Def Leppard, Metal Or Not?

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Formed in 1977, and releasing their first album, On Through the Night, in 1980, Def Leppard often shows up on any number of best of something heavy metal lists. And invariably there are self-assured people commenting that Def Leppard isn’t metal.

Having sold over 100 million albums worldwide, there’s no questioning their success. Their third album, 1983’s Pyromania, is often cited as Def Leppard’s breakout album. It’s also cited by many as their first sellout album, many blaming producer Mutt Lange (his second album with the band) and his use of synthesizers. But Pyromania sold 6 million copies in the U.S. on its original run, holding second on the Billboard charts only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In fact, the album moved 100,000 units a week in the U.S. for most of 1983, and actually 100,000 a day for a period in August. As of 2004, Pyromania had sold 10 million copies.

MTV had a lot to do with the success of Pyromania, making Def Leppard one of the network’s earliest metal darlings by putting such videos as “Photograph,” “Foolin’,” and “Rock of Ages” in heavy rotation.

The Lep then released the even more successful Hysteria four years later in 1987. Also produced by Lange, this was the first album after drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in an auto accident and it’s also the last album with Steve Clark on guitar before his death. Although Hysteria has sold 25 million copies worldwide (12 million in the U.S.), it was a huge sonic departure from any of the band’s previous albums. Despite disappointing core fans who were expecting a solid follow-up to Pyromania, the album was ubiquitous and impossible to escape.

The only song on Hysteria that I always thought could have had a home on Pyromania was “Gods of War.”

Then, in 1992, Def Leppard released Adrenalized and thought that everyone wanted to “get rocked.” Well, “Let’s Get Rocked” is precisely when I lost interest. Others, like music journalist/writer Chuck Klosterman, had the line drawn in the sand when girls during the Hysteria-era tours were rocking out with their “Esprit” shirts on.

Def Leppard has gone on to release six more albums after Adrenalized, and although I cited some of the band’s benchmarks for success, records sold and awards won does not make a heavy metal band. And, as you may have already inferred from what I’ve said, there was a definite shift in the band’s sound that occurred on Hysteria and it never went away. It was more polished, produced, and definitely more pop rock oriented.

If you go back and listen to the first three officially released Def Leppard albums, you will definitely notice a different sounding band. But it’s more than just having a rawer, hungrier, rougher, and more aggressive sound. Of course it was less refined, they were really, really young; the oldest member was 20 and the youngest was 16 when On Through the Night was released. However, it was assuredly heavy metal. Their music on the first three albums had the riffs, the solos, the vocal wails, etc. Even going back to listen to “Sorrow Is a Woman,” a listener could draw comparisons to Judas Priest’s “Victim of Changes.”

But in addition to the heavy metal hallmarks in their music, Def Leppard had the stylistic logo, modeled after Led Zeppelin, and the excessive party reputation that would make the mighty Motley Crue and Pantera blush. Sadly, as glorified as it is, this party mentality led to guitarist Pete Willis’ eventual departure from the band and tragically to Steve Clark’s death.

Keep reading and get our verdict after the jump…

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