How do we cope when our heroes leave us? They were a part of our lives for so long that they appeared immortal — ageless statues immune to the cruel hand of time. Bedecked with his signature cowboy hat and wielding an ever-present bottle of whiskey, few titans seemed as immutable as Lemmy Kilmister. But all things must come to an end and Lemmy’s passing in 2015 left us a world that seemed a little bit smaller and a hell of a lot quieter. Motörhead may no longer be around to kill your lawn but, in their wake, churn flotsam and jetsam inspired to take up the axe and split our eardrums asunder. The aptly titled Born Again proffer to raise a pint to the metal gods of yore with their debut Strike with Power in the hopes of rekindling the embers left by Lemmy, et al. The danger in carrying the flame left by music’s Übermensch is that it can be difficult to escape their long shadow and the line between homage and second-rate irrelevancy is thin.
The word “debut” conjures up images of fresh-faced band members, their skin wrinkle-free, their hopes still intact before the music industry crushes their spirit beneath an uncaring, steel-tipped boot. A glance at the band picture embedded below and instead of a litter of moon-eyed whelps stands a quartet of craggy, haggard ruffians shooting a stare that could curdle milk. More than simply looking like the last thing one sees before being mugged by a troupe of roving roadies, Born Again give off the impression of a band with many kilometers on the dashboard and for the most part the music found on Strike with Power backs this up.
Title track “Strike with Power” wears its heart on its sleeve, opening with a very Lemmy-esque bass line that thrums with a satisfying harmonic buzz but is missing that extra layer of filth that sets it apart. The rest of the track has a laconic, laid-back southern tone that although pleasant comes off as lacking in bite. In fact, much of the album stops shy of being red in tooth and claw, an unfortunate crutch that I’ll address later. “Preachers of the Night” keeps things interesting by dropping and reintroducing the bass guitar, injecting a tantalizing ebb-and-flow to the proceedings. Until this point vocalist Thierry (the band members identify solely by the first names, strangely) did well in masking the band’s French origins, but here he allows some of his accent to bleed into his inflections, sounding strikingly similar to Tom G. Warrior. It’s a charming change of pace that introduces some much-needed variety but frustratingly doesn’t go far enough within the track itself to keep listener attention piqued.
From a thematic perspective, Born Again sideline the booze, babes and militaristic themes of Motörhead and instead find their druthers spruiking classical metal tales of the occult and slaying intangible evils. This speaks to their influences from luminaries such as Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and Black Sabbath, at least lyrically if not musically. Unsurprisingly, Strike with Power features a cover of the Motörhead classic “No Class,” but the straightforward, by-the-numbers execution speaks to the problems I alluded to earlier: there’s just not enough firepower in the band’s arsenal. When the songs should be bristling with energy and venom they instead gently buffet you like a polite Japanese salary man. It is perhaps fitting that Born Again included a cover song because the impression that dogged my listening sessions was that the band sounded like a well-seasoned, but tame cover act. You can almost picture them playing on a wet afternoon down at your local pub, imploring you to check out their newest release over at the nearby merch stand before belting out a rendition of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” for the umpteenth time.
There’s plenty of moments of genuine enjoyment on Strike with Power, whether it be the high-stakes boogie of “Deal With the Devil” or guitarist Chris’ excellent and ever-present solos that ably channel Mother Superior, the act Henry Rollins purloined for Rollins Band MKIII. It’s a shame then that the final product is reticent and safe, and by extension entirely disposable. Born Again do well in venerating our fallen heroes but they’ll need to do more on future releases to be anything more than an ersatz echo.