REVIEW: Kick Axe – “Reality is the Nightmate” (1981) – Kick Axe series Part One

Part One of a series on classic KICK AXE!

KICK AXE – “Reality is the Nightmare” (1981, from Playboy Street Rock on Nightlife Records)

They were originally called Hobbit.  Formed in Regina Saskatchewan, the core was Larry Gillstrom and the Langen brothers, Victor and Gary.  They were playing mostly covers, but by mid-1976 they changed their name to Kick Axe.  What is a “Kick Axe”?  The name represented rock band instruments – kick drums and axes.  Members came and went, including Gary Langen, until they settled on a five member lineup:  Larry Gillstrom (guitar), his brother Brian (drums), Victor Langen (bass), Raymond Harvey (guitar) and Charles McNary (vocals).

It was this lineup that recorded the first Kick Axe releases.  (Though not the very first Kick Axe recordings — an earlier album was scrapped and has never been heard.)  The first two records that were available were a single called “Weekend Ride” (to be reviewed next time) and a live song called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  This was recorded in Vancouver and released in April 1981 on a most peculiar LP.

Street Rock was a compilation by Playboy Magazine of new, unsigned bands.  Kick Axe were one of two Canadian bands to make the cut, the other being a group called The Remedials.  According to the back cover, which prominently features the “rabbit head” logo, these are the bands that won a Playboy “music poll talent search”.  It appears Kick Axe were the only group here who went on to bigger things.  I’ve never heard of Snake Rock.  Have you?  The singer’s name was Snake Rock (no relation to Kid or The), and he had a snake tattoo and a snakeskin vest.

Kick Axe clearly had talent even back in 1981.  “Reality is the Nightmare” boasts a solid riff and accompanying groove.  Charles McNary was a decent singer, too.  Kick Axe got lucky later on when they landed the golden pipes of George Criston, but McNary could hold his own.  He could scream and carry a melody.  The guitar soloing and drumming on this track is quite exceptional.  The track was written by McNary and Larry Gillstrom, and whadayaknow? — they could write a good song!  It’s a well constructed heavy rock song, not breaking any new ground, but doesn’t have to.  Listening to the individual instruments, it’s clear that Kick Axe could always play and always write melodically.  Victor Langen is a melodic bassist and combined with Brian Gillstrom’s almost tribal drums, you get a song that is more than the sum of its parts.  That’s pretty impressive for such early material.

With a quality track like this right from the start, Kick Axe were off to the races.

4/5 stars




  1. A new one to me. I saw your posts where you received these albums and was hoping for a review as I know nothing about them. I think I knew the name, but that was it. It sounds like it would be up my alley. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might know the song On the Road to Rock. That was the “big hit”. If not, you’ll definitely be familiar with “A Little Help From My Friends”, which they do in the Joe Cocker arrangement, with guest vocalists like Lee Aaron and Rik Emmett.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tribal Drums! Brilliant! Gillstrom on the back cover ‘Vices’ looks like a caveman in that get up! haha
    This review is cool as I had no idea this album existed and I’ve been following Kick Axe since the Pasha debut!
    Well played Mikey!
    Bring it on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think he looked less like a caveman, and more like a …trying to find the right image here… well maybe a giant of some kind. He had the big boots, he looked like a gladiator! I’ll actually be talking about that a bit in the Vices review.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. That was one I bought right away as Music Express was a great mag on letting you know about all the CanCon hard rock acts.
          They were a great source as well as they covered International Acts as well!


  3. This was a killer read, Mike.

    I got hooked on Kick Axe when I heard Heavy Metal Shuffle and On The Road To Rock on the radio, so I bought Vices and loved it. I also bought Welcome To the Club and loved it even more.
    But the thing is, I have never read anything about this band so I knew next to nothing about them. I didn’t even know they had another singer before George Criston.

    Kick Axe did write Hunger and Piece Of The Rock that ended up on King Kobra’s debut album Ready To Strike. That I knew. The two best songs on that album.

    The Schoolboys that are included on the Street Rock compilation, is that the band that became Icon or another Schoolboys?


  4. Apparently Kick Axe’s version of Hunger is on a soundtrack to one of those Transformers movies. I didn’t know that either.


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