Retro Action 54: Shout at the Devil 40th Anniversary Box Set Review

Forty years. It’s a milestone that nary a metal merchant could imagine during the 1980s at a time when youth and image figured so prominently into the mix. But—love ’em or hate ’em—Mötley Crüe have hit that point and are now the elder statesman of sorts within the current hard rock pantheon.

The LA metal scene during the ‘80s had it all—thrash, pop metal, and everything in between—including a large swath of bands riffing off of the likes of Judas Priest, Scorpions, and Iron Maiden. The overall scene was rife with top-notch musicians, and on the pop-metal side, barring some exceptions, many bands attempted to ape the arena-rock histrionics of Van Halen, each featuring a prominent frontman and requisite guitar hero. Then along came Mötley Crüe. DIY to the mäxx, they were darker, scruffier, and lacked the polish and technical chops of their club peers. After finally catching a break, Shout at the Devil would be the ultimate culmination of all these factors. 

Released on September 23, 1983, as the band was still finding its footing on the national stage, the album’s infectious hooks, widescreen production, eerie packaging, and innovative videos on the relatively new MTV took it center stage in a big way. One of the immediate standouts was the band’s use of the pentagram on the cover.

This has come under much discussion over the years. Was it an opportune marketing ploy during the Satanic panic, or truly inspired by dark forces? Either way, the pentagram, and other devilish imagery were far less common in the mainstream than they would eventually come to be over the next few years. And while other pop metal bands were singing about partying all night, the Crüe had an album sporting a larger-than-life pentagram and references to the dark one in song. Did it have a theatrical, cartoon vibe? For sure. But it was different. It was lyrical and even clever at times, and in many ways more sophisticated than the rest of the pop-metal set, in spite of the band’s technical limitations. 

Much of this comes down to bass player and lead songwriter Nikki Sixx. An avid reader and cultural observer/pilferer, Sixx has often co-opted various sources to inform the band’s work, even if on the surface it seems like it’s geared for lighter-weight enjoyment. But Shout at the Devil was a statement of intent. Aside from the requisite sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, it also spoke to themes of spiritual disenfranchisement, social alienation, and the pitfalls of the industry, with clever wordplay and metaphors. Again, not the norm in the party-rock set. The album’s impact was major. So much so that even thrash luminaries such as Slayer’s Tom Araya took notice, covering the album’s first single at a rehearsal.

Shout at the Devil took the theatrical Grand Guignol of Alice Cooper and gave it a modern, hook-laden edge, setting the tone for a scary-glam trend that would see bands such as W.A.S.P., Lizzy Bordin, and Muderdolls eventually get noticed. Now, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the breakthrough release, the band have released a super-deluxe box set. 

Housed in a huge, textured box sporting the very same pentagram that adorned the original, the set collects several artifacts from the period. At the core of the set is a recently remastered original album on orange- and yellow-colored vinyl. Sounding bigger and bolder than ever, from the boisterous title track to singles “Looks that Kill” and “Too Young to Fall in Love,” (both, in their own way bear some eerie or melancholy elements), to the snarling “Bastard” and twisted cover of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” the album is mostly perfect.

Alongside the original release is a second album, Shout At The Demos & Rarities, a collection of alternate takes, studio rarities, and other songs that didn’t make the original release. Most of these have been available in various configurations, but not on colored vinyl. Next, to further pay tribute to the era, are remastered cassette and CD versions of the album, plus two seven-inch singles recreating the originals “Looks That Kill” and “Too Young To Fall In Love” on white and orange vinyl respectively. 

The mammoth set also includes Mötley merch in the form of a Ouija-style “devil board,” tarot cards, a candle holder, and a metal pentagram adaptor for 45s. For collectors and fans, this is a long-overdue music/merch drop commemorating a pioneering moment in the early days of the 1980s metal boom.

The box set is available directly from the band’s website. For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, drop me a line: @JimKaz1.

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