Rock & roll may be here to stay, as Danny and the Juniors once declared, but few styles in rock have endured like heavy metal. Long after such progenitors as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Grand Funk Railroad have passed into history, eager young longhairs around the globe still crowd into arenas clamoring for yet another dose of high-decibel distortion, fretboard virtuosity and vocal belligerence.
Still, for all its devotion to form, heavy metal hasn't just lumbered on heedless of the times; in fact, many younger bands even insist that the term heavy metal describes the music of another generation. If that claim seems slightly ludicrous in the wake of acts as willfully revolutionary as the Ramones or Public Image Ltd., it seems less so when the current crop of heavy-rock groups is compared to its forebears. Not only are the younger bands harder, faster and wilder, they've also managed to pull heavy rock away from the blues-based, quasi-classical flourishes of the Deep Purple era and toward a visceral directness that prefers punch over flash.
No band quite exemplifies these changes as does Motorhead. This British trio plays with a brutish intensity that makes AC/DC seem like Air Supply. Granted, rock & roll as sonic shrapnel is a rather limited perspective, but Motorhead offsets the music's relentlessness with surprisingly astute lyrics and exhilarating bursts of manic guitar. This is music for the thinking headbanger. Motorhead may actually be too intense for most American ears, but for the sheer adrenal rush of rock & roll, there's no one this side of the Clash who can touch them.
The Scorpions' Blackout, on the other hand, is better suited to the heavy-rock fan who likes nasty noises and isn't particularly concerned if they've been done better elsewhere. Guitarist Matthias Jabs may borrow liberally from Eddie Van Halen's arsenal of guitar tricks, and singer Klaus Meine does bellow like Judas Priest's Rob Halford, but the overall effect is so audaciously over-the-top that it works anyway. Part of the credit goes to producer Dieter Dierks, who provides the band with a dense but meticulously detailed sound that keeps the music from bogging down. Mostly, though, it's just a matter of good ensemble playing fronted by a singer who knows how to wring the last ounce of impact from each song.
Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow has gone through some shallow incarnations, but the latest lineup tops them all. Joe Lynn Turner's vocals on Straight between the Eyes are so faceless and predictable they could almost be sold as generic hard-rock singing, while keyboardist David Rosenthal turns in solos that are even more witlessly overplayed than Deep Purple's Jon Lord at his most banal. Even Blackmore succumbs, offering solos redolent of Van Halen and songs suggestive of Led Zeppelin ("Eyes of Fire" is an obvious rewrite of Zep's "Kashmir"). Straight between the Eyes lacks both the fire of good heavy rock and the melodic savvy of hard pop. As such, the album makes for dull listening.
Although Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast isn't as dreadfully bland as the Rainbow LP, it comes uncomfortably close. Unlike the band's previous efforts, which retained much of the bluesy kick of early heavy metal, The Number pursues a slicker, more up-to-date sound with mixed results. Regrettably, the focus has shifted away from Dave Murray and Adrian Smith's lead guitars, and much of the album is in the hands of the rhythm section and newly acquired singer Bruce Dickinson. Despite an occasional flash of inspiration, like the driving riff that fuels "Run to the Hills," The Number of the Beast blusters along aimlessly, proving again that bad music is hell. (RS 372)
(Posted: Jun 24, 1982)
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