|Hi-Fi To Die For - King's X|
|Written by Jamie Richards|
|Sunday, 06 May 2012 04:00|
King's X - 'Out Of The Silent Planet' (Megaforce)
I was recently given reason to reflect on my own musical tastes in the late eighties; a funny old time the eighties in general, for music I mean, and certainly for my own personal journey. The decade that spawned shoulder pads and sun bed shops had given to me a love of music that whilst being rock orientated, I can only describe as being slightly eclectic at times.
Adam Ant had been my first obsession, maybe brief interest in The Police, even the fading star of The Jam. But heavy rock it was that grabbed hold of me tightly by 1982, Adam Ant patches were hastily removed from my ever reliable Wrangler jacket and replaced with AC/DC, Saxon, Twisted Sister et al. Then after being inextricably caught up in the thrash invasion of 1985/86 my interest wandered again, and whilst staying loyal to the more obvious contenders of that genre, my inquisitive mind and sensitive nature was never going to be satisfied with all that machismo, all that shouting, and certainly not that 'considerably faster than yow' double bass peddling. Glam was still a big no go area for me, I never got that in the slightest, and I wasn't all that interested in being a Hollywood vampire. I'd hear stuff like Poison wafting out of a radio like a bad smell, and the retrospective exploration of the works of Led Zeppelin that I was currently engrossed in would lead me to wonder why on earth, sixteen years after a song as complete, as inventive and as intense as 'Four Sticks' had been given to the world, would anyone bother to write and record, let alone want to listen to such inane drivel as 'Talk Dirty To Me'? To say I didn't get it is an understatement.
So, mere months after a family house move that in those halcyon pre-mobile phone, pre-internet days saw me cut off from my regular pack, I exited a bus at Brymawr bus station, much as I did every day of the week, en route to hook up with a couple of old farts; whereby we would make our modest living by painting yet another stinking of piss apartment, all of which appeared to be inhabited by tragically divorced old men, who would usually spend the day weeping at old photographs of a once happy family and taking semi regular slugs from a bottle of very cheap, very strong cider; other days these creatures actually had enough money to visit a local boozer to drink, and appear slightly happier to the outside world. As this particular day was a Thursday I collected, from the little paper shop at the bus depot, my regular copy of Kerrang magazine.
I genuinely remember this day because it was a bold moment in the life of Kerrang, as adorning the front cover of that '80s rock 'n' roll bible was not one of the usual, unit shifting suspects, but a completely unknown, unheard of band from Texas, who went by the name of King's X. I gazed at the cover, "wow, now that's what I'd like to look like," I thought secretly to myself upon seeing lead singer Doug Pinnick, tall, slim, and resplendent in torn jeans, leather jacket and reflective shades...and a Mohican that was just so perfect. Not the obnoxious Mohican cut that had been on display throughout the valleys for the previous decade, all dyed pink and spiked with margarine; but a gloriously authentic, slightly bouffant version of the haircut, and damn he looked the business! Apart from the zero chance of me pulling off that haircut there was one more obvious flaw in my dream, and that was that this vision of cool was in fact black. I'm sure Doug Pinnick wasn't the first black guy to play heavy rock music, but to me at that time he was; and to me, he and his band looked capable of anything. I was intrigued. It was a grand piece as I recall, in those hallowed pages that week Mick Wall proclaimed that King's X were about to grab the rock world by its back combed barnets, or its over sized basketball shoes if that was your thing, and remind everyone just how exciting and revolutionary a truly talented and original sounding band could be. He compared their debut, in terms of promise, diversity and stature, to Metallica's and U2's; and let's be fair, his word was as good as anyone's. So it was soon after that I paid yet another visit to the mecca of metal for us valley boys, Roxcene Records in Newport, and came home with a copy of their most highly recommended debut album, 'Out Of The Silent Planet'.
What a record it turned out to be, everything about it connected with me; the twisted, mystical opening strains of first track 'In the New Age' bring forth a thumping bass driven chug that holds up the prophetic, harmonious opening lines of "Humanity is looking for itself, the ancient wisdom taken from the shelf." This was what I wanted; I may have been a valley boy with a flunked out comprehensive school education....but I wasn't averse to the occasional deep thought, I wanted something more meaningful than "searching, seek and destroy" from a band of my generation, I had done for some time, and now I'd found it!
As if the prophetic poetry of the opening track speaking to my inner pseudo-intellectual wasn't enough, second up 'Goldilox' was about the most beautiful thing I'd heard in my life to that point. A truly bewitching and complex ballad, with an almost medieval guitar sound giving way to the grandest of riffs; I'd love to say the seventeen year old me could've written the lyrics to this, but that's a hollow boast indeed, so instead I'll just say that every word of it echoed what was going on in my lonely and confused seventeen year old mind at that time. It's a song that I still love to this day. Another deep bass line, this time inter-twined with an eastern feel introduces 'The Power Of Love', an experimental, atmospheric and powerful song to say the least. The exotic feel of Eastern promise continues to 'The Wonder' which lyrically tackles segregation, "there's a wall between us, a partition of sorts, and it makes me wonder, should I go to the front, should I go to the back, or should I attack," wails Pinnick, stimulating stuff indeed. The arrangements and musicianship are superb throughout, never more evident perhaps than on 'Sometimes', and the vision of hope the band championed is prevalent here also "I stand here crying, the world is laughing, I am surrounded yet I see the light," they chant philosophically.
Side two opens with the simply brilliant 'King', another chugging riff tangling with a tandem bass line, and leading to a glorious harmony filled sing-along. 'What Is This' and 'Far, Far Away' continue the album with, again, the most sublime musicianship, thought provoking lyrics and harmonies; and 'Shot Of Love' is breath taking, and about as commercial sounding as the band get, without losing the trademark sound of the rest of the album. Closing with a rip snort of a song good enough to end any album, 'Out Of The Silent Planet' finishes with the majestic 'Visions', firstly show casing Pinnick's tremendous voice the song then builds into a frenetic jam which shows off the real fury and power this three piece possessed.
In the springtime of 1988 this record was like a suck on oxygen for originality in heavy rock music, too many sheep were re-making each other's music, Metallica had caused a massive reaction with their success; the reaction of a million copyists. King's X couldn't have been further from that over saturated market and they were also a hundred million miles from the hair sprayed armies of Motley Crue wannabes; and with traditional bands like Whitesnake, Kiss, Iron Maiden and Saxon suffering from a mixture of ailments ranging from running out of ideas to simply wanting to be someone else, King's X were simply an amazing antidote; they knew who they were, and what they wanted. King's X was not just on a mission to put the whole world in love with heavy rock music, they were on a mission to put the whole world in love; they were simply as individual and as positive as a band could be.
I believe it was later that year I first caught them live, the first of four very memorable times I witnessed their live presence, in places as diverse as St David's Hall in Cardiff, to the Birmingham NEC where they supported AC/DC, to the tiny Bierkeller in Bristol just months later. But King's X, for whatever reason, just never captured the imagination or interest of the masses that would have, maybe should have, brought them the massive status their early albums promised; and I do highly recommend the first three albums to anyone. After that, I'm not sure if they just didn't sound so exciting, or maybe I just had different things to think about personally, but their fourth effort was the last one I bought; after that my life became more about paying a mortgage and bringing up kids...I just didn't have time to immerse myself in the sheer depth of the almost spiritual experience of King's X. Strange how things come full circle though, as now the youngest of my offspring is as amazed by this album as I was/am.
As for Mick Wall, well I can personally assure you that 'rock's greatest ever writer' stands by every word of his original fascination with the band, "King's X, great band would've been huge if they had been managed by Peter Mensch," he tells me almost a quarter of a century later. A very fitting, maybe even scarily poignant assessment, reminding us that no matter how good any band is, without the correct exposure, without the power of someone to open the right doors and market the band in the most aggressive way possible, then even the greatest of talents may not achieve the success they surely deserve. It has to be said though that King's X got plenty of pages, and 'Out Of The Silent Planet' was actually Kerrang's number one album for 1988, and even the exposure of an AC/DC tour didn't push them on to the next platform; maybe the world at large wasn't ready for King's X? I'll tell you now, the masses were not just unready... they didn't bloody well deserve King's X. The masses get what they deserve, and that's why the better part of a hundred thousand people will gather at various venues throughout the UK this autumn to see the soul-less and generic, devoid of any personality, multi-million selling band that is Nickelback. Every Uber Rocker knows this one truth; the masses never had, and never will have, even one scrap of taste.