Lemmy Kilmister’s preference for The Beatles over the Rolling Stones is fascinating. To a degree, it makes sense: After all, Lemmy did spend plenty of time pushing the psychedelic parameters rock ‘n’ roll in Hawkwind. His argument boils down to the fact that the boys from Liverpool were the real deal – scruffy street rats that were only later to be cleaned up by a label for proper mass consumption – as opposed to the more affluent lads from the outskirts of London masquerading as blue collar rock ‘n’ roll road rodents. With the respect he gave to The Beatles, the decision to embrace the core spirit of rock in a stricter sense; one with less progression and expansion (more like the Stones). The path that would round out the majority of his life and career (same thing) with Motörhead seems, at least on the surface, contradictory. With such deep admiration for a band that constantly challenged themselves musically, as opposed to relying on time-tested formula, what made Lemmy eventually hold so tightly to a strict, albeit louder, interpretation of rock ‘n’ roll? Unfortunatly, I’ll never be able to ask this question directly, but he may have, in a way, answered it already:
People who work in a factory, right, or some awful fucking mind-numbing job like that – ’cause I worked in a factory, I know what it’s like; it’s fucking awful, yeah? Most people have to do that kind of job that they hate every day of their lives. Can you imagine what that must be like? You have to submerge your intellect completely, right, and just, y’know, che cha, y’know, and all that. So, at the weekend, they want to hear something that tears the heart out of ’em and gives it back better.
For all the things Lemmy could have praised The Beatles for, the thing he chose to highlight was their spirit; how they connected to a generation seeking release from the expectations of a culture that didn’t have the time, patience, or understanding for youth culture, let alone rock music. I also like to think he saw the inner yearning of the band themselves to escape from the dredges of dockside Liverpool. Hell, how many metal legends have started the same way? Are any tales more than those of Ozzy Osbourne or Rob Halford, Tom G. Warrior or Tom Angelripper really needed to drive the point home? The drive to make something more for yourself has long been a struggle within the doldrums of heavy mindless labor, or the looming burden of abject poverty, or battles of a more introspective, personal nature. Regardless of how Lemmy’s music took its form over the course of his storied life, it’s always, at its core, making the listener free of the conflicts of everyday life. Such a simple gesture as pressing the play button on an album like Overkill or Orgasmatron carries with it the power to make the listener themselves feel like a rock ‘n’ roll outlaw, free of the shackles of everyday life. While many bands that find themselves affixed to the Snaggletooth mantle lean heavily into the rock portion, providing aggressive, hard-as-stone speedy numbers in quick succession, so many neglect the other half of the Motörhead dichotomy: the roll.
Not Heavy Sentence. These chaps from Manchester understand the bluesy swing and swagger of rock and roll – the need to let loose over a cold beer in a dusty club after a hard shift. It’s that need to let go and forget the troubles of long, underpaid hours, shitty bosses, and feeling like just another cog in the machine. It’s the yearning for something loud ‘n’ rowdy – loud enough to wash out all the bullshit and rowdy enough to get the body moving regardless of how much it’s been pushed over the long hours of the work week. It’s not just about banging your head: Sometimes you just gotta shake your ass, too. After four years with as many songs spread across two splendid 7″‘s, Heavy Sentence’s debut full-length is arriving at long last. Plagued by not only the setbacks of Covid, Heavy Sentence were already facing the tragic loss of founding guitarist Mike Woods at the tail end of 2019. Vowing to complete the album in Mike’s memory, the band recruited guitarist Jack MacMichael from Eliminator and teamed up with the ever-vigilant Dying Victims Productions to bring the heavy speed rock ‘n’roll of Bang To Rights to full fruition.
Those twin guitars hit full throttle on the elaborate intro to “Age Of Fire.” Fans of the speedier numbers from the 7″‘s (“Protector” and “Heavy Vengeance” specifically) will find plenty to love here. High energy that gives way to an anthemic, memorable chorus (“Only the true survive! We must keep the flame alive! Livin’ in an age! An age of fire!”), to a shuffling bridge that nails the point that Heavy Sentence are, despite the flashy speed bits, at their core here to shake, rattle, and roll. There is just as much soul within the groove of the songs as there is aggression, as seen on the only re-recorded track on the album. While it was a solid song on the Edge Of The Knife / Heavy Vengeance 7″, “Edge Of The Knife” is delivered on Bang To Rites with a fresh intensity that never sacrifices reverence to the original track. Gaz feels like he’s pouring his heart out over the song, and the little melodic barbs on the pre-chorus are stick with a rejuvenated, newfound intensity. Listening, I can’t help but feeling like Mike would be proud of the rendition.
The eponymous “Heavy Sentence” slowly emerges from cold, echoey synths what is almost a Sunset Strip cruiser of a tune – written to be played with the top down, unaware and unconcerned with the difference between the wind drag on the hood and the cool gust of the Santa Ana winds. The term “anthemic” can easily be abused when describing nearly any song on Bang To Rights, but it’s especially true here. The twin leads pluck at heartstrings, begging for the uncertain, anxious excitement of the open road and boundless possibility. The lyrics are delivered with a craving for adventure and excitement, punctuated by the affirming gang vocals calling out the band’s moniker like a battle cry. The drum work of Bryan Suddaby plays comfortably from the pocket, accentuating when necessary but mostly focused on locking with the bass and keeping the groove going – crucial to the driving sound of the band. It’s not so much about standing out as it is presenting a united front in service of the songs.
It’s been stressed how important the “‘n’ roll” part of rock ‘n’ roll is at play here on Bang To Rites, and perhaps no more so than on “On The Run.” Not only is it a high-octane burner, but it knows how to boogie. The bottle clinking at the beginning of the bridge only solidifies this one as a barroom brawler of a tune. The energy is intensified by the spicy lead work and the solos that wail out with a vengeance. Heavy Sentence hammer their rock to steel before the listener’s ears, especially when these twin leads I can’t stop talking about conjoin – and they do so with some frequency. The double dragons always find a way to entwine, popping up after hot licks, hooky riffs, and passionate solos – there to drive the sword home at the most vulnerable moments. Sure, it’s a time-tested tactic, but it’s wielded so fluidly and organically that you feel it before you even realize its happening — a testament to the songwriting skills ands battle prowess of Heavy Sentence.
The tactic carries over to the intro of “Possession,” arguably the darkest, heaviest track on the album. It locks into this swing coupled with a snaking riff that darts and maneuvers like the hypnotic weavings of a cobra – a deadly combination, indeed. The free spirited, energetic rock is traded in for a lurking aggression and sense of danger. The breakdown allows those leads that have been slinking across the music for the entirety of the album to really shine through, showing their brilliant, hazardous scales. “Broken Hearts” rounds things up with a return to the more in-your-face energy that revs hard, kicking dust in the ear like a motorbike burning out on a scorching desert road. That anthemic spirit emerges once again as Heavy Sentence slam the point home with an escalating orgasm of hammer-ons that find that twin lead chemistry once again – sealing the conclusion of the album with a blood oath. Everything’s moving at 160 mph with total confidence and determination into a fitting conclusion to the album, outrunning and outrocking anything that comes across its path.
I don’t normally do this in reviews (hell, it should always be implied anyway), but when you press play, turn this one way up so Mike can hear it. Should you choose to imbibe, pop open your beverage of choice and let go. His bandmates, his friends — nay, his brothers — put their all into Bang To Rites and it shows in the love poured into the album. I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on it, but there’s a hint of a phaser or a chorus pedal missing — or maybe it’s just the tone in his fingers on the original four songs that feels notably absent from the record. Yet the spirit behind the music thrives – flourishes, even – and there’s no way you won’t be caught up in the fun along the way. Leave your troubles behind and let Heavy Sentence tear your street metal rock ‘n’ roll heart out – only to return it with a full tank.
Ride to Valhalla.