Motörhead Albums From Less To Best

The Audio Mug | December 30, 2015 - 2:59 am
Photo Credit: Estate Of Keith Morris/Getty Images
Motörhead bassist and frontman Lemmy Kilmister died two days ago at the age of 70, just two days after his initial diagnosis and following years of other serious health problems. For the band Motörhead are one of those bands, like ZZ Top or AC/DC, that seemingly everyone who likes loud electric guitars can agree on. They exist for one reason: speed. No, seriously — bassist/vocalist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister formed Motörhead (originally Bastard) after being kicked out of space-boogie overlords Hawkwind for being into meth, rather than the hallucinogenics his bandmates favored. He was busted at the Canadian border on tour, and that was it; he was out, and Hawkwind’s glory era pretty much came to an end with his departure.

Lemmy wasted no time getting his next project rolling; Motörhead’s first recording sessions were in 1975, though they weren’t released until 1979, after the band had switched labels and achieved some success. Their true debut came in 1977, at the peak of punk rock, and Motörhead were immediately accepted by both the punks and the headbangers, something that’s remained true to this day. (Lemmy claims he used to see Johnny Rotten hanging around Hawkwind gigs, proving that artistic boundaries are often more porous than they’re credited as being.)

Musically, they arrived fully formed, with a sound that hasn’t changed much at all in four decades. Motörhead songs are fast, aggressive, and primitive in the best rock ‘n’ roll style. But Lemmy’s lyrics are sharp, witty, and cutting, taking on sex, war, and religion with little thought for the feelings of the overly sensitive.

There are two major “periods” in Motörhead’s existence: the so-called “classic lineup” of Lemmy, guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke, and drummer Philthy Animal Taylor (this is the version that made the albums Overkill, Bomber, Ace Of Spades, Iron Fist and the live No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith), and the current incarnation of Lemmy, guitarist Phil Campbell, and drummer Mikkey Dee, who have been together (plus second guitarist Wurzel, who left in 1995 and died in 2011) since 1992 and have made 12 albums to date. In between, there were a slew of lineup shifts from record to record, but the stability of the last 22 years has been great for the band.

There were definitely some difficult years — commercially and creatively — in the middle, for sure. From the time they left Bronze Records in 1984 to roughly 2001, Motörhead were bouncing from label to label, losing and gaining members, working with producers who didn’t suit them (Bill Laswell) and making ill-advised attempts to go commercial. But over the last decade and a half, they’ve made one of the strongest late-career creative comebacks of any band, ever.

Lemmy just passed away and this is the end of the line for Motörhead. Drummer Mikkey Dee has confirmed that the band will cease touring and will not record any more albums. Lets countdown the band’s album from less to best.

Snake Bite Love (1998)

Motörhead followed up their best album in years, 1996's Overnight Sensation, with one of their most forgettable. Recorded in a rush, it features songs that sound like rewrites of material from 1995's Sacrifice (itself not the greatest album in the band's catalog), half-hearted attempts to cross the usual Motörhead sound with blues and country, and only one genuinely good song — the album opener, "Love For Sale."

Of the other tracks, "Take The Blame" is notable for featuring organ (a first, and maybe an only, for the band); "Desperate For You" is one of their fastest songs; and "Dead And Gone" is a ballad that's not as bad as some others they'd squeeze onto subsequent albums. Ultimately, though, Snake Bite Love is probably the most skippable modern Motörhead album.

On Parole 1979)

Though this album was released in 1979, it was recorded four years earlier, and only made it to store shelves following the success of Overkill and Bomber. It includes versions of five songs that were re-recorded for Motörhead's self-titled debut album ("Motorhead," "Vibrator," "Iron Horse/Born To Lose," "The Watcher," and "Lost Johnny"), as well as "City Kids," "Fools," the title track, and "Leaving Here." It's mostly interesting because it's the only album to feature the original Motörhead lineup, with Larry Wallis of the UK cult band the Pink Fairies on guitar and Lucas Fox on drums. But they can only be heard on one song, "Lost Johnny"; on all the other tracks, Philthy Animal Taylor overdubs the drums. The roots of what Motörhead would become are here, but they're not fully formed yet, and this is pretty inessential unless you're a total diehard. In many ways, it's more of a demo than an album.

March Ör Die (1992)

Lemmy was doing well at the time of March Ör Die; Motörhead, not so much. He'd gotten a call from Sharon Osbourne, asking him to help write a few songs for her husband's upcoming album, No More Tears. He dashed off lyrics for four tracks, one of which was "Mama, I'm Coming Home," which turned out to be Ozzy's second-highest-charting solo single, only beaten out by "Close My Eyes Forever," his duet with Lita Ford. In his autobiography, White Line Fever, Lemmy claimed, "I made more money out of those four songs than I made in 15 years of Motörhead."

March Ör Die, even more than 1916, was the band's attempt to make a hit record. It's got guest stars (Ozzy and Slash both show up on "I Ain't No Nice Guy," and Slash also plays on the bluesy stomper "You Better Run"), a cover of Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever," a movie tie-in ("Hellraiser" was used in the movie Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, and there's a video that features Lemmy playing cards with Pinhead) ... they tried basically everything, and none of it worked. "I Ain't No Nice Guy" got some radio airplay, but was barely promoted by Epic/Sony, and the more traditionally Motörhead-ish songs were pretty mediocre, letting diehard fans down. Gloss didn't suit the band, and they were soon dropped, forced to seek shelter in the independent world where they belonged.

Iron Fist (1982)

The last gasp of the Lemmy/Fast Eddie/Philthy Animal lineup, Iron Fist is generally viewed as a disappointment by band and fans alike. Though they started out working with Vic Maile, who'd done an incredible job producing 1980's Ace Of Spades, he left early in the recording process, and guitarist Clarke took over. Unfortunately, he's not a producer — he's a guitarist, and given that the band wasn't even ready to make an album (Lemmy says at least three songs were written in the studio), he was guaranteed not to be up to the task. As with almost every Motörhead album, there are a few good songs, most notably the title track, which was also the only single. "Go To Hell" is decent, and "(Don't Need) Religion" is a midtempo stomper with a suitably contemptuous lyric from Lemmy. But most of the other songs are terminally forgettable, coming off like Motörhead-by-numbers.

The album was released in April 1982; two days into the subsequent tour, on May 14, Clarke left the band. Motörhead took exactly one week off to find a new guitarist, and resumed touring on May 21 with former Thin Lizzy member Brian Robertson in place.

Motörhead (1977)

Motörhead's debut album was recorded in a blinding burst of speed, as befits their name. They'd been together for two years already, playing to no one and getting the cold shoulder from labels (United Artists paid for a recording session in 1975, but shelved the results) and the press. They were on the brink of disbanding when Chiswick Records agreed to put up the money for a single. Lemmy, guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke, and drummer Philthy Animal Taylor entered the studio armed with a set of songs they'd been playing live for a year, and promptly blasted through them all. By the time label head Ted Carroll came down to hear what they'd got, they had 11 songs to play for him. He was impressed enough to give them the money to finish the disc.

The album is kind of a mishmash, stylistically and otherwise. It includes three Hawkwind songs ("Motorhead," "Lost Johnny," and "The Watcher"), as well as a version of the old blues song "Train Kept A-Rollin'," and the four brand-new tunes run the gamut from the punky, dirty joke "Vibrator" to the stoner-biker jam "Iron Horse/Born To Lose." Lemmy hasn't quite found his voice yet; on some tracks he's almost singing clean, while others push his raw, raspy vocals through effects that make him sound like Tom Waits choking to death on sand. Clarke is granted a lot more space for guitar solos than he would be on subsequent releases, and Taylor's drumming is loose, but not as wild as it would become.

No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith (1981)

This live album actually hit #1 on the UK charts. That's right, Motörhead had a #1 album once. And that fact only becomes more shocking when you actually listen to the thing. Recorded on tour in support of their breakthrough studio release, 1980's Ace Of Spades, it's tight but extremely raw-sounding. The version of "Motorhead" that ends the album — which Lemmy introduces simply by saying "Just in case" — features a bass sound so blown-out it's like your speakers have exploded, and are about to take your ears with them.

You don't come to a Motörhead live album to marvel at the songcraft, of course — you put it on when you want something to blow small objects off your shelves, and No Sleep definitely does that. There are a few bits of goofiness (Lemmy's always had a sharp sense of humor), and a slow song or two — "Metropolis" offers a chance to stop headbanging and maybe have a drink. But overall, it's one of the few live albums that really makes you feel like you're in a packed, sweaty barn watching three men crank up some of the loudest rock 'n' roll ever played.

(Note: Motörhead have a lot of live albums. This is the only one chosen for this countdown, because honestly, this one included, they're all kind of superfluous. Nothing can ever truly capture the visceral force of Motörhead live.)

We Are Motörhead (2000)

This album is probably most notable for its closing title track, which the band performs live on a regular basis. The first verse includes the line "We are Motörhead, born to kick your ass," and it makes a perfect set-opener or –closer (pre-encore, of course; they're not allowed to leave without playing "Ace Of Spades" and "Overkill"). There are a few other good songs on We Are Motörhead. The opening "See Me Burning" kicks off with a Mikkey Dee drum avalanche, which is never a bad idea, and the song proper is a rumbling assault along the lines of "Sacrifice." "Slow Dance" is an OK blues-rock track, after which "Stay Out Of Jail" cranks up the energy again. Unfortunately, the album starts to slide sideways right around then, and never fully recovers.

The fourth track on We Are Motörhead is a cover of the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" that, while momentarily diverting thanks to Lemmy's imitation of Johnny Rotten's high-pitched sneer, is about as essential as Mötley Crue's version of "Anarchy In The U.K." — that is, not at all. (Brief digression: The Sex Pistols were the Monkees of punk, invented by a shopkeeper to help his fashion designer girlfriend sell T-shirts.) That's not the album's worst track, though. "One More Fucking Time" is the album's worst track, and comes close to being the worst Motörhead song ever, period. A morose, nearly seven-minute acoustic breakup ballad, it's pretty much the opposite of anything you'd ever want to hear from Lemmy and company, and it drags the album's second half to a screeching halt. The two songs that follow, loud and energetic as they are, still feel like Motörhead digging themselves out of a trench.

Sacrifice (1995)

The last album from Motörhead's decade-long tenure as a quartet, Sacrifice, features both Phil Campbell and Wurzel on guitar, though the latter barely contributed anything, and was gone as soon as the record was done. They chose not to replace him, and they've stuck with a three-piece lineup of Lemmy, Phil, and Mikkey Dee from then until now.

Overall, Sacrifice is a solid but not great album, with only three really outstanding songs (the title track, "Sex And Death," and "Out Of The Sun"). There are some surprisingly heavy tracks, like "War For War" and "Order/Fade To Black," that give the impression the band (or maybe producer Howard Benson) had been listening to grunge. The production emphasizes heaviness, to the music's detriment. The two guitars are mixed into a scuzzy wall of noise, and Lemmy's bass is an unpleasant buzz rather than the skull-vibrating roar it ought to be. The player who comes off the best is Mikkey Dee. "Sacrifice" is maybe the best showcase he's ever gotten on a Motörhead record — on the band's tour in support of The Wörld Is Yours, the song served as a lead-in to his drum solo.

Orgasmatron (1986)

The three years between Another Perfect Day and Orgasmatron were tumultuous ones for Motörhead. They left their longtime label, Bronze, ending their contract there with the awesome double-disc best-of, No Remorse, but no other label seemed interested in picking them up. In Joel McIver's Overkill: The Untold Story Of Motörhead, Lemmy recalls, "Elektra passed. MCA passed. Epic passed. CBS passed. Chrysalis passed. Everyone passed." Eventually, the band's management team set up their own label, GWR (it stood for Great Western Road, where their offices were located), and it was time to make a new album.

Orgasmatron was recorded in London, then mixed in New York, all with Bill Laswell behind the boards. And while there are some really good songs on it, notably "Deaf Forever," "Mean Machine," "Ain't My Crime," and the immortal title track, the actual sound of the record is bizarre. Laswell has only worked on a few hard rock/metal albums — White Zombie's Make Them Die Slowly, Iggy Pop's Instinct, and the Ramones' Brain Drain are the big ones — and in every case, he's opted to turn the guitars into a semi-industrial buzz, bring the drums up until they're a crashing, avalanche-like roar, and fill the remaining space with bass frequencies that may or may not serve the actual song. Listening to one of his rock productions, you always get the feeling that if it was coming through speakers the size of bank vault doors, it would probably sound amazing, but on headphones or a normal stereo, it sounds weak and tinny. There are also weird moments of sonic crudity, like when everything but the drums drops out on "Claw" and the drums themselves sound pasted in, suddenly twice as loud as they were just a second ago. Still, the song "Orgasmatron" itself is so totally crushing that this album remains an essential, if less than perfect, listen.

1916 (1991)

Motörhead spent two years in court, fighting with GWR, before finally signing to Epic and entering the studio at the end of 1990 to record 1916, an album that was seen by many at the time as a strong comeback following the relatively lackluster Rock 'N' Roll. Indeed, the major label connection (and the associated PR push) is likely what got the band their first-ever Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance, though they lost to Metallica. A mixed bag with some surprising stylistic departures, 1916 is an interesting album, if not a wholly successful one.

The main thing that's got to be discussed is the title track, a morose ballad that closes the disc. Built around acoustic guitar and somber keyboards, Lemmy croons(!) a story of young men sent off to die in World War I. It's unlike anything else in the Motörhead catalog, a companion piece to the Pogues' "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and one of the most upfront exhibitions of Lemmy's decidedly antiwar views. The rest of the album is typical Motörhead, of course — fast, loud, and catchy, with as much rock 'n' roll swagger as metal aggression, if not more. Among the high points: "I'm So Bad (Baby I Don't Care)," "No Voices In The Sky," and "R.A.M.O.N.E.S," a tribute to his friends and peers. Note that most of those come early in the disc's first half; 1916 starts strong, but peters out toward the end.

Aftershock (2013)

It takes a lot to keep Motörhead from releasing an album every other year. (Their longest break was between 1987's Rock 'N' Roll and 1991's 1916, during which time they were switching labels and suing the one they were leaving.) But between 2010's The Wörld Is Yours and Aftershock, the band came close to ending entirely, as Lemmy's legendary lifestyle finally caught up with him. He'd been a diabetic for years, managing to keep a mid-1990s coma out of the press, but in summer 2013 he was hit by a string of health crises all in a row. First, he underwent surgery to have a defibrillator installed to correct an irregular heartbeat. Then he suffered a blood clot which forced the band to cancel a string of shows.

Naturally, all of this colored perceptions of the band's 21st album, when it arrived at year's end. And honestly, Aftershock might be the weakest of Motörhead's recent records. For one thing, it's got 14 songs, which is at least two too many. (There are no long ones, though; the whole album comes in under 47 minutes.) For another, it has some of Lemmy's worst, laziest lyrics ever — the first verse of "Coup De Grace" is cringeworthy. ("Make it quick/ The coup de grace/ Makes you dead/ Kills your ass/ Gives you nightmares/ Bad dreams" ... come on, dude, go for a second draft before stepping up to the microphone.) But at the same time, it also features some surprisingly strong material, particularly "Lost Woman Blues," which is a slow-crawling, moody track that sits among their best blues efforts. When you're a great band, with a highly defined style, there's only so far you can fall. A substandard Motörhead album is still a Motörhead album, and it's still better than the work of the young bands coming up behind them.

Rock 'N' Roll (1987)

Only a year after Orgasmatron, Motörhead returned with a quick 'n' dirty album simply titled Rock 'N' Roll. Lemmy had always insisted that was the best way to describe the band's music, and proved his point with this collection of 10 catchy tunes. Drummer Pete Gill had departed, but Philthy Animal Taylor was back in the fold, making the lineup a sort of bridge between old and new eras. His playing wasn't as strong as it had been in the past, though; he kept to a simple backbeat most of the time, which served the album-opening title track quite well, but other songs might have benefited from some rhythmic variety. The single, "Eat The Rich," was a leftover from the Bill Laswell-produced sessions for Orgasmatron, and it's as good as the best stuff from that mixed-bag album. The lyrics are biting (sorry) and hilarious, turning cannibalism and class warfare into sexual metaphors. Other tracks like "Dogs" and "Traitor" have more groove than was typical for Motörhead, while "All For You" was an unexpectedly tender love song (not a ballad, though) and "The Wolf" and the album closer, "Boogeyman," were as ferocious as anything they'd recorded since "The Hammer," from 1980's Ace Of Spades. Ultimately, Rock 'N' Roll is half solid and half flabby, but the good songs are much better than is usually acknowledged.

Bomber (with 1979)

Motörhead's follow-up to Overkill was recorded only six months after its predecessor was released, and hit stores before year's end. Unfortunately, this meant that the songs on Bomber weren't as road-tested as the earlier material, and producer Jimmy Miller was suffering from a debilitating heroin habit that maybe didn't help the production process. Still, it's a fierce, vitriolic album featuring a few classics (the title track, "Stone Dead Forever," "Dead Men Tell No Tales") and some of Lemmy's most pointed lyrics. Motörhead's lyrics have rarely been mindless space-fillers. Lemmy's a sharp, well-read guy who's got a lot on his mind, and on Bomber, he tackles a variety of social ills in a way that punks could easily relate to. "Talking Head" savages the vapidity of TV; "All The Aces" rants against the way the music business is stacked against the artist; and "Dead Men Tell No Tales" is, somewhat ironically, a diatribe against heroin. But the most surprising song, lyrically, is "Poison," on which Lemmy inveighs against his father for abandoning him and his mother. Not exactly typical subject matter for a blazing hard rock song, but Motörhead have always surprised listeners. As on previous albums, the music on Bomber mixes fast and slow songs — "Lawman" and "Sweet Revenge" are slow burners that let Eddie Clarke stretch out. Also worth noting: Clarke's first lead vocal on a Motörhead song, on "Step Down." According to Lemmy, he'd been complaining so much about the bassist getting the majority of press attention that he said, "Right, you're gonna fucking sing one on this album." Clarke's voice is much cleaner than Lemmy's, but the song still fits well within the album; it's not a speed bump, like when Jimi Hendrix let Noel Redding tuck "Little Miss Strange" into the middle of Electric Ladyland. But the album's high point is definitely the epic (nearly five minutes!) "Stone Dead Forever," which allows both Lemmy and Eddie to stretch out, with multiple guitar solos and extended bass breaks, as well as a more conventional, Hawkwind-speed rock backbeat. It's a classic headbanging anthem, one of Motörhead's best songs ever.

Bastards (1993)

Bastards, released only a year after March Ör Die, was basically its predecessor's opposite, which is why it kinda rules. Stripped-down, gritty, and loud as fuck, with one exception (the anti-child-abuse ballad "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me"), it came out on the tiny German label ZYX and got relatively little promotion. It's too bad, too, because there are several fantastic songs on it. This is also the first Motörhead album to feature the lineup of Lemmy, Phil Campbell, Wurzel, and Mikkey Dee, as drummer Philthy Animal Taylor left the group during the sessions.

Bastards starts off strong, with four slammers in a row — "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees," "Burner," "Death Or Glory," and "I Am The Sword." Each one is a raging ball of fury, but each is different; "I Am The Sword" is driven by a twisting, snakelike riff, while "Death Or Glory" is a head-down blast of punk-metal energy, and "Burner" stops dead for a one-word chorus before launching back into high gear.

After that, it gets to be kind of a mixed bag. "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me" is slow, horrifying, and deeply sad; "Bad Woman" is pure rock 'n' roll, piano and all; and "Born To Raise Hell" is a fist-pumping party anthem. But "Lost In The Ozone," "I'm Your Man" and "We Bring The Shake" are forgettable, and the album's final cut, "Devils," is about two full minutes too long — it's Motörhead going early-'90s radio rock (no surprise, given that the album was produced by Howard Benson, who's worked with Bon Jovi, Daughtry, Theory Of A Deadman, Creed, Three Days Grace, Hoobastank ... you get the idea).

Kiss Of Death (2006)

Kiss Of Death, Motörhead's second album with producer Cameron Webb, isn't quite as strong as its predecessor, 2004's Inferno. But the harder, heavier tracks, like album opener "Sucker," "Sword of Glory," "Living In The Past," and "Kingdom Of The Worm," are more than strong enough to balance out some of the sappier ones like "Christine," "One Night Stand," and "Devil I Know." A few relatively medium-profile guests crop up: Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille plays on "God Was Never On Your Side," and Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez adds additional rumble to "Under The Gun."

"God Was Never On Your Side" is an interesting case, because while Motörhead's discography obviously offers many variations on a few themes, their songs are similar to one another in the same way Chuck Berry songs are similar to one another. It's called having a style. But "God Was Never On Your Side" is basically a rewrite of one of the most unique and powerful songs in the band's entire catalog: "I Don't Believe A Word," from 1996's Overnight Sensation. It's a remarkably similar, slow-crawling riff, a nearly identical fatalistic/pessimistic lyric ... it's pretty much a not-quite-as-good alternate version, 10 years later. And it's enough of a misstep that it drops an otherwise decent album farther down this list than it would otherwise land.

The Wörld Is Yours (2010)

The 20th Motörhead album follows the same pattern found on the three before it; by this point, the band and producer Cameron Webb were a well-oiled machine. If Lemmy brought the songs, the production would showcase them. And early on, the music is as sharp and rockin' as any fan could hope for; the first four tracks ("Born To Lose," "I Know How To Die," "Get Back In Line," "Devils In My Head") are all burners with head-nodding riffs, driving rhythm, and witty lyrics. It's the fifth track that provides the album's first stumble. "Rock And Roll Music" is as clichéd as its title, and while the verses have energy and groove, the chorus saps all the momentum.

Fortunately, the band doesn't lose steam for long. The album's second half offers a few more killer tracks, most notably "Waiting For The Snake," "Outlaw," and the closing kiss-off, "Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye." Thirty-five years and twenty albums into their career, Motörhead still had it.

Motörizer (2008)

Motörhead's 19th studio album starts off very strong. Pretty much every track in its first half is a ferocious, hard rock/metal stormer, with the blues and rock 'n' roll elements Lemmy has always insisted were the core of the band's sound prominent. This is particularly true on the midtempo burner "One Short Life," one of his old-man-tells-you-about-life songs, and the antiwar "When The Eagle Screams." The faster tracks, particularly album opener "Runaround Man" and first single "Rock Out" (yes, the phrase "with your cock out" appears), have a punky energy and Lemmy's vocals are fierce, with almost imperceptible doubling giving them harmonic bulk — he's got a surprisingly wide range, considering his born-with-a-Marlboro-in-his-mouth rasp.

The quality drops off a little bit in the record's second half; "English Rose" is a fairly straightforward love song, something Motörhead should stay away from (see "All For You" from Rock 'N' Roll, "One More Fucking Time" from We Are Motörhead), and the chorus isn't as catchy as it was likely intended to be. Similarly, "Back On The Chain" kinda lands with a thud. But the closer, "The Thousand Names Of God," is a moody antiwar anthem that ends things on a high note. Ultimately, Motörizer is a deceptive album. It feels like more of the same, but over repeated plays gradually expands in the listener's mind until it's revealed as a very strong effort from a band that is having one of the all-time great late-career resurgences

Another Perfect Day (1983)

Following Fast Eddie Clarke's departure in 1982, Motörhead recruited a surprising candidate for lead guitarist — former Thin Lizzy axeman Brian Robertson. A much more technically accomplished and melodic player than his predecessor, Robertson transformed the band's sound substantially during his brief tenure. Another Perfect Day is one of Motörhead's cleanest, most tuneful albums, the first side in particular. The opening track, "Back At The Funny Farm," is a jackhammering rave-up about going insane, featuring some of Lemmy's funniest lyrics ("What was that injection 'cause I think it's going wrong/ I really like this jacket but the sleeves are much too long"). "Shine" and "Dancing On Your Grave," sung by a more conventionally pretty-voiced frontman, could easily have been radio hits. "Rock It" puts a little bit of boogie-woogie piano in the background, turning a typical Motörhead song into a rock 'n' roll anthem, and the slow-burning "One Track Mind" is one of the group's best creepy-crawling blues efforts. The second half isn't quite as strong, though "Tales Of Glory" is an excellent antiwar diatribe. The production is sharp and powerful, probably due to Robertson's perfectionism, which pissed Lemmy off to no end at the time but wound up being great for the finished product. Another Perfect Day is probably Motörhead's most underrated album of the 1980s, and well worth a listen.

Hammered (2002)

Following the disappointing Snake Bite Love and We Are Motörhead, the guys came back in a big way on 2002's Hammered. A dark and moody album recorded in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it features some of Lemmy's harshest social criticism, particularly on "Brave New World," where he asserts, "If Jesus came back now he'd be in jail by next week," and "Voices From The War." Guns N' Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed guests on "Mine All Mine," which sounds similar to the excellent "Rock It," from 1983's Another Perfect Day, and the album proper concludes with "Serial Killer," a spoken monologue from Lemmy at his most gravelly.

The CD included two bonus tracks — a live version of "Overnight Sensation," and "The Game." The latter track was written by WWE in-house composer Jim Johnston, as theme music for the wrestler Triple H, who insisted that the band record it. "Years ago I was making a transition to becoming this bad guy, and they wanted me to change my music. We had our music guy Jim Johnston working on it, and it wasn't the sound I wanted," Triple H told MTV News. "I kept saying, 'I want it more raw, more gritty,' and I kept saying, 'Think Motörhead, think Motörhead.' So finally Jim was like, 'Why don't we just get Motörhead to do it?' They were into it, and they did the song for me, and they came to one of the shows, and Lem and I just hit it off. They've played me to the ring a few times."

Overnight Sensation (1996)

After leaving Epic, Motörhead signed with CMC International, a label that spent the 1990s providing a safe haven for past-their-prime hair metal and hard rock acts. And if that was an unpromising sign, the cover art cast doubts, too. Overnight Sensation was the first Motörhead album since Ace Of Spades to feature a photo of the band on the cover. And for some reason, Lemmy decided to shave off his iconic sideburns-into-mustache facial hair during this period. So despite the absence of their usual demonic warthog mascot, this may be the single ugliest cover in their discography. But ultimately, none of that mattered. Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey delivered where it counted: From a purely musical standpoint, Overnight Sensation is the band's best album of the 1990s, and one of their best overall.

It kicks off with the raging "Civil War," and ends with the sensitive, acoustic-guitar-adorned ballad "Listen to Your Heart." In between, the title track and "Love Can't Buy You Money" are some of the band's catchiest (and wittiest) songs in years; "Eat The Gun" is a black-humored, speed-crazed rant; and "Broken" and "Crazy Like A Fox" are built around fist-pumping choruses. But "I Don't Believe A Word" is the album's crowning glory. A slow, sludgy burner driven by a bass line that sounds like the Melvins covering Flipper, its lyrics are some of Lemmy's darkest and most existential.

Inferno (2004)

Motörhead's 21st Century resurgence continued with Inferno, the band's first album (of six to date) to be recorded with producer Cameron Webb. It blazes virtually from start to finish, with a few tracks that demonstrate the band's sonic eclecticism without sacrificing their raw rock 'n' roll power ... and it features maybe the most unexpected guest star of their career.

Inferno kicks off with "Terminal Show," "Killers," and "In The Name Of Tragedy," three of the most ferocious, yet also hard-grooving, songs of their career. Lemmy and Mikkey are a fierce, driving rhythm team, and Phil Campbell's guitars have savagery and bite. But in the middle of "Terminal Show," there's a squealing, squiggling, zipping, zooming eruption of what can only be called "stunt guitar," courtesy of the man who invented that style while working with Frank Zappa in the early '80s. Yes, Motörhead's Inferno features not one, but two (he shows up again five tracks later, on "Down On Me") guest guitar solos from Steve Vai.

This album is absolutely packed with fast and furious burners, with fist-pumping riffs and choruses you can shout along with. But there are songs that offer a few more surprises, structurally speaking, like "Fight" and "In The Year Of The Wolf." And then there's the acoustic closer, "Whorehouse Blues." These are the hidden gems that make Inferno what it is: the first album in a creative resurgence that shows no sign of abating.

Bad Magic (2015)

Motörhead's last album is a return to aggression following the relatively staid Aftershock. It opens with the thrashing "Victory Or Die," which is followed by the equally (if not more) cranked-up "Thunder & Lightning." But as soon as the third track, "Fire Storm Hotel," arrives, the band begins throwing curve balls. Built around a bluesy riff that sounds stolen from Ted Nugent circa 1977, it's got swagger and swing. "Shoot Out All Of Your Lights" is the track where Mikkey Dee gets a moment in the spotlight, opening it up with his usual double bass thunder; the song proper sounds like a cross between "Fight" and "Sacrifice." They continue to revisit their older sound on "The Devil," which has a low-slung rumble reminiscent of early '90s albums like March Ör Die and Bastards, but which also boasts a guest guitar solo from, of all people, Brian May of Queen.

The album's second half is as strong as the first. "Evil Eye" rides a tribal, almost surf-rock groove, and Lemmy's vocals are run through a filter that gives them a demonic rumble. There's a ballad, "Till The End," but his fuzzed-out bass saves it from tedium. "Choking On Your Screams" is slow and creepy; it could have come off 2002's Hammered. And the whole thing ends with a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil" that you wouldn't think likely to work, given how many idiots have tried and failed to equal the original's hypnotic, unnerving power. Motörhead's isn't perfect, but it's solid and gritty, and Lemmy's growled delivery recalls "Orgasmatron" more than the Stones. Bad Magic is as good as Inferno — it's as good as 21st Century Motörhead gets.

Overkill (1979)

The first real showcase for the classic Lemmy/Fast Eddie/Philthy lineup, Motörhead's Overkill was bashed out with typical speed. Leaving Chiswick Records behind, the band signed with another indie label, Bronze, and released a cover of "Louie Louie" as a non-LP single, which was successful enough to get the band on the TV show Top Of The Pops, and convince Bronze to invest in a full album.

The group worked with producer Jimmy Miller on Overkill and its follow-up, Bomber, and his ability to corral otherwise out-of-control personalities (he'd worked with the Rolling Stones on Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main St., and Goats Head Soup) served the band well. Overkill has a raucous edge, juxtaposing the metallic thunder of the double bass-driven title track against punkier, under-three-minute anthems like "No Class," "Stay Clean," "(I Won't) Pay Your Price" and "Tear Ya Down." The band's more psychedelic hard rock side was still present, as well, of course, on the slower "Metropolis" and "Capricorn."

Ace Of Spades (1980)

"Ace Of Spades" is the one Motörhead song everybody who knows a Motörhead song knows. They play it at every single show, and will until they retire. It also kicks off this album, the absolute peak of their early era (though not their best album overall, obviously). Produced by Vic Maile, who worked with bands ranging from the Who to Dr. Feelgood, the album has a clean, stripped-down feel that allows the trio's power to come across almost unfiltered. It doesn't seem anywhere near as polished as it actually is — compare it to Bomber and the difference in visceral impact is immediately apparent.

The songwriting is straightforward and pretty much great across the board. The usual mix of blazing fast ones and slow burners is firmly tilted in favor of speed, though — there's only one midtempo song, "Shoot You In The Back," and one slow, bluesy crawl, "The Chase Is Better Than The Catch," and the latter leads directly into "The Hammer," one of Motörhead's punkiest, most vicious tracks ever.

What really makes Ace Of Spades great is the way Maile brings Lemmy's "lead bass" sound to the fore. Since Hawkwind, he'd been pumping out a treble-heavy, ultra-distorted roar that worked more like a rhythm guitar than a bass, and here, he absolutely dominates, with Fast Eddie Clarke's guitar frequently buried in the mix, only emerging when it's time for the solo. This is particularly true on "Love Me Like A Reptile," where the bass is absolutely monolithic. This album is the audio equivalent of a series of kicks in the face, but it's also energizing and fun.

No Remorse (1984)

No Remorse started out as a cash-in by Motörhead's label, Bronze Records, a best-of to be issued at a moment when the band seemed to be on a downward slide. But when Lemmy got wind of the project, he seized the reins and turned it into the perfect capper to the first stage of their career.

Following the tour in support of 1983's Another Perfect Day, guitarist Brian Robertson — who'd joined for that album — and drummer Philthy Animal Taylor, who'd been in the group since 1977, quit to start a new project together. (It was called Operator; it went nowhere.) Lemmy, for his part, recruited two new guitarists — Phil Campbell and Michael "Wurzel" Burston — and, at Campbell's recommendation, former Saxon drummer Pete Gill. He then insisted that this new, quartet version of Motörhead be allowed to record four new songs for the planned compilation, which would appear at the end of each vinyl side. He also wrote liner notes, going through the band's history to date track by track.

Thirty years later, 1984's No Remorse is likely to have been the first Motörhead record at least half the band's fan base heard, and one of those "here's the new lineup" songs, "Killed By Death," is a bona fide classic in their catalog. (The other three songs — "Snaggletooth," "Steal Your Face," and particularly "Locomotive" — are pretty great, too.) The selections from their previous releases are the perfect choices to represent those albums, too, ultimately making No Remorse an ideal introduction to the band's early years. This compilation tops this list because it's a perfect "if you're only going to buy one" release. Although, as this countdown should have proven pretty conclusively, every Motörhead album is worth hearing.

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