Album Review: Heavy Metal Rules, but Does Steel Panther’s Heavy Metal Rules Rule?
One of the pros/cons of writing about extreme metal is that you can’t understand the lyrics anyway, so they don’t much factor into the final score. It makes it a lot easier to plead ignorance when an artist you praise turns out to be a Nazi! With Steel Panther, that’s not an option — and I’m not saying they’re anti-Semites, comment section. What I’m getting at is, they shove their lyrics right in the listener’s face, making it impossible to judge them without getting into the nuances of what exactly they mean when they claim to be “Gods of Pussy.”
You have to respect their hustle even if you don’t like them. The long-time Los Angeles-based tribute act (f.k.a. Metal Shop and Metal Skool) wanted to find a way out of cover band hell. Unfortunately, hair metal’s never coming back, so they found a hole in the market they could fill: hair metal parody act. It’s not hard, admittedly — that stuff was halfway to parody anyway. Steel Panther simply take the double entendres of groups like Ratt, Poison, and Mötley Crüe and make them single entendres.
These dudes can play, and they write seriously catchy songs — years of aping Van Halen sharpened their skills. We aren’t talking Opeth-level complexity here, but they know their way around a pop hook. Some of it’s even funny! Heavy Metal Rules opens with a sample of the legendary “Zebraman” interview from Heavy Metal Parking Lot to set the appropriate tone. It then kicks right into the narcissistic “All I Wanna Do Is Fuck (Myself),” a clever bit of self-deprecation. When making fun of themselves or covering topics we can all relate to (like the everyday annoyances of album highlight “Fuck Everybody”), they shine. But then there’s the elephant in the room.
Michael Starr, Satchel, Lexxi Foxx, and Stix Zadinia are clearly characters that do not necessarily reflect the views of the musicians themselves. They’re over-the-top offensive as a schtick. Still, just because something is offensive doesn’t automatically make it funny (a lesson conservative “comedians” frequently hammer home). It’s the repetition that creates the problem. Some of the stronger tunes on here use cursing in their choruses to good effect. However, there are only so many times Starr can tell you to suck his dick before you want him to suggest something different, like maybe licking his balls. The same thing goes for the misogyny. It’s amusing when he’s complaining that his girlfriend cheats on him more than he does on her on “Always Gonna Be A Ho,” less so when he just sounds angry at her on the mean-spirited “Sneaky Little Bitch.”
Steel Panther write damn fine hard rock songs. That’s not the sticking point here. They have the one joke, and they’ve been telling it for a decade, so a lot of your appreciation will come down to whether you think the joke is still funny (or ever was in the first place). Still, there’s a fine line between comedy and just plain ugly. While it’s up to the individual listener to decide for themselves where that line is drawn, Steel Panther’s commitment to the bit means Heavy Metal Rules won’t rule for everybody that might otherwise enjoy the music.