Steel Panther is one of the most annoying bands in metal today. It’s not because they revel in a “parody” of one of metal’s most maligned subgenres (the Sunset Strip hard rock scene), but rather because they clearly missed the memo that a successful parody has to be either subtle or funny. They hit with a pseudo-comedic sledgehammer, painstakingly revealing that they’re really trying to get cheap laughs and hoping tired jokes about the male anatomy or zaftig women will make anyone over twelve care or chuckle, like a louder and more irritating Dane Cook. Replace their cut-rate comedy band with a quintet of Torontonians who seem to actually love the ridiculous hard rock of old and, for better or for worse, you end up with Diemonds and their second full-length record Never Wanna Die.
Drawing most heavily from Motley Crue, Diemonds presents us with mid-paced hard rock based on simplistic chugging riffs and rudimentary song structures, making no bones about letting us know their sole objective is to deliver party-ready hooks that are made to be turned up to eleven. There’s some minor Accept influence with a few cues taken from Mötörhead, which means that the overall sound is slightly heavier than some of their peers and inches towards vintage heavy metal although it’s too glam-fisted to actually get there. Given that unlike Steel Panther and the Crue I can listen to this without wanting to drink bleach I’d say they’ve done something right with this old and, discounting dingy strip clubs and bad rock radio, largely forgotten sound.
Diemonds‘ biggest successes come in the form of straightforward numbers like the title track, which is a tight little number with an energetic verse and a hooky chorus courtesy of vocalist Priya Panda. While her range is nothing to marvel at, there’s real energy behind her vocals, this makes a track like “Better Off Dead” quite infectious, and the mix of catchy simplicity and dumb but fun lyrics increase my enjoyment. The guitars of C.C. Diemond and Daniel Dekay keep things simple, stopping Never Wanna Die from becoming a wannabe shred clinic, and while they can and do rip out the odd flashy lead they primarily focus their energy on giving Panda a wide open canvas to draw big poppy hooks on. While she only has a few different brushstrokes, “Ain’t That Kinda Girl” capitalizes on this and sees the band working well together as a unit to deliver an entertaining rock n’ roll romp that sounds like something Joan Jett would do if she made music that I could actually enjoy.
Where Never Wanna Die deflates is when the band neglects to utilize its two most noticeable assets: an undeniable atmosphere of simple fun and the construction of obvious yet solid hooks. “Secret” is the biggest offender, seeing Diemonds attempt a darker sound and coming up with listless riffs, an instantly forgettable chorus, lyrics that are outright moronic and boring, and a performance from Panda that’s lackluster compared to her work on the highlights. Closer “Save Your Life” tries far too hard to be an “outcasts and misfits” anthem, and a main riff that sounds like boring AC/DC does it no favours either. Another issue that’s omnipresent here is the nagging knowledge that we’ve all heard much better hard rock before, even if we only look at 2015. I could name plenty of records in the genre that I’d listen to before Never Wanna Die, and while Diemonds is competent and enjoyable, the “opening band syndrome” is strong here; there’s not enough that really sticks to the ribs to make this the entrée, but as an appetizer it’ll do well enough.
On the topic of meals, some culinary experts know just what to pair different foods with, so call me Wolfgang and heed my advice: Diemonds is a simple dish that pairs well with cheap beer and a few friends. Like Olde English, Never Wanna Die isn’t going to be your first choice and you’ll be left with the distinct impression that you could be enjoying much better things. But there’s the odd time where quality really doesn’t matter and Olde English makes for a simple and fun time, even if you’re never going to stock your fridge with it.