At this point, Steel Panther just need to call it a day. They’ve gone so far past the point of parodying the debauched, chauvinistic ‘80s glam-metal scene that any possible vestige of intelligence that was there has completely vanished, and their one joke of taking the inherent overblown machismo of the time has become less and less funny every time they’ve preceded to beat it into the ground. The fact that this is their fifth full go-around at is only makes it all even more depressing; there’s been no semblance of evolution to be found, and even regardless of assertions that frequently sexist and misogynistic content would continue given the current climate, there’s just nothing interesting or of worth left to be found here. It’s not like it can’t work, as the original parodic intent of their debut Feel The Steel managed to hit every target they were shooting for, but when they’ve been trying to riff on that same exact note ever since, it’s just sad and boring at this point. This is not a band that was built to last, and yet the only people in existence that don’t seem to realise that are Steel Panther themselves.
And when that’s the case, and self-awareness isn’t even in this band’s vocabulary, let alone their heads, it results in an album like Heavy Metal Rules, where the final dregs of inspiration from a diminished pool are already long gone, and Steel Panther are left to squirm more profoundly than ever in the uncomfortable silence of a joke that’s hit the floor with an audible clang. It’s frankly embarrassing at this point, not only because this is a band of whom the majority of its members are in their late forties to early fifties playing to a shtick that hasn’t developed since day one, but because they clearly think this is the most hilarious thing in the world, even without the irony and intent that did originally make it funny. Because of all that, Heavy Metal Rules is yet another dud in a career that’s been markedly defined by them, and fails to break the streak of albums after the first that have felt tired, uninspired and, most of the time, just plain stupid.
It’s worth starting with the content first as well, and acknowledging that in the past, when their immense vulgarity is used in tandem with actual songcraft, there was nothing all that wrong with what Steel Panther produced, and they felt like actual constructed songs that fit the intentions of a parody. But even that’s not the case here, as in its dedication to asserting genre stereotypes so vehemently, Heavy Metal Rules produces what might be some of the most flimsy and asinine songs of Steel Panther’s entire career. They’re certainly preferable to the sex-based ‘humour’ and the excruciating, disgusting detail it goes into like on Gods Of Pussy, but pointless, drug-fuelled hedonism on Let’s Get High Tonight and frontman Michael Starr embracing his own vanity and toxic masculine impulses on All I Wanna Do Is Fuck (Myself Tonight) and I’m Not Your Bitch just feel so boring in retreads of topics that have been done to death without even an ounce of successful flair among them. At least, for as similarly rote as the sentiment is, the title track ekes out some positivity of persevering with music despite how unprofitable it can be, but when that’s placed right after Fuck Everyboy which may just be the single most dimensionless piece of ‘social commentary’ ever put to record, the idea of a net positive goes completely out of the window as soon as it enters. And of course, all the women in Steel Panther’s world are either cheating whores (Always Gonna Be A Ho and Sneaky Bitch) or vaginas with legs (Gods Of Pussy), and the fact that such a depressing familiarity in that sentiment within the band’s catalogue makes it one the less objectionable things says mountains about how bad the writing really is.
It’s not even like the instrumentation can redeem it all that much either, as Heavy Metal Rules suffers from generally the same issue of being boring as sin with nothing to differentiate it all that much from Steel Panther’s other material, or indeed the majority of B- and C-tier glam-metal bands without an innovative bone in their body. To be charitable, the snarling, tense rumble of Always Gonna Be A Ho is a pleasant change of pace from its acoustic power-ballad beginnings, but otherwise, Steel Panther are hitting the lowest-hanging beats in a way that they can’t even pretend isn’t totally tedious. Let’s Get High Tonight and Gods Of Pussy are about as blatant as retreads of countless other songs (including the band’s own) get, and the reliance on acoustic balladry as a tactic to feign musical diversity like on I Ain’t Buying What You’re Selling is about as lazy a trick as it comes, especially from a band pulling from this particular musical era. There’ll occasionally be a solo that’s fine enough at injecting the minimal amount of flair into proceedings, but between an instrumental baseline that’s uninspired at best and absolutely nothing at worst, and a couple of production choices that sound horrendously cheap and unappealing, Steel Panther lack the bulk of what could make this sort of thing compelling and pin all of their hopes on a joke that simply refuses to land.
And when that all comes together, the band that Steel Panther are ultimately most reminiscent of isn’t any of the hair-metal bands they want to so desperately emulate, but Attila, a band that often shows flashes of potential but squanders it all on lowest common denominator white noise that just gets more and more grating with every iteration. Heavy Metal Rules is the pinnacle of that non-effort for Steel Panther, where the joke finally collapses into an irredeemable wreck that lacks any sort of tact, humour and even decent presentational skill. It’s the sort of album that deserves to be forgotten as soon as it’s heard, and frankly welcomes it with how little interest Steel Panther have in even remotely freshening things up that would almost certainly be guaranteed to benefit them. Until they do that though, they’ll be wallowing in the doldrums of a failure of a band struggling to do much of anything right at all.
For fans of: Dokken, Mötley Crüe, Whitesnake
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Heavy Metal Rules’ by Steel Panther is out now.