The 1980s was a transition time for Rock and Heavy Metal. Led Zeppelin would disband soon after a loss. AC/DC would lose a leader but gain new life. Ozzy was out of Sabbath, they had yet to unleash the Dio era, and Ozzy had yet to deliver his solo début. Michael Schenker quit UFO. Uriah Heap was changing key members left and right. Queen, Thin Lizzy, and Ultravox were adding new sounds and weirding out core fans. Only Judas Priest and Iron Maiden seemed to be ruling over the upper echelon and pioneering the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Sound. A young band the strength of an impressive demo (The Getcha Rocks Off E.P.), Sheffield UK’s best export, Def Leppard, debuted a début album full of ass-kicking music, the influence of the masters, few pretentious trappings, wizard guitar work, and amazing vocals. On Through The Night (Vertigo/Mercury) broke through as major-league début release in a year that later would be remembered for greatness.
Full of anthemic rock and heavy metal tunes, On The Through The Night showcased Def Leppard’s ability to craft great songs that were not only “true” enough for metal fans, but short and catchy enough for radio. They took this to a level only solo Ozzy would later reach. The relied on rerecording track from their acclaimed demo but used no covers and a few alternative takes for singles, showing the confidence in themselves, but also the confidence the label had in a band unknown outside the UK. The album was expertly produced by Tom Allom (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Y & T) and had the core sound of early Leppard albums before they got too slick and over-produced later.
The album is all bangers with little regard for pretty sounds or too much fancy dynamic variance. But what it did have was tons of riffs and licks for days from Steve Clark (RIP) and Pete Willis. The band also had a great penchant for the harmony vocals they would be known for later, owing to their massive Queen fandom! Tracks like ‘Rock Brigade’ and ‘Hello America’ were right out of the KISS playbook; arena-ready anthems that were heavy on bluesy guitar and ringing choruses. ‘Rock Brigade’ is an incredible opening track that fans continue to love, including tape traders for the rare demos. Other tracks like ‘Sorrow Is A Woman’ and ‘It Could Be You’ were definite non-skips on LP and had an abundance of tasty solos and strong, ready rhythms.
Rougher tracks like ‘Wasted’, ‘Satellite’, and ‘It Don’t Matter’ had a real Priest and early Maiden flavor to the writing and Joe Elliot shows he wasn’t just another blonde pretty-faced, high-range lead singer. The single version of ‘Wasted’ that everyone best knows was a single produced separately by Nick Tauber. Other standouts from the deep cuts included the incredibly underrated metal anthem ‘Answer To The Master’, and the epic closer ‘Overture’, which has a little hint of that later `Leps grandiose style but has a great driving flourish at the end.
For a début this strong, and knowing now what was to come later from the group, On Through The Night is an excellent introduction to Def Leppard for newer fans. They would still go on to great heights as writers and players later on, but this album is a keeper. Check out their recent boxed set version from this era with all kinds of extras.