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Manowar 

With Rhapsody and Holyhell. Thursday, June 2, at the House of Blues.

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Manowar is the line in the sand. It's easy to like Black Sabbath. It's easy to like Judas Priest -- even if you think Rob Halford's studded codpiece is a little excessive. But Manowar is the ultimate test of one's metal bona fides. There's just so much to accept -- or ignore -- before ever even hitting "play" on one of the band's discs.

First, there are the band's album covers, which range from the neo-fascistic (Sign of the Hammer) to the cartoony and insane (Hail to England, by a bunch of New Yorkers). Then there are the band members themselves, with their loincloth-wearing, bikers-with-swords image. All this must be embraced -- or overcome -- in order to listen to Manowar.

But that's what makes them great. Because once you do get past all the comic-book barbarism, once you've actually listened, you'll discover a band with a killer catalogue. Every Manowar album has at least three or four heart-punching metal anthems -- that's a track record many bands would envy. And live, they're at their eardrum-bursting best. If you can't pump your fist to at least a few Manowar songs, you don't truly love metal. Besides, if they're not embarrassed by their look, why the hell should their fans be?

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