By Mike Irwin
In the world of heavy metal, few if any artists are as much a constant as Motorhead is.
Never trying to be the flashiest or the most famous, the band instead hammers away like a giant piston, apparently never losing steam nor concerning itself with anything other than pounding out snarling, gritty music on an almost predictably regular interval.
The trio recently released “Aftershock,” its 21st studio album, which — as one would expect — perfectly follows in the footsteps of everything Motorhead has done to date. Quick tempos, raw guitars and a tight rhythm section overlaid by Lemmy Kilmister’s trademark gravelly vocals are the formula for most of the 14 album tracks, with only a few deviations from that theme. And while the handful of slower songs seem to take on a different meaning given Kilmister’s age and recent health issues, in the end they simply add depth, variety and some breathing room to the otherwise relentless pace of the album.
The album starts out with a predictable one-two punch with “Heartbreaker” and “Coup De Grace,” two charging tracks which would be at home on any Motorhead album. Following that, however, the album takes the first of a couple turns into almost uncharted territory for the band with “Lost Woman Blues.” While not what one might expect from the band, this bluesy track ends with a towering crescendo that sounds, well, like what a Motorhead ballad should sound like — down to earth, with feeling, but without regret.
The album gets right back on track with a solid string of three tough, dirty songs (“End of Time”/”Do You Believe”/”Death Machine”), once again perfect examples where Motorhead uses a perfect formula without ever being boring or repetitive — no small feat given the size of the band’s catalog. After that, however, the band takes another pause from the breakneck pace with “Dust And Glass,” an absolutely stellar track which again is emotive, but still tough as nails. Motorhead still may be able to run at high RPM, but it’s nice to see the band be able to let it run in idle for a little bit too.
The second half of the album is all classic Motorhead — a couple of standout tracks where Lemmy’s bass thunders so loud it practically hurts the listener’s ears (such as “Queen of the Damned”) mixed in with some more of the band’s tried-and-true formulaic rock. “Keep Your Powder Dry” is borderline humorous, especially if one considers it to be some sort of life advice from Lemmy, then goes on to consider just what he might be referring to. Finally, album closer “Paralyzed” is a perfect endpiece for “Aftershock,” a fist-in-the-air anthem that doesn’t let up until the final note abruptly stops.
When one steps back and considers that Motorhead has been making music for nearly 40 years, and the band’s irreplaceable frontman Lemmy Kilmister has been doing so even longer, it’s somewhat staggering that the band continues to soldier on, and to do so with the same energy and vigor that it has throughout its entire career. However, like watching a star athlete on a streak — or, in this case, a hellraiser on a lengthy bender — even the most diehard fans have to be wondering if and when it’s all going to come to an end.
Fortunately, this is Motorhead — and if history is a guide, that means that end won’t likely be anytime soon.