After having come back on top form with the blazing Diamond Star Halos last year, Def Leppard follow it up with Drastic Symphonies, this new release with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and it may even top that 2022 triumph.
Def Leppard – Drastic Symphonies (UMC – Mercury)
Release Date: 19 May 2023
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Of course, the mix of hard rock and classical music is something that’s been around for decades, Deep Purple having led the way with their 1969 album Concerto For Group and Orchestra, the gauntlet picked up by Metallica, Scorpions and KISS, amongst others. What makes this special is not just the blending of these two worlds but the faultless skill shown here, the arrangements and playing dovetailing into something that reaches beyond the expected.
Eschewing the temptation to shoehorn orchestral instruments into their back catalogue, Drastic Symphonies sees cherry-picked favourites and deeper cuts morphed with tender care and a subtle understanding of the dynamics of the material. Ranging from the aching Love to the gloriously bombastic Switch 625, this is a career-spanning set that’s light years away from the nascent rough-edged thrill of Wasted and Getcha Rocks Off but equally as compelling.
With the boldness of Diamond Star Halos, a loud and proud declaration that Leppard were back, they’ve come to this with a sky-high confidence that sees them riding that wave and pushing ever forward.
Despite the position they find themselves in now, there is still an edge here that balances their knowledge of their skills with that first, shared gasp as strings swell to confirm that they’ve pulled it off. You can never imagine the Sheffield quintet doing anything rushed, but given the weight inherent in recording at Abbey Road Studios and the company they were keeping there, the whole must have been overwhelming on first listen, and that feeling is present with every note.
With the astounding orchestration by Eric Gorfain and sections that have been either re-recorded or stripped back of the original layers, the tracks have taken a new life of their own, bringing a freshness to some well-loved and known favourites.
Oddly, the first track revealed from the project, Animal, works least well here, but given the dizzying heights of what they’ve achieved, it’s only trailing compared to the staggering quality of the rest. Amongst the sixteen tracks, the layered approach taken provides its own dividends as Hysteria whilst is played relatively straight, but glistening embellishments make it really shine. Gods of War sounds bigger than ever, and a truly remarkable Pour Some Sugar On Me turns from fun rocker to stately ballad, with additional vocals by Emm Gryner a beautiful touch.
These new versions give the band scope to experiment a little, having fun outside of their usual stadium-filling template, and the Middle Eastern mystery of the Led Zeppelin-ish Turn To Dust and the ELO meets Queen sweep of Paper Sun have an immediate impact.
Elsewhere, the cinematic glam of Goodbye For Good This Time, the filmic psychedelia of Angels (Can’t Help You Now) and the emotional longing of Love Bites and Too Late For Love provide their own synapse-firing highlights.
By the end of the grandstanding and cocksure Kings Of The World, it’s game, set and match to Leppard, Drastic Symphonies having managed to win over and melt the hardest of hearts.
Their most ambitious album to date and without doubt one of their finest, this is a triumph that has the potential to be Leppard’s greatest musical legacy. Stunning.