As with any aging rock band, Motörhead is often on the receiving end of accolades these days, whether it’s regarding their well-deserved 2005 Grammy, their successful 30th anniversary tour, their outstanding concert DVD Stage Fright, the double-disc reissues of their first seven albums (which rank among the finest CD reissues in recent memory), or the constant drooling by the classic rock set over the landmark album Ace of Spades. They continue to draw boisterous crowds that crave the usual renditions of “Ace of Spades” and “Overkill”, but what most people fail to realize, however, is just how consistently good a band Motörhead has become on record. Of course, there’s no arguing that their 1977-81 output ranks as one of the greatest runs in rock history, and the band went through a decade-long transition period after the departure of original members “Fast” Eddie Clark and “Philthy” Phil Taylor that wasn’t without its share of creative valleys, but for the past decade, Motörhead has carried on with the same three-man line-up, delivering a string of quality albums that continues with Kiss of Death.
If there’s one dude who knows full well that if something ain’t broke you sure as hell don’t fix it, it’s Lemmy Kilmister, who since 1975 has been milking the same gimmick year in and year out. Loud guitars (sans effects), wickedly distorted bass, pummeling drumming, songs firmly rooted in traditional rock ‘n’ roll, lyrics dripping with anger, humor, and blunt sexual come-ons, and of course, the omnipresent growl of Lemmy himself. The man could have easily fallen into self-parody by now, had it not been for his outstanding supporting cast of guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee, who pack enough flash to make each new album sound fresh and energetic, something especially evident on 2004’s Inferno, and which continues on the new record.
By bringing in Inferno producer Cameron Webb for another go-round, Motörhead doesn’t hide from the fact that they want at the very least to duplicate the success of that release, and from a musical standpoint, Kiss of Death succeeds, the trio pushing all the right buttons. The raucous album-opener “Sucker” is quintessential Motörhead, full of speed, piss, and vinegar, featuring slashing riffs by Campbell that hearken back to the Clark years, and relentlessly propelled by Dee, who is by far the best drummer Lemmy has ever had in his employ. “Kingdom of the Worm” continues where Inferno‘s fantastic “In the Name of Tragedy” left off, a monstrously heavy tune highlighted by Dee’s thunderous double kicks and ride cymbal, while “Living in the Past” locks itself into a brooding, mid-tempo groove.
As good as the heavy tunes are, it’s not a Motörhead record without some pure rock ‘n’ roll, and there’s no shortage here. Campbell’s infectious riff carries the lively “Devil I Know” (and is that a bass solo we hear?), “One Night Stand” swaggers along in the tradition of “No Class” as Lemmy takes a poke at his own persona (“I’ve been a slut all my life”), and “Christine” struts like the New York Dolls of old, further proof that Lemmy’s love of the ladies will never cease. Despite his monotone growl, Lemmy and the boys have a sly way of sneaking catchy melodies into their songs, as “Trigger” attests, while “Under the Gun” boasts the same kind of blooze-drenched swagger of the mid-80s b-side “Just Cos You’ve Got the Power”. Much like tracks like “I Don’t Believe a Word” and “Whorehouse Blues”, “God Was Never on Your Side” tones things down; over an acoustic guitar, Lemmy sounds like an old sage expressing his opinion of fundamentalist religion, and not mincing words one bit. The re-recording of 1991 fave “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” is a touch unnecessary, but it’s a spirited performance nevertheless, obviously in tribute to the departed Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny.
The bottom line, though, is that Kiss of Death rocks, pure and simple. Lemmy’s now in his 60s, Campbell has been a loyal sideman for 22 years, and Dee has been pounding the skins for 14 years, but the three old gents continue to sound like a brash bunch of young, horny kids on disc, proof that a guitar plugged into a Marshall stack is often as useful as that famous little blue pill.
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