Although the band has never been a mainstream commercial success in the United States, they maintain a strong cult following there. In contrast, they are extremely popular in the heavy metal scene in Europe, Japan, Australia and South America. Dedicated fans are known and referred to by the band as "Metal Warriors", "Manowarriors" or "Immortals", and collectively their fans are known as the "Army of Immortals". The band has sold over 9 million albums.
Manowar's history begins in 1980 in Auburn. The future bassist of the band Joey DeMaio, who had been working as a bass tech and fireworks manager for Black Sabbath on the Heaven and Hell tour, met guitarist Ross the Boss, who played in Black Sabbath's support band, Shakin' Street, and was also a former member of the hard rock band The Dictators. The two bonded over their shared musical interests, became friends and decided to form a band.
At the end of the tour with Black Sabbath, the unemployed duo met again to set up a group. To complete the roster they hired as singer Eric Adams, a former classmate and friend of DeMaio, while the drums were manned by The Rods' drummer, Carl Canedy. Canedy is also known for producing several heavy metal albums, including Overkill's 1985 full length debut, Feel The Fire.
The newly founded band began to earn some money, playing in small gigs and proposing covers of famous artists in various clubs. A few months after its foundation, the band began to compose songs and make initial contacts with record companies, resulting in a demo recording known as Demo 1981. Worn out by the stress of continuous performances, Canedy left the band after the demo's release and was quickly replaced by Donnie Hamzik.
On the strength of their debut demo, Manowar secured a recording contract with label Liberty Records in 1981, which they signed in their own blood. The label pressured the band to produce a good number of songs in a short time towards a debut album. The resultant album, Battle Hymns, was released the following year. It was well received by audience and critics, who were impressed by the extremely powerful and aggressive sound of the group, as well as by the lyrics and considerable vocal range of singer Eric Adams. The famous actor and director Orson Welles served in the role of narrator on "DARK AVENGER".
Soon after the album's release, Manowar engaged in their first tour. The band played support for hard rocker Ted Nugent, but their collaboration lasted only a few months because, according to the interpretation of Adams and his companions, Nugent had the impression that Manowar was "stealing the scene with their powerful live performances and appeal for the audience."
Manowar then decided to put together a short tour by themselves and all the arrangements were made in a few weeks by their manager. There were a few problems again, with the band and their management challenged by city mayors for the use of loud instrumentation during live performances. Despite these setbacks, the band gained domestic fame on this short tour and also began to get their first European fans, particularly in the United Kingdom and in Germany. Stressed from the strain of the continuing performances, Hamzik decided to leave the band at the end of this tour and was replaced by the young and upcoming Scott Columbus.
In 1982, the band left Liberty Records due to the scarce distribution of the first album in Europe. They signed on to the more prominent Music for Nations label.
By the time Manowar returned home, they immediately went into a recording studio to produce what, in the intentions of the group, would have been a simple EP, but came out instead, due to the quantity and quality of the tracks made in that period, as the band's second album, Into Glory Ride. An EP was actually published in 1983 with the title Defender containing, as its main track, the eponymous song, which included more work by Orson Welles. The new album sold very well and is still considered by many critics a milestone of metal. The atmosphere of the album evoked classical heroic fantasy and mythology, and served as a predecessor to viking metal. It contained several innovative features, both in style and sound, and led to a huge increase in the number of fans of the group, particularly in the United Kingdom, where the band planned a long tour that was ultimately canceled.
To apologize for the failure of their UK tour, Manowar decided to dedicate their next album to the United Kingdom. The album, Hail to England, was recorded and mixed in just six days and was released in early 1984. It received great acceptance by public and critics, for its fast and powerful compositions. Its promotional tour, "Spectacle of Might", had a large number of dates in England. The tour saw Manowar initially as support band for Mercyful Fate, but the enthusiasm shown by audiences for the band along the way, soon put the group led by DeMaio in the headline slot.
Galvanized by the response of their audience, Manowar soon returned to work in the recording studio. After leaving Music for Nations, the quartet signed to Ten Records and Sign of the Hammer a mere ten months after their previous album. The new record presented stark changes in rhythm, with very technical tracks characterized by a slow pace, like the epic "Mountains", and quick ones, as the eponymous "Sign of the Hammer". It was a new sales success that allowed the band to embark on a two-year world tour, which registered a huge number of spectators everywhere. At the end of this long journey, the band took 1986 off.
Following further disagreements with their new label, the group decided to make another contract change to major Atlantic Records in 1987. Via Atlantic, they released Fighting the World, which enjoyed more extensive distribution and increased the band's prominence in the international heavy metal scene. Nonetheless, the album received criticism for its lack of originality in using repetitive mythological themes. Ken Kelly who is a renouned fantasy artist, famous for his work with Kiss, Sleepy Hollow and Rainbow, painted the album cover art and went on to create many more of the bands album covers.
The song "Defender" was not on the "Into Glory Ride" album, it was released on the "Fighting The World" album.
In 1988, Manowar released the album Kings of Metal, which is still widely regarded as the masterpiece of the band. Songs like "Heart of Steel", "Kings of Metal" and "Hail and Kill" became veritable anthems for fans of the group and are proposed regularly in concerts. Kings of Metal is Manowar's highest-selling album worldwide.
Despite this success in sales, this album attracted more criticism on Manowar, particularly referred to the lyrics of the songs "Pleasure Slave" and "Blood of the Kings." The first track was attacked by feminists, while the second seemed to some as a tribute to the Nazis because of lines like "back to the glory of Germany". Manowar stated several times that it was just a tribute to their many German fans. The eagle iconography of the band itself was viewed by some as a Nazi symbol, owing to the striking similarity the eagle on the cover of Battle Hymns has with the great eagle sculpture used by the Nazis at their Nuremberg rallies. Even the band's well-known admiration for Richard Wagner (for some, the real creator of heavy metal, but also fundamental innovator of modern music) was misunderstood by some critics.
Ignoring these critiques, Manowar embarked again on a world tour, for a period of approximately three years, with stops in almost all European nations. During that tour, Ross the Boss announced his retirement from the group because of the life "on the road" and decided to devote himself to a solo project of blues rock. He was replaced by David Shankle, who was chosen by members of the band after a search among about 150 candidates. Scott Columbus later also had to leave the band for personal family matters. Columbus himself picked his replacement Kenny Earl Edwards (soon nicknamed Rhino).
A new musical unit after the recent changes, Manowar released The Triumph of Steel in 1992. It gained some success and was particularly famous for the presence of a suite lasting no less than 28 minutes entitled "Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts", inspired by the events of the Iliad and the hero Achilles. After this release, the band went on a world tour for two years. After the expiration of their contract with Atlantic, the band signed with Geffen Records. In 1993, Shankle unexpectedly left the band to form his own group. He was replaced by Karl Logan, a musician met by DeMaio during a motor meeting. The same year saw the unexpected return of Scott Columbus, who replaced Edwards.
In 1994 Manowar released their first collection, The Hell of Steel, which containing the major successes of the group. In 1996, they released Louder Than Hell, their first new studio album in four years. Despite good sales and fame achieved by some tracks such as "Brothers Of Metal", "Courage" and "Number 1", the album was criticized for its simple style and uninspired arrangements. The greatest challenge came from Andre Matos, former lead singer of Angra, who claimed in a magazine that Louder Than Hell was so bad that it could be called "metal for kids."
Despite such criticisms, Manowar embarked on a new long tour and in 1997 released with the label Connoisseur Records a new collection, called Anthology, and their first live album, Hell on Wheels, released by BMG International in the guise of a double CD containing all the most popular songs of the group. Not having the time to record a new studio album because of the ongoing promotional tour, Manowar published several books, a second live album, Hell on Stage, and the first DVD of the series Hell on Earth.
In 2002, six years after the last studio album, Manowar released the Warriors of the World album. The increasingly long time between albums made critics formulate some theories about the band. The first one described a band in crisis of inspiration, caused by lack of new ideas and by the almost fanatical interpretation by group members of the role of "true metalheads", which over time had begun to tire the public. Others explained the long publication delays as necessary because of the maniacal treatment that the band dedicated to the production of the new album.
However, the disc sold a fair number of copies, proving that fans of the group had not forgotten their heroes. Warriors of the World presented a sound somewhat renewed in style, but maintained the usual energy and power. The most famous tracks from the album became "Warriors of the World United", "House of Death" and "Call to Arms", in addition to Puccini's aria "Nessun Dorma", covered in honor of the Italian fans and sung live for the first time in a concert in Milan.
Manowar then began a long world tour, called "Warriors of the World United Tour" that kept them busy and away from a recording studio for a long time. To compensate for the lack of studio albums, the band released several DVDs: in 2002 the videos Warriors of the World United and Fire and Blood, in 2003 Hell on Earth Part III and in 2005 DVD Hell on Earth Part IV. These (and all DVDs since the year 2000) were directed by Neil Johnson, and have all been certified Gold in Germany.
In 2003, DeMaio founded his own record label, Magic Circle Music, which became the official home of the band, having been created to fit the needs of Manowar and other bands of similar genre. In 2005, following an extensive tour, Manowar released the demo King of Kings - The Ascension. Under the label Magic Circle were also released the EP The Sons of Odin and a DVD entitled The Day The Earth Shook - The Absolute Power, with footage taken during the Earthshaker Fest 2005.
Manowar released Gods of War through Magic Circle Music in 2007. After playing numerous shows in Europe, including a concert that spanned the course of two nights, they worked on a new EP, entitled Thunder in the Sky, which was released in 2009. The EP consisted of two discs: the first playing the regular track list; the second playing the song "Father" in fifteen different languages.
In 2008 they performed a show in Kavarna, Bulgaria which holds the record for the longest heavy metal concert in history, lasting for almost five hours. The band is currently working on an album, entitled The Asgard Saga, with no current release date set.
On June 1, 2010, Classic Rock magazine published an interview with drummer Scott Columbus who said he has not worked with the band since April 2008 and has in fact left the band. No official statement from Manowar has been made as yet and their website still includes Columbus on the promotional pictures and current lineup. He also said that statements made in the past, regarding his break in 1990 and 2008 because of an illness and a personal tragedy, were largely untrue and were made without his agreement.
As announced on Facebook by Joey DeMaio, Manowar have been in the studio re-recording their 1982 debut album, Battle Hymns. He also mentioned that original Manowar drummer Donnie Hamzik has rejoined the group. The album was released on 26th November 2010, with the narration of Sir Christopher Lee.
A new album was said to be in the making until Joey DeMaio, the band's bassist and leader, stated in a recent Youtube video that all the songs previously intended for the Hammer of the Gods album have been "thrown away and forgotten, never to be heard from again". Their new album is the newly released re-recording of Battle Hymns, named Battle Hymns MMXI. Since Donnie Hamzik, the band's original drummer, has rejoined the group, the writing of the new album has apparently changed dramatically, but DeMaio states in the above-mentioned video that it will be "worth the fucking wait".