Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Loved by peers and fans alike, Kings X have long since transcended the label of a ‘cult band’ and joined the pantheon of greats alongside such outfits as Clutch and Opeth as artists who really matter way beyond this limiting epithet.
Drawing together their first six albums, this new box set is a thrilling dive into their multi-hued world that should see a legion of converts joining the cause, all seduced by their ability to match crunching guitars with postcard perfect harmonies.
It’s oft been cited that Kings X are the lovechild born as a result of the fevered lovemaking of Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and whilst it’s only part of the story it may give newcomers a handy point of reference in which to dive in.
Starting with the 1988 debut ‘Out of the Silent Planet’, the band opened up their recording career with something that delved into fresh territory, the soulful voice and liquid bass playing of Dug Pinnock, Ty Tabor’s fiery guitar and the whipcrack drums of Jerry Gaskill, a powerful combination.
After its atmospheric sci-fi intro, ‘In the New Age’ comes in like a hurricane, the big riff juxtaposed with the sort of lush, layered vocals George Martin was creating in the late 1960’s.
It was something that certainly made people sit up and listen, the quality of tracks such as rockers ‘Power of Love’ and ‘What is This?’ matched with gentler fare like ‘Goldilox’. Somewhat unusually, it was the critics that ‘got’ the band first, the public at first wary of their individual approach and having been more used to the rise of the more straight ahead Thrash and Hair Metal.
Things started to change though when the band’s constant touring schedule got them in front of a mix of audiences, having supported artists as diverse as Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Robert Plant, Anthrax,
Overkill and Testament.
When their sophomore ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’ arrived in 1989, the reception was a little warmer but still not as fevered as it arguably should have been.
The album itself is a high benchmark of those early years, the band having found their groove quickly and this and all that followed refined and built on their individual vision. Packed with rampant creativity, it featured some of the material that would remain fan favourites to this day and the soulful rock of single ‘Over My Head’, a blistering ‘Fall on Me’ and the massive ‘Send a Message’ still sound box fresh.
By the time that their third release, ‘Faith Hope Love’ was unleashed the following year it seemed like the breakthrough had happened, aided by the successful singles from ‘Gretchen…’, and the album started flying off the shelves. Whilst slamming opening track ‘We Are Finding Who We Are’ may have been the band speaking out directly, it was also the case that the general music buying public were doing the same, the word of mouth spreading quickly as walls were starting to get kicked down.
One listen to tracks ‘The Fine Art of Friendship’ and ‘Six Broken Soldiers’ were enough to convince that here was a trio of exceptionally talented musicians at the peak of their powers, the playing nothing short of breath taking and when you throw in other peaks like the manic energy of ‘Moanjam’ you can see why
this cracked things wide open.
1992’s self-titled ‘Kings X’ really sealed the deal on their ascendency, the street tough ‘The World Around Me’ a suitably bristling opener that heralded the beginning of a heavier chapter for the band. Throughout the album themes were darker and more personal than ever, the woozily disconcerting ‘The Big Picture’ and autobiographical road warrior tale ‘Lost in Germany’ giving us a peak into their psyche.
Whilst there was added crunch to numbers like ‘Ooh Song’ the trio still found plenty of time to add their perfectly layered harmonies on tracks like ‘Not Just for the Dead’ and ‘Black Flag’, their balance of power and sweetness a dizzying dynamic. For those expecting a cookie cutter copy of ‘Faith…’ would have
been surprised by the direction the band were going towards but Kings X have never been known to rest on their laurels and this was another move forward.
The volume was pushed up further still on ‘Dogman’, the band employing Pearl Jam / Stone Temple Pilots producer Brendan O’Brien behind the desk for this 1994 outing. Along with the heavier approach to their sound, there was also an even deeper dig into their emotions and worldview, the optimism of previous releases replaced by a much more pragmatic approach.
Although lacking a ‘hit’, the album was nonetheless very well received, many lauding this new feel that captured more of the sound and fury of their live shows. With blockbusters like the thump of ‘Complain’ and punchy but hook filled ‘Don’t Care’ there was no shortage of good material pouring from them and why the lush ‘Fire and Blue Skies’ wasn’t released as a single is a mystery but the title track’s melding of Hendrix style bluesy flash and Led Zep groove certainly made a huge impression.
The sixth disc in this collection, 1996’s ‘Ear Candy’ was their last of this three album link-up with Atlantic Records and displays all that Kings X were known and loved for. From the Prog Metal maelstrom of ‘Looking for Love’ and the kaleidoscope ‘The Train’, here was something that brought a well-directed heaviness but always juxtaposed it with glorious layers of harmonies and little sonic touches.
In fact, there was a markedly lighter touch to this release after the huge slabs of concrete lined riffage of ‘Dogman’, the band aiming for a balance between their earlier soulful material and the crunch of latter releases. For long-time fans this was welcomed with open arms but newer fans used to getting their bowels turned to jelly, it was something that took a bit of getting used to. Still, with the feisty ‘Run’ and glorious wash of ‘Life Going By’ there was a lot to unpack and explore over repeat listenings.
With additional tracks added to the discs and all six presented in their individual covers, this set is a fitting starting point to any newcomer as well as catnip to the completist super-fan or just curious passers-by.
Kings X have always been a band that should have gone supernova, as this box shows, but theirs was an individual path to take and one that they did with style and class. Seriously addictive, ‘In the New Age’ should come with a health warning that once you’ve opened that door, nothing will ever be the same again as you’ll be instantly hooked into their explosive world.
An absolutely vital purchase.
Coming in April on HNE Recordings Ltd – King’s X: In The New Age – The Atlantic Recordings 1998-1995. A 6CD box set covering six albums from their Megaforce & Atlantic Records releases. Including bonus tracks. cherryred.co/KXNewAge