Upon first spin, it doesn’t seem like Bad Magic is anything all that different then what Motorhead has been putting out as of late. However, the more you pay attention, the more it becomes a love letter to the group’s early years than a continuation of recent affairs. The audio quality itself sounds a bit bulky, throwing back to the analog days a little more than Kiss of Death or even Aftershock showed off, and it’s a welcome addition most of the time. The familiar buzzing distortion on the guitars are present, as well as a nice level from the deeper bass guitar, and pristine drum presence all around that reminds listeners of their Ace of Spades and Iron Fist days. The vocals, however, end up a mixed bag in both impressive and sobering ways. While some songs like “Teach Them How to Bleed” finds a very enthusiastic Lemmy behind the microphone, you can sense a notable level of exhaustion, which can be picked up fairly early on with the release as well. With Mr. Kilmister hitting seventy years this coming December, it’s understandable, and probably more the case than the audio quality or mastering itself.
But, his sounding a bit worn out doesn’t hurt the album, but rather reminds the listener he is mortal after all, making the more energetic pieces all the more impressive. This leads to the most surprising, not to mention unfortunate, aspect of this release: The lack of softer, bluesy performances. Bad Magic is a throwback to the early days in almost every way. It captures a lot of the punk sound that heavily influenced the group at the start, and nods to the classic faster material of the band’s repertoire that is often noted as being the influence behind the speed metal genre. However, the only time any of this really seems intimate, which is something you’d think the band would pour into the recording given all that is going on, is the track “Til the End”, which is absolutely depressing, especially when you really sit down and listen to the lyrics. It comes off as Lemmy’s declaration of coping with his health day-by-day, shrugging off those who tell him he needs to stop and how he won’t change because someone tells him to. It’s the most heartfelt proclamation of individualism you will come across, and it speaks volumes about the legend himself, and the dedication he has to the band and its fans. Even if that interpretation is wrong, the guitar solo is enough to make the most hardened fan of the group nearly break down into tears.
But, what Bad Magic really excels at is recapturing their early rebellious youth. “Thunder & Lightning” is a good example, blending in some of that two-step punk sound that long time fans have come to expect of the group. What sounds like a restrained speed metal touch to the main verses about life on the road turns into more of a hard rock anthem thanks to the hooks in the guitar solo, twanging bass riffs, and layered vocals that are more predominant in the catchy bridges leading up to it. There’s also the traditional heavy metal guitar solo that screams Judas Priest-era indulgence. Meanwhile “Evil Eye” introduces more punk into the formula, leaving the rock elements to the infectious chorus and segways that include maracas and deeper, almost growling vocals.
Then there’s the bass heavy “Shoot Out All of Your Lights”, which is as aggressive as it is technical in the main verses. Those complexities really do drop it into a darker world of hostility, which compliments the anthemic feel and melodies of the chorus and its gang chants. But it’s “Teach Them How to Bleed” that offers the most range. The mix of rock and metal on this one is perfect, constantly building up with every passing verse in a way that keeps the listener at the edge of his/her seat. Even “Fire Storm Hotel” takes the band’s blues rock sound, reminiscent of their recent hit “Christine”, and blends it with a more contemporary seventies to early eighties hard rock vibe. All of this is wrapped up with the cover of The Rolling Stones‘s “Sympathy for the Devil”, which is very well done. In fact, the band handles it and gradual build up in a way that had me thinking The Who originally performed it, carrying a lot of that band’s signatures as far as the execution and accentuation of certain spots in the vocals, as well as similar guitar distortions that are a little thicker.
While Bad Magic may not seem like the emotional roller coaster some fans might be expecting from the group at this time. Motorhead is no stranger to churning out love letters to the road and that specific lifestyle, but this time around it’s all handled with a punk attitude that masks the more personal undertones with a refusal to accept the limitations reality has/is trying to impose on the trio as a whole. In fact, the first few times listening to Bad Magic, it sounded like yet another Motorhead release, just a bit worn out. Yes, you can hear some wear and tear on the vocals on some songs from time to time, but when you sit down and really examine what it is your listening to free of distraction, you actually hear a reinvigorated band refusing to let reality hold them back from doing what they love, no matter what the cost. So, while it may not be the most engaging release in recent years, or the most unique at first glance, it is a little more personal than one might be led on to believe, and is still well worth checking out.