The saga of L.A. Guns and the on-again/off-again relationships between the members past and present hasn't only threatened to become laughably ludicrous — it's busted through that door with a shit-eating grin. For years now, there have been two versions of the band touring, heaping shade on each other in the process. But things took a spectacularly bizarre turn when guitarist Tracii Guns and vocalist Phil Lewis buried the hatchet and rejoined forces a couple of years ago.
You'd think that would be the end of the nonsense, but it proved to be the springboard. Drummer Steve Riley, who had been playing in Lewis' version of the band, has continued to play as Steve Riley's L.A. Guns, angering Lewis and Guns. It's all very silly, but on the plus side, the reignited Lewis/Guns relationship resulted in the excellent The Missing Peace album in 2017. The Devil You Know is further proof that these two guys need each other.
“After the success of The Missing Peace, a lot of people requested that the next record stay on track with the more metal side of the band's music, which is my personal favorite side of the band,” said Tracii Guns in a press release. “I drew from my typical influences of NWOBHM [New Wave of British Heavy Metal], while still not forgetting my earlier influences of the late '60s and early '70s. I wanted to lead with the track 'Stay Away' because it’s a familiar L.A. Guns sound, but even a bit more metal. Something to get everyone’s palate wet.”
That makes sense, too. There's a crunch to “Rage” and “Stay Away” that is certainly heavier than the sound we associate the band with, but it also seems natural. Guns have always had an edge that “The Ballad of Jayne” didn't necessarily showcase. But albums such as Hollywood Vampires (with Lewis) and, later, Shrinking Violet (with Love/Hate's Jizzy Pearl) saw that emerge. Since the reformation with Lewis, there's a feeling of freedom about L.A. Guns that is refreshing.
Of course, the epic tunes and sense of bubble-gum melody that made the band's name are still there. “Going High” is a glorious sleaze-rock anthem, while “Down That Hole” has a post-grunge vibe that they probably would have been attacked for in the '90s when every rock & roll band recovering from the '80s was accused of bandwagoning.
Overall, it's a near miracle that the two key L.A. Guns members are together again and producing music of this quality. How long it will last, we'll have to wait and see. For now, we can just enjoy it.