When Def Leppard‘s fourth album Hysteria landed 31 years ago, it split the metal community in half like a dodgy drumstick. The Sheffield riff-slingers were accused by most self-respecting metalheads of Selling Out in the First Degree (which, back then, was considered a criminal offence) by trading in the raw animalistic riffage of their earlier records for sparkling pop melodies and polished production. Cries of “sacrilege!” rang out across the land.
It’s a familiar story, and one that we’ve seen unfold countless times over the course of heavy music history, from the release of Metallica’s Black Album to Bring Me The Horizon’s That’s The Spirit to our very own Parkway Drive’s divisive new LP Reverence.
Pretty much any time an established metal band dares to fuck with the formula that made them great — or strives to evolve and innovate in a direction that fans perceive as more, shall we say *makes the sign of the cross* “commercial” — the metal purists will always reach for their pitchforks.
That’s exactly what happened when Def Lep dropped Hysteria back in 1987, before it went on to sell 25 million copies worldwide and achieve 12 x platinum status in the US alone. But if they hadn’t have blazed that trail with their game-changing fourth record, future heavy bands like Metallica and Bring Me The Horizon may have never dared to conquer the world as they did, and Def Leppard themselves may not have achieved the longevity to keep kicking ass three decades into the future.
Speaking of which, the hard rock legends are heading down under to perform Hysteria in full this November in a belated celebration of the disc’s 30th birthday. So we figured what better time to take a deep dive into the disc, say “fuck the haters” (in the words of proud Def Leppard fan Taylor Swift, they gonna hate, hate, hate) and explain why Def Leppard’s Hysteria is an actual metal masterpiece.
Here’s a bunch of reasons worth considering.
1. The Thriller Of Heavy Metal
Straight up, Hysteria won over millions of non-metalheads from around the world, proving that metal could shred up the charts just as hard as any Michael Jackson record. In fact, Def Leppard’s producer Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange (AC/DC’s go-to guy) famously remarked that he wanted this album to be the Thriller of heavy metal, meaning he wanted every song to be a hit single. And he damn near succeeded.
Hysteria spawned an insane SEVEN hits — something that was absolutely unprecedented for a hard rock album at the time and, tbh, since — propelling the LP to #1 on the Billboard charts, where it stayed in the top 10 for a batshit insane 78 weeks (the most weeks any rock album has spent in the top 10 in the chart’s 61-year history). This was nothing short of a gamechanger for the entire genre, and inspired hordes of record labels and bands to attempt to replicate its sound in the years to come.
But none of them came close to its success and influence, with Hysteria being crowned the No. 25 biggest album ever (and the number 1. ever for the genre of hard rock/metal) on the Billboard 200 chart in 2015.
2. The Insane Backstory
Getting this album made was a fucking BATTLE of Helm’s Deep proportions. It played out like a movie script, fraught with doubt, pain, joy, drama, misadventures and, ultimately, a blockbuster triumph.
Basically, everything that could go wrong for Def Leppard did go wrong, from the near-fatal car accident that cost drummer Rick Allen his left arm to the band spending eight expensive AF months with the wrong producer before ultimately cutting their losses and hooking up with Lange, who worked them to the absolute frickin BONE.
But they overcame the odds, with Allen returning to the band six weeks after being maimed in the crash — what would have been, for many, a career-ending injury — and redesigning his drum kit using electronics, which allowed him to play his left hand’s parts with his left foot. He then slogged away in the rehearsal room until he could absolutely nail all the parts one-handed. Yeah, that’s pretty much the most metal thing we’ve ever heard.
3. The Studio Innovations & Production
Allen’s electronic kit also paved the way for much of the record’s groundbreaking sound production, inspiring Def Lep to catch the technology bug HARD.
Lange got them to painstakingly multi-track their parts over and over each other to craft the album’s monster wall of sound. The title track in particular is famed for its dense stack of dozens of guitar layers, with individual notes recorded separately instead of played as chords. Phil Collen, Steve Clark and Rick Savage also stacked layer upon layer of harmonies and gang shouts around Joe Elliott’s lead vocals to create monolithic choruses that could basically blow your frickin face off.
The results of these innovations were groundbreaking, and — when combined with the disc’s boundary-smashing blend of multiple genres infused with elements of pop, new wave, glam, and even rap — helped propel the disc into the record books and forge the road map for future heavy bands who dared to make a play for mainstream success.
4. The Legacy
Hysteria was also the last album to feature Steve Clark, who tragically drank himself to death in 1991. And even when the band re-recorded the songs for Spotify in 2012 while they were locked in a power struggle with their label over the classic versions, Clarke’s absence could be tangibly felt. Hysteria boasts some of this metal legend’s final musical contributions to the world, including the excellent heavy pacifist anthem ‘Gods of War’. Huge respect points.
5. The Fun!
What the haters call cheesy, we call pure fun. Metal doesn’t always have to be measured by its brutality and djent factor, y’all. Hysteria proved that riff-fuelled music can just as easily inspire joy and, occasionally, even hit you square in the feels.
And we’re not afraid to say it — the ballads on this album are killer. The melodies tug at your heart strings without dripping into corn syrup terrain; even power ballad ‘Love Bites’ still has — well — bite.
Plus, the music videos are just a damn good time.
6. It Still Rips
Go on, chuck on ‘Women’ or ‘Rocket’ and tell us they don’t rawk your shred-loving socks off. Both tracks would have sat comfortably on Pyromania and you wouldn’t have even flinched.
7. Pour Some Sugar On Meeeeeeee!
…in the name of looooove!!!
C’mon. Name another song that’s beloved by everyone from boozed-up strip club patrons to Taylor frickin’ Swift to your Robbie Williams-loving mum.
This one’s nothing short of iconic, and basically boasts the catchiest rock chorus of ALL TIME.
100% guaranteed to go off live.