FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume Seventeen: Motörhead – Ace Of Spades

Motörhead - Ace Of Spades

Motörhead – Ace Of Spades

This is the Seventeenth entry of The First Impressions series, which usually revolves around me discovering a record that is commonly regarded as a classic album within its genre for the first time, and then writing about that experience while also describing both my thought process at the time and my history with similar music, in an overall manner similar to but distinct from a traditional album-review.

You usually need to know a fair amount about Metal and the history of Metal to fully understand absolutely every point I will make, and having listened to the album yourself will also help. If you don’t have a clue what I’m writing about but still wish to read, having a tab open on Wikipedia to intermittently check anything you don’t understand, as well as a tab open on Grooveshark, Youtube or something Spotify-esque to check any musical reference points you haven’t heard will help too. Of course, that’s not to say I’m some more-metal-than-thou elitist preacher, just that having to give context or explanations to absolutely every point would severely derail these articles.

The album that I’ll be listening to in this edition of First Impressions is Motörhead’s fourth canonical full-length studio album, Ace Of Spades. It is the third consecutive New Wave Of British Heavy Metal album in this series, although that is through no predetermined design on my part.

If you are the sort of person who found or understood anything in this Blog thus far, then I don’t need to tell you how famous, influential and respected that this album is. You’ve probably heard the Title Track upwards of two-hundred times in your life already and have likely seen this album featured highly in polls, lists or articles of either “the most important” or “the best” rock or metal albums ever made. I certainly have.

Surprisingly though, I’ve never actually heard it before. I haven’t really heard much Motörhead at all in fact. Before buying this album (within a boxset called Classic Album Selection) I had only ever knowingly heard two Motörhead songs all the way through; ‘Ace Of Spades’ and ‘Killed By Death,’ although I do think that I may have saw half the video for ‘Eat The Rich’ back in my teens, and possibly heard ‘Bomber’ over the PA before a gig I played in Belfast once.

I have certainly heard other band’s playing Motörhead songs though; specifically Thrash bands. Sodom cover ‘Iron Fist,’ Sepultura cover ‘Orgasmatron,’ and there are four Motörhead covers on Garage Inc. by Metallica, of which I’ve definitely heard at least half of ‘Damage Case’ and possibly heard all of at some stage or other (my memory on the subject is fuzzy)

Well, actually, to be honest “before I bought the album” and “before I heard the album” are two different times and I guess I am talking about the former to preserve the established format of these articles, even if it is a little revisionist. You see, I was going to abstain from listening to any Motörhead whatsoever before jumping fully into this blog post/article, but between buying it and the time it took for it to arrive in the post I cracked under the excitement and watched both the Classic Albums episode about this album and the recent feature-length documentary about Lemmy, so I picked up a lot more of the album than I’d usually go into one of these blogs with.

It seems a little strange to me now that I waited as long as I did to try out Motörhead, they are the sort of band like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica and Slayer that seem absolutely mandatory for people like me to try… although that being said I can remember a time before I liked each of those bands but still liked Metal a lot.

…and I guess I was really, really late in getting into Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and Judas Priest who also fit that bill. In fact, Thin Lizzy and AC/DC are pretty much in that category too and excluding a free DVD gift from a close friend (hello), I haven’t gotten into either of them yet either.

Sometimes I wonder if you could genuinely only buy 500 of the publicly-regarded “best Metal albums ever,” sort of “in order,” without ever deviating and so have a collection that was “pristine and perfect,” or is no human actually wired like that? It doesn’t seem like any are in my experience. If you did actually only go for those sorts of albums, you’d still miss out on a hell of a lot of great stuff, so the reward might not be all that good overall anyway.

Anyway; I’d been curious about Motörhead for a while, from my Thrash kick, from my Classic Rock kick, because they made the Lemmy documentary, in general on reputation and then recently because I’d tried out some of the NWOBHM bands and Motörhead are involved there too, or so a lot of the things I read about the genre said (I strongly suspect they were just there at the time and fit the bill in a few easy check-box ways despite not really fitting in musically, much like Slipknot with Nu Metal.)

What actually pushed me over the edge of trying the album, was when I was at work I saw some compilation of guitar anthems or something similar (you know, those compilation albums you always see with about three to four discs of songs you’d hear for free every day on classic rock radio anyway) and I recognized 90% of the tracks on it, but when I saw Motörhead’s name on there I was baffled at the non-inclusion of Ace Of Spades, in favour of some track I’d never heard of called ‘(We Are) The Roadcrew.’

So intrigued was I by this situation that I remembered it all day and when I got home from work, popped straight online to see them play it live on youtube. The track was so bloody good that it instantly converted me into being fully interested in Motörhead. It captured my imagination in the way I’m sure the Title Track does for most people first getting into rock and metal, or at least the one who aren’t as contrary as I am.

A similar thing happened to me in the past actually. With Iron Maiden, ‘Number Of The Beast’ and ‘Run To The Hills’ did nothing for me as a non-fan, but when I heard ‘Flight Of Icarus’ everything just stirred up and I felt much more accepting to being won over by the band. With Judas Priest ‘Breaking The Law,’ ‘Electric Eye’ and ‘Painkiller’ all went over my head, but Disturbed covering ‘Living After Midnight’ on a free-with-a-magazine cd pushed me over the edge, and with Black Sabbath ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Iron Man’ failed to win me over until I’d also heard ‘Symptom Of The Universe.’

Anyway… after sticking the album on, the first track comes on and it’s the aforementioned Title Track. It seems that just the mere act of buying the album has an effect on my brain and I suddenly hear parts of the track that I’ve never noticed before, almost as if owning it increases how much patience or concentration I can give it. Its actually a good song. Take that, contrary-brain!

The second track, ‘Love Me Like A Reptile’ has a sound that I’d almost like to describe as cowboy-sounding, although I can tell that this is only because the band are dressed as cowboys on the album artwork and I am a sucker to the power of suggestion. Or it’s the maracas. Maracas and lyrics about Rattlesnakes and Black Mambas are pretty Western, right?

The part, forty seconds before the song ends, where the guitar cuts out and its just bass and drums for a bar or two before a guitar solo is really, really fun. It makes me imagine Lemmy dancing as if on marionette strings…. Or like that “pumping on your stereo” video. Remember that? It was a bit puppety.

The third song ‘Shoot You In The Back’ sounds to me like essentially still being the second track, just a different part of it. They could play track two, then track three, then track two again and it would seem like a complete song. Its much bouncier and catchier than the preceding tack, but it still feels connected to me.

‘Live To Win’ reminds me of classic Rock N Roll, as if it were a cover of Train Keep A Rollin or something (I’ve heard Motörhead do cover that actually, so maybe this is like how King crimson covered Mars but couldn’t put it on the album so made their own similar track instead, but then again maybe its just a tiny bit similar) One thing I really like is how Phil keeps opening the hi-hat, it makes the song sound so much livelier than if he’d left it closed.

Next comes ‘Fast And Loose’ which is the most different track to all of the previous ones so far. I absolutely love Lemmy’s tone when he sings ‘Get Your Self Some Original Sin,’ and the drum beat is awesome when the track quiets down and he adds in extra kicks. Its even better when he switches over to the ride. Its not a drum beat you really hear in music like this often, and it reminds me more of John Dolmayan from System Of A Down than any band from the 1980s.

The next song is ‘(We Are) The Roadcrew’ which is ridiculously catchy, there isn’t one thing I don’t love about it. It has so much energy and power, it is the best example of a song ‘leaping out of the speakers’ I’ve ever heard. The version I heard on youtube before hand was a lot swearier (to the detriment of the maths of how the vocals were written) and the production wasn’t as good, so I didn’t get just how perfectly crafted it was and also how good the guitar solo is, but hearing it now I am utterly delighted with every aspect of the track.

‘Fire Fire’ is very catchy and similar to the title track and also ‘Bomber’ and might be an example of what you’d call ‘typical Motörhead style’ but it has a nice little section where all the music cuts out (aren’t you sick of me highlighting those sections by now? “We get it – you like dymanics in songwriting”) and the drums play on in a way that reminds me vividly of Deep Purple’s ‘Fireball.’

‘Jailbait’ follows on, which is a bouncier feeling track that also has a more powerful vocal approach. The most interesting thing however is how loud the double kicks are. Its mixed as if they were a guitar solos. Bands certainly don’t do that anymore. You can really hear how some of Lars Ulrich’s drumming works when listening to this song… not to the same extent as when listening to Diamond Head, but still enough to remark upon.

It is kind of interesting how listening to things like this usually involve spotting which particular nuances mixed together to equal a Metallica member’s style. I even noticed when watching old interviews on youtube (and in the documentary) that people kept asking Lemmy about Metallica. Its kind of like asking Black Flag about Nirvana. I wonder what it is exactly that makes people mentally frame things in this manner?

With ‘Dance Dance’ it flips back to that Rock N Roll sound again. Before, I never understood why Lemmy always said he played Rock N Roll and didn’t like terms like Hard Rock, Metal or Thrash (remember what I said about Motörhead and NWOBHM being like Slipknot and Nu Metal? – That doubly applies to Motörhead and Thrash!) being applied to his music, but I guess I can see it now, as if you pay enough attention you can hear his influences in the songs.

I think a lot of the Metal comes from Phil’s drumming and Eddie’s guitar (although more so the solos than the main body of the songs) rather than from Lemmy.

For example, on ‘The Chase Is Better Than The Catchy’ Phil is absolutely hammering the shit out of the drums, even though the guitar sounds like it could be a jumped up twelve-bar blues. If a band with a less powerful drummer covered it, it may sound like Foghat or Heart, but when Motörhead play it, it sounds heavier than it should…. And Yes! I DO love the bit when in quiets down!

Predictable? Me?

The album then ends with a track called ‘The Hammer’ which is another one of those “typical Motörhead style” tracks, if it didn’t have the maracas it would sound like Thrash Metal. You can hear touches of Kill ‘Em All and Killing Is My Business’s maths in how it works.

The bit where he says ‘make me sick’ however actually reminds me a little of John Lydon, which I’ve never noticed in any of his other vocals. When taking an exploratory listen to bands like Charged GBH, The Exploited and Discharge, I can understand how Motörhead mix Punk and Metal, but not actually with The Sex Pistols for some reason, despite knowing Motörhead cover their songs. With this one vocal exception I can’t hear the crossover in their two sounds.

I’m a little surprised that the album ends at this point. It is a little brief at 36 minutes and it does the Thrash thing of following up a logical album closer with a shorter faster song (See Exodus’s ‘Pleasures Of The Flesh,’ Metallica’s ‘Justice or Death Angel’s debut)

It seems to me that it would have been better swapping the last two tracks around, based on how albums usually end nowadays, but of course they made one of the most famous albums ever so maybe they made the right choice.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to this album a lot. If I had gone into it without having first heard ‘(We Are) The Roadcrew’ and watching those documentaries then I would say that I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to, but of course hearing that song beforhand left me very much expecting a brilliant album.

I can’t really hear all that much Diamond Head or Angel Witch (or Traitor’s Gate, or whoever else I tried one or two songs by) in its sound, so it isn’t just another NWOBHM release to be mentally crunched up and left in the same drawer, it is a distinct experience that gets its own drawer to live in.

Of all the First Impressions albums that I’ve heard, this is certainly one of the ones that’s staying forever. It isn’t number one – that is still Operation:Mindcrime – but its high up there at any rate.

I’m glad to have finally heard the album, both because it furthers my understanding of this music that I like – it actually makes things like “I” (the band with Abbath) and Carpathian Forest make even more sense – and also because it is just a genuinely enjoyable record, that has left me with one of my new favourite songs ever in ‘Bite The Bullet.’

…just kidding, its ‘(We Are) The Roadcrew’ of course! Were you even reading this?

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