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MOTÖRHEAD Ace Of Spaces 40th Anniversary Box Set

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, October 28, 2020 @ 2:23 PM

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Ace Of Spaces 40th Anniversary Box Set

BMG Records

There’s probably not a whole lot I can say about MOTÖRHEAD’s landmark Ace Of Spaces album that hasn’t been said already. Forty years after its release, it is as revered today as it was back in the day – perhaps more so given its enduring influence and the ever-growing legend surrounding both the band and frontman Lemmy Kilmister up to and beyond his death in 2015.

The album is often referred to as a “game-changer,” and rightfully so as - given Lemmy’s grinding bass and gravely vocals, Fast Eddie Clarke’s gnarly, buzzsaw guitaring and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor’s clattering drums – it offered something of a template for much more extreme music to come. Even though it may seem rather tame by today’s standards, there was little if anything like it as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was getting off the ground. It certainly got people’s attention, me being one of them.

As an impressionable lad weaned on the hard rock of STYX, JOURNEY, KANSAS and KISS, I was really just discovering metal via JUDAS PRIEST, BLACK SABBATH, SCORPIONS and IRON MAIDEN as the ‘80s dawned when I picked up Ace Of Spades on vinyl without really having heard much, if anything, from MOTÖRHEAD before. It turned out to be a “game-changing” purchase, indeed, one that would steer my tastes to the more abrasive – in some cases very much so - side of metal from there on out, from thrash metal and death metal to grindcore, black metal and the odd bit of deathcore. So I can trace my affinity for, say, CATTLE DECAPITATION or THE ACACIA STRAIN, all the way back to Ace Of Spades.

Ace Of Spades was the perfect storm of volume, velocity and swagger tempered by just the right amount of melody and purpose. It was ugly and crude, but there was an undeniable likability to it that has stood the test of time. And for what would prove to be a rather fleeting moment, it helped launch MOTÖRHEAD toward the top of the charts – which the follow up No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith would hit a year later – before it all started to fall apart with the fraught Iron Fist a year after that. That brought an end end to the “Three Amigos” lineup and commenced a roller-coaster ride of downs and ups that marked the rest of the band’s career. Thankfully, though, MOTÖRHEAD was able to go out on top, as it were.

But Ace Of Spades was MOTÖRHEAD at its creative zenith. It was an album studded with classics, from the iconic title track – arguably speed metal’s equivalent to “Stairway To Heaven” – to live staples like “We Are The Road Crew”, “The Chase Is Better Than The Catch”, the lascivious “Jailbait” and “Love Me Like A Reptile”, and the barnstorming “Shoot You In The Back” and “Bite The Bullet”. And they sound just as vital and vibrant now, 40 years later. Remarkable.

And to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this benchmark album, BMG Records is issuing mammoth box set package that is as big and bad as the album itself, somehow even outdoing the 40th anniversary box set for the Bomber and Overkill albums last year. Even the digital-only promo is a behemoth – 73 songs and more than four hours of music that includes two full live sets, alternate versions of just about every song on Ace of Spades and instrumental demos of half of them, B-side material and various other bits and pieces.

The package is available in a variety of formats, but anyone ponying up for the full box set gets the following, all encased in a classic Wild West dynamite box:

  • The Ace Of Spades album, half-speed mastered and created from the original master tapes
  • Two double-live albums of previously unheard concerts from the Ace Up Your Sleeve Tour
  • A Fistful Of Instrumentals: A 10” EP of previously unreleased, instrumental tracks from 1980
  • The Good, The Broke & The Ugly. A double album of B-sides, outtakes and rare tracks
  • Ace On Your Screens: A DVD compilation of rare TV appearances from 1980-81, a live concert from 1981 and a 5.1 audio mix of the original album
  • The Ace Of Spades story. A 40 page book telling the story of Ace Of Spades through previously unpublished interviews with the people that were there. Includes never before seen photos and memorabilia
  • The Ace Up Your Sleeve Tour program
  • The MOTÖRHEAD Rock Commando comic
  • A set of five poker dice that can be played on the game board inside the box set lid
  • A limited edition 7" reproduction of the Dutch “Ace Of Spades”, with a previously unreleased instrumental version on Side B
Happy anniversary indeed.

The live material here is notable in that while No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith was recorded during the touring to support Ace Of Spades, it features a truncated set gathered from several gigs – none of them being Hammersmith Odeon, which the band didn’t even play on that leg. Here, you get full sets from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Orleans, France, that includes a lot of Spades material – “Bite The Bullet”, The Chase Is Better Than The Catch”, “Jailbait”, “Love Me Like A Reptile”, “Shoot You In The Back” – that was left off Hammersmith due to the limits of the single album format. The recordings are a bit rougher, but they make for a more accurate – or at least complete - live document.

The alternate takes are fascinating as well. Some, like “Ace Of Spades” and “We Are The Road Crew” are almost completely different songs than what ended up as the final versions. Others, like “Shoot You In The Back”, are pretty close to the bone, just played at a slightly different tempo. In most cases, the final versions turned out to be the wise choice, but “The Hammer” is one that comes off even meaner and heavier in its alternate form. “Love Me Like A Reptile” benefits from an extra jolt as well.

But I prattle on, even though I said that the top that I would not. Suffice it to say, the Ace Of Spaces 40th Anniversary Box Set offers all the bells and whistles and whatnot that an album of its stature deserves. Even if you just opt for music, there are plenty of treasures and surprises to be found amid its sprawling 73 tracks. At the very least, it’s a chance to revisit an era when MOTÖRHEAD’s “Three Amigos” – all now sadly deceased - were at the top of their game and making heavy metal history. It is, as Lemmy might say, “fucking brilliant”.

5.0 Out Of 5.0

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