Metal is by now a kind of folk music, as familiar in its forms as bluegrass or Appalachian balladry. Like folk (and especially like the blues, from which it is distantly derived), metal endlessly reshuffles a legacy of lyrical and instrumental phrases to create a music distinguished, when at all, by the particulars of individual performance a killer guitar solo, a cleverly rejuvenated riff, some singer's new twist on the traditional banshee wail. And nowadays, there's also the possibility of an occasional great song cropping up.
this latter development, we can largely thank such second-generation metal bands as Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and Saxon, which erupted out of England at the dawn of the Eighties, determined to resuscitate the lumbering heavy-metal ethos of the Seventies with massive injections of punk velocity, pop tune-craft and particularly in the Leppards' case a very marketable cuteness factor. Def Leppard was the breakout act of this bunch, connecting in the States with its 1980 debut LP, On Through the Night
, going platinum with 1981's High 'n' Dry
and hitting the jackpot in 1983 with Pyromania
, an album that has sold 6.7 million copies.
But then, having laid the groundwork for metal-pop chart ascendancy, Def Leppard disappeared from the field. In 1984, the band began recording a fourth LP and was immediately sandbagged by a catastrophic run of bad breaks, including a car crash in which drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm. Meanwhile, the metal pop that Def Leppard had championed fell into the hands of Bon Jovi and its marketing-oriented ilk groups that happily turned it into mere pop metal (all glossy surfaces and predictable dynamics riff ditties that your parents could hum along with). Those with a hankering for stronger stuff turned to such hardcore holdouts as Motorhead and the ferocious Metallica or to such quasi-metal acts as Hüsker Dü and the Replacements. Now, after three years in and out of studios and hospitals, the Leppards are back with that long-delayed fourth LP. Can they restake their chart claim? The answer, on all available evidence, would seem to be an emphatic yes. Can they actually enlarge their audience beyond the testosterone-addled male adolescents who are its traditional core? Can they, in short, grow as a group? That is the Great Metal Question and Hysteria leaves it, alas, unanswered.
This album sounds terrific. Every track sparkles and burns. There is no filler. That is not to say, however, that the Leppards are actually great songwriters (as opposed to consummate riff-smiths). Because here, as on Pyromania, producer Mutt Lange gets full credit as a cocomposer. He is, in fact, the sixth Leppard the one who takes their riffs and choruses and assembles them into spectacular tracks. A veteran producer of such metal superstars as AC/DC and Foreigner, Lange is a genre