The black-leather soul of Motorhead emanates from a lanky Brit biker type named Ian Kilmister, better known as Lemmy. A former roadie for Jimi Hendrix, self-declared speed freak, maniacally propulsive bass guitarist, carnival barker of the sharpest lyrics heavy metal has to offer, and -- thanks to the passage of time -- a bona fide metal god.
Motorhead are the fathers of speed metal, the band that punks and head bangers could agree on in the '80s (Metallica, for one, would not exist without them). They were punk rock because they play blazingly fast and because they avoid metal's romantic flourish. Also, Lemmy can't really sing: About halfway through most songs, he gives up any semblance of tunefulness and starts to wail; it's the vocal equivalent of guitar feedback, deafeningly crude but effective. Available after a long absence, Motorhead's debut features the hard-charging psychedelic guitar style of Larry Wallis. He was replaced by "Fast" Eddie Clarke not long after the 1975 session, but Wallis helped develop Motorhead's speedy power-trio approach. No Remorse culls an hour or so of sustained hysteria from Overkill (1979), Bomber (1979), the gargantuan Ace of Spades (1980), the live in-your-face No Sleep 'til Hammersmith (1981), and the reissued Iron Fist (1982). Topping it all off is Motorhead's dread masterpiece "Killed by Death," which fully lives up to its title. The Birthday Party summarizes Mot√∂rhead's comparatively sleeker, "high-tech" phase, drawing on the Bill Laswell--produced Orgasmatron (1986), Rock 'n' Roll (1987) and No Sleep at All (1988), another live set. None of these discs is as urgent as Mot√∂rhead's earlier head banging. 1916 reapplies the sonic grit with a trowel, however; only Lemmy could pull off a breathless tribute called "Ramones" that actually outguns the bros themselves.
The sound remains the same, dependably raw and uncompromising across the decades. Motorhead's rotating lineup hardly matters now, since Lemmy never stops or even slows down, cranking out near-identical albums faster than any but the most obsessive fans could possibly consume. March or Die easily confiscates Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever" as another Lemmy anthem, and not even the lo-fi sludge of Bastards can fully blunt the hard edge of self-explanatory rockers like "Born to Raise Hell." The big riffs and swagger rarely fail Motorhead, grinding like dragsters on "Dogs of War" (Snake Bite Love) or rewiring punk history for "God Save the Queen" (We Are Motorhead,), with no new concepts and never a disappointment -- until 2002's Hammered, which cleans up the Motorhead sound. For the first time momentum and attitude are not enough, as the songs are merely loud and forgettable. Inferno is back to brutal basics, riffing like a rocket-fueled Chuck Berry: no mercy, no quarter, no prisoners. Stone Deaf Forever is the long-overdue box set, a staggering collection of tracks that gathers enough Lemmy for any serious rock fan. Not much on variety, but enough real, timeless metal to rock yet another generation of proudly disaffected head bangers.
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