why can’t all gigs be this much fun? (Rating? an all men play on 10/10)
Blood Of The Kings
Blood Of My Enemies
Kill With Power
Thor (The Powerhead)
Each Dawn I Die
Gloves Of Metal
Sign Of The Hammer
Hail And Kill