Album Review : Motörhead - Inferno (2004)
The passing of Motörhead's frontman and rock icon Lemmy was the greater bummer of 2015 and, so far, is also the greatest bummer of 2016. He embodied rock n' roll better than anybody. If Keith Richards managed to live so long it's because he always steered clear of Lemmy in parties. We would've found his scrawny ass dead in a ditch somewhere around 1986 if he ever did. A year ago, I was reviewing what would be Motörhead's final album Bad Magic on this blog without knowing of Lemmy's upcoming demise, so because I want to celebrate his music and commemorate the passing of a very important musician in my life, I decided to review what I deem their best record: 2004's Inferno.
I can already hear you asking: how is a Motörhead album "better" than another? Haven't they been releasing the same record over and over again for thirty years? The criticism is valid, yet could apply to most iconic metal bands: the unwritten rules of the genre state that your band should always stay true to its sound and that musical explorations should be made through side projects. Inferno stays (except for a few details) very true to Motörhead's foolproof formula of fuck-you rock n' roll. It just says "fuck you" louder and clearer than any other record. Phil Campbell's guitar work also ventures away from the same four chords that defined his style, which I'm sure has something to do with guitar legend Steve Vai being invited by the band during the recording.
My favorite song on Inferno happens to be my favorite Motörhead song In the Name of Tragedy. I can't think of a better crafted and more unique song they've actually written and played at such a breakneck tempo. The guitar is much heavier, the drum breaks free from its traditional rock n' roll patterns to embrace a more metal, cavalcading sound and perhaps its most interesting aspect is that Lemmy adresses people directly in the lyrics. He speaks to people he names "little brother" and "honey" and preaches the virtues of metal and of this particular singalong as a rebellion against their own personal tragedies. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's not that often that Lemmy writes songs about caring for other people.
Motörhead's blues influences are also much more apparent on Inferno and I'm not just talking about celebratory close Whorehouse Blues here, which is a straight blues song. Songs like Keys to the Kingdom and Suicide have modified blues structures and themes. Another pleasant surprise was Fight, where Lemmy asserts as a lyricist and storyteller. The song relies on repetition a lot, which not that many classic songwriters can get away with. Repetition usually is an EDM thing and is frown upon in rock n' roll, but Lemmy both found the angle and the necessary charisma to make it work in Fight. Another song you don't want to miss on this record is Smiling Like a Killer, which is another one of my Motörhead greatest hits. Everything great about Lemmy's lyrical themes shines in that song. His message's always been: be dangerous and be proud of it. Be rock n' roll because the music lives through people who love it and Smiling Like a Killer embodies everything Lemmy and Motörhead is about.
Inferno was unavailable to North American audiences for several years for reasons I've never been able to find out. It mysteriously came back after Lemmy's passing, for us fans to delight in this ultra-aggressive, modernized take on Motörhead's quintessential sound. It's rare that a band releases its best album so late in their career (Inferno marked their thirty years of existence), but I think it's a testament to the timelessness of their music and the ideas they embodies. Motörhead's rock n' roll helped me stand tall in difficult times, stay proud and true to myself and perhaps no other Motörhead records influenced me more than Inferno and 1984's No Remorse. Thank you for being awesome, Lemmy. For living life your own way and leaving a legacy that we, your fans, will carry through time.