Manowar. Hell On Earth. Part IV
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Manowar continue their Hell on Earth series with this fourth part and prove that they are in fact The Kings of DVD. This is a superb package that has many hours of enjoyment. The best thing is that it stands up to repeated viewings without becoming boring.
Confirming that fire and explosions are indeed cool when done right, the computer transitions between chapters that plagued the earlier editions have been streamlined and minimized, pretty much to perfection. This also applies to the menu system. In the main setup menu you can see the care and attention to detail that has gone into the production, with a choice of 5.1 surround or 2.0 Stereo sound as well as subtitles in 12 different languages. 3 full length audio commentaries are also available here, but I will get back to those later.
The main feature is split into 33 different chapters and runs for about 90 minutes.
What really makes the DVD stand out is the way the various live performances have been captured and edited. The camera angles are imaginative and the editing is done in a way that I felt like I was part of the concert. All the audience shots give a great sense of being there and the shots of the band linger long enough so it's to grab the details. The fast paced editing that sometimes plague live DVD's does luckily not apply here. Only on occassion did I think "I wish they had stayed with that shot longer". Picture quality is great and the sound quality is pretty amazing.
The split screen syndrome is back in several songs (Brothers of Metal, House of Death, Army of Immortals). I don't like this kind of thing since I just don't get captured by the performance in the same way as when the same image fills the whole screen. Sure it is possible to get more information on the screen, but on a small screen tv each individual picture is so small that you can't make out the details and I feel less captured by this and more annoyed. This changes completely if I sit down at the computer and watch the DVD on my 24" widescreen monitor though. Under these conditions the split screen works very well. It would have been a great improvement if somehow the viewer would be able to switch between a split screen and a full screen setup. Maybe the angle button could be used to switch between each of the split screen cameras. That is one thing I would have welcomed.
The main feature has a slick style to it. Black and white shots are used often and along with some other video effects this gives the whole thing a very defined style that just fits very well.
The actual packaging is very well thought out and includes a booklet with some nice live pictures.
The main feature is the documentary that covers the release of Warriors of the World and all the publicity surrounding it, as well as the ensuing festival appearances and the world tour. Compared to the earlier DVD's this time the emphasis is often moved from the band and to the fans and the people behind the stage. There is an abundance of cool audience shots and two collages which work as fan tributes.
From the far-out exploding condom head opening to the hilarious end credits where the band fools around during an interview on Top of the Pops the main feature is very entertaining, and the only critical thing I can say is that it doesn't quite have as many surprises as did the earlier parts. Part I had the water skiing, Part II had the old songs, Part III had the Penthouse shoot and me in the audience :), but it does makes up for it a long way by being shot and cut in a much more imaginative way.
My personal highlights from the main feature include the following:
An American Trilogy - Performed at the Popkomm Gala, live on TV with a full orchestra and choir, this one is simply mindblowing. Eric's beautiful singing will make you tear up and I can't help but get chills every time I see this performance. It has a true Joey moment with him conducting the choir with his bass hanging on his back and as he returns to the band on stage to play bass he is still conducting with one hand. Events like these don't come along often but here the magic has been captured perfectly.
Call To Arms has an immensely powerful sound and the way the song has been captured is pretty much perfect. There are so many great audience shots during this song. Too many to count. The shot of Joey at 42:18 sums up the intensity of the band's performance.
The pink van
Spirit Horse of The Cherokee - Again the shots are amazing. The slow motion works perfectly and the audience participation is great
Fight For Freedom has some chilling audience shots and as a fan it is impossible not to smile during this.
The fan tribute, mixed perfectly in tune to The Dawn Of Battle is very well done, as is the final collage to Fight Until We Die which focuses a bit more on the girls. This one also includes a nicely synchronized bit where four scantily clad girls walk on the stage as Eric sings "When they come I'll be ready".
The acoustic trilogy of Swords In The Wind, Master Of The Wind and Courage. This part has been captured with a great intimacy. Especially Courage has been adapted very well. Too bad the climax of Swords In The Wind did not make it into the acoustic version.
Besides these highlights there are hundreds of small ones, which you should discover by yourself. There are so many details that you won't get them all on the first viewing. The main feature is packed with great shots and the 90 minutes this feature runs are over too soon.
The bonus features on Disc 1 include a 3 minute super fast guitar solo from Karl, a nice split screen live version of Army of Immortals, an alternate music video for Warriors of the World, the video for I Believe and a live performance of Warriors of the World United, which is, if I remember correctly, the first time the band played this song live. The best of the bonus features on Disc 1 is the 10 minute solo performance/girl hunt by Joey, which includes Sting of the Bumblebee.
As something new and very welcome the main feature has three audio commentaries which can be turned on and off as you wish.
One commentary has all the band members but unfortunately it sounds like each member has been recorded seperately and then edited together. While it makes the commentary feel less impulsive it is still worth your time since it has a lot of interesting information. The commentary is affectionate, honest, proud and filled with praise for the fans, the band and everyone else involved in the process.
Joey has his own commentary track and it is also worth your time. He is fascinating to listen to and while he does describe what is happening on screen a bit too much the commentary is filled with cool little anecdotes. It is very fulfilling to hear him talk about their plans for the fan convention and know that it turned out exactly the way he envisioned it. It is also pretty impressive that he is able to name almost every girl on screen.
DVD director Neil Johnson also gets his own commentary track where he talks about some of the decisions that made the DVD what it is and lots of other interesting things, including how he ended up singing on the Warriors of the World album. One of my favorite quotes he makes about the band's popularity is that "Manowar has not changed. The world has changed towards Manowar".
On to Disc 2:
The second disc goes behind the scenes and has 13 features (55 minutes) which each focuses on a different subject and as well as 7 TV shows (45 minutes) which the band participated in during 2002.
The second disc is overflowing with great moments, too many to mention. The opening introduction is a perfectly powerful introduction to the band. After this the different guys and girls "behind the scenes" get their time in the spotlight, especially Harley tech Scott Harris and DVD director Neil Johnson have some very funny moments.
The 13 "Behind the Scenes" segments get a commentary track too. This time by Joey DeMaio and director Neil Johnson are sitting in the same room chatting and I don't want to give too much away, but I found it really interesting. I hope that these kind of commentaries will be done for the future as well. Very special guest on the commentary track is the Haus Wannfried answering machine.
Of the TV shows the 4 "Alles Pocher" shows, where a German comedian is taught the basics of Heavy Metal, have the most comedic highlights. The wisdoms of Manowar, the braying Manowar-sheep and the ultimate drink "The Schlupfersturmer" with about 30 different kinds of alchohol in it are just a couple of highlights. These shows are really really fun because they seem impulsive and not too forced.
The easter Egg section contains and additional 27 minutes of behind the scenes footage, split into 4 different features. One focuses on the members of the crew, one on the last show of the tour and this just has to be seen, one looks at the making of the actual DVD and ending off the secret section is a lot of funny moments which have not been used anywhere else. This section also has an optional commentary by the makers of the DVD, Neil Johnson and Emmett Callinan.
As an extra bonus the release includes a new Manowar song on a seperate CD, King of Kings! A good and majestic, but somewhat generic song (in Manowar terms).
What I did not think was possible has actually been done. Manowar have expanded on their past Hell On Earth DVD's and managed to improve the whole package. The presentation, sound and execution is flawless and the amount of material has grown considerably. The computer animations have been cut down and are used perfectly. This is a step up from the previous releases and as close to the perfect DVD as you can get. It is obvious that a lot of care has gone into the making of the DVD.
What I personally would like is to see as a bonus for the next DVD is a show from the early days of Manowar. I have heard that they have many many shows recorded and archived so maybe it is possible. It doesn't matter to me if the quality is not top notch. A complete history chronicling the early years of the band would be cool as well.
So to sum up: This is the most complete DVD release I have ever experienced. It is an essential release and comes highly recommended.