April 2: Blue Cheer, Kiss, Metallica, Motorhead, Rush, Van Halen, Venom

After last week’s folk outings, this week will be another look at some of the metal and hard rock on the list. Our previous visit to these quarters brought in such unlikely characters as Napalm Death and Slayer. What’s in store this week?

Blue Cheer, ‘Vincebus Eruptum’

Blue Cheer were a psychedelic proto-metal band from the 60s who fused thunderous bass and drums with loads of distortion and wild guitar soloing. The album starts with their annihilation of ‘Summertime Blues’, the old Eddie Cochrane song, before taking the same approach to their own material. Guitarist Leigh Stephens’ solos are collisions of noise, blues scales and pick-up switch hammering. It’s all pretty great. Sadly their follow-up ‘Outsideinside’ is neither on the list nor on Spotify.

Kiss, ‘Destroyer’

The second album on the list with this title (Judas Priest used it four years later). I listened to ‘Greatest Kiss’ as a teenager but never explored any of their albums; Last.fm users seem to listen to Kiss kompilations a lot more than any of the actual records, too. Here, Bob Ezrin has the thankless task of getting the band – to his dismay, all untrained musicians – into chartbusting shape. He uses his normal tricks: children yelling (see ‘Berlin‘), orchestras (see ‘The Wall’), and whatever he does to justify writing credits on almost every song. He adds some colour, from the boys’ choir on ‘Great Expectations’ to the tubular bells on ‘Do You Love Me’ to the tyres squealing on ‘Detroit Rock City’ but, well, it’s not that good. The band are responsible, with pedestrian lyrics, hooks and performances making the album feel flat.

Metallica, ‘…And Justice For All’

After breaking through with ‘Master of Puppets’, Metallica were forced to regroup when bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a tour bus crash. With Jason Newsted replacing him, the band returned to the studio and came up with this. While I’ve enjoyed several Metallica albums, this one contains a lot of my usual reservations about the band – the albums are too long, the songs drag on – and add some wrinkles unique to this album, such as inaudible bass, weird, awkward transitions between parts and lots of riffs without many hooks. ‘One’ is an acknowledged classic but otherwise this isn’t desperately exciting.

Motörhead, ‘Ace of Spades’

Of course, everyone loves the title track, which opens the album: it is the song on which Motörhead’s legacy rests, and rightly so. The rest of their output, however, is less well-known. You probably know how this album sounds without having to listen to it: fast thrash with Lemmy’s uniquely hoarse voice over the top. This didn’t do a whole lot for me, alas. It’s a shame because ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke, Philthy Animal Taylor and Lemmy looked so badass on the cover that I wanted to like it.

Rush, ‘Moving Pictures’

I enjoyed ‘2112‘, Rush’s other entry in the list, and this one follows a similar template: synthy, progressive hard rock with Geddy Lee’s helium vocals over the top (what’s the deal with Geddy Lee, how’d he get his voice so high?). It’s not quite as good as the highlights of ‘2112’: the opener cuts to the solos almost straight away, ‘YYZ’ is a dull, fussy instrumental and the closer is unremarkable. There is some pretty good stuff here though: ‘Red Barchetta’ is a standard on US rock radio and is there on merit, while ‘The Camera Eye’ held my attention despite its 11-minute running time.

Van Halen, ‘Van Halen’

The opening four tracks on this album are surprisingly excellent, with a ridiculous cover of ‘You Really Got Me’, an instrumental called ‘Eruption’ and two great riff-heavy tracks. Then the fifth has a barbershop quartet! It sags in the middle with a couple of drab 80s Sabbath takes, but finishes strongly with two more metal thrashes and an absurd acoustic blues cover. I guess this threw me as I wasn’t expecting it to be so much fun, or for Eddie’s oft-copied guitar virtuosity to still sound so good. It doesn’t outstay its welcome either: it lasts just 35 minutes. I liked this.

Venom, ‘Black Metal’

Despite its name, this is most musically compatible with thrash, but the lyrical focus on being buried alive, Elizabeth Bathory and so on is also a staple of tr00 kvlt black metulz. ‘Black Metal’ sounds pretty corny now: the shock darkside lyrics are dated, the sound has aged badly and there’s a “get your tits out for the lads” interlude on ‘Teacher’s Pet’. I guess it must have seemed a big deal at the time. It ends with a preview of their next album, ‘At War With Satan’, but fans were kept waiting two years for that.

Next week: when someone leaves a highly-regarded band, what happens next? We’ll explore some follow-on projects.

Status update: 464 albums listened to (46%), 537 to go.

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Author: JT Wilson

Listening to all of the albums in the '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' book (2006 edition).

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