Part Six – the final chapter of the classic KICK AXE series!
Though Kick Axe had the power of the Matrix on their side, it could not conjure up sales without support from Epic, the record label. With only one music video and no real marketing plan, Welcome to the Club fizzled out in sales. This resulted in three major changes. First, the band were dropped by Epic, though still signed to CBS in Canada. This resulted in an end with their relationship with producer Spencer Proffer. Guitarist Raymond Harvey quit, eventually joining up with Bob Rock and Paul Hyde in Rock & Hyde. Kick Axe decided to carry on, but as a four piece with guitarist Larry Gillstrom handling all the six strings himself.
Without big label money, the quartet produced and mixed their third album alone. The record, initially titled Fuck the World, is bassist Victor Langen’s favourite to this day. Ultimately, the album called Rock the World was met with split opinions among fans.
Lead single “Rock the World” opened the album with an intense blast of guitars, drums and bass. On the verge of thrash, Kick Axe had obviously abandoned the overtly commercial tone of their last LP. First comes the guitar histrionics, then a blast of stampeding drums, and a blitzkrieg bassline. Shrieking in peak form, singer George Criston and his perfect pipes maintain the melodic metal standard. Somewhere between Maiden and Motorhead lies “Rock the World”.
Every Kick Axe album has a cover tune, and for this album they bravely selected Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”. Though the album generally suffers from a stuffy, echoing sound (due to the low budget production), “The Chain” manages to make that work to its advantage. It adds to the ominous, foggy tone. According to the liner notes, Kick Axe still play “The Chain” live today.
Finally going for that good-time rock and roll sound that they were founded on, it’s time for the “Red Line”. This track proves that Kick Axe could write quality, catchy hard rock classics without Spencer Proffer or Randy Bishop’s help. Then it’s the ambitious “Devachan”, a Maiden-esque volley of fire with multiple riffs and tempos. It’s a very busy song, far more advanced than you’d expect. It’s highly unlikely Spencer Proffer would have let them release a track this far left of mainstream rock. With the band in control they were able to explore more epic arrangements like “Devachan”. The side one closer is a track called “Warrior”, with Criston’s steely vocals leading the battle cry. Its deliberate stomp is similar to a much later Rainbow song called “Hunting Humans”.
“We Still Remember” leaves smoking ruins in its wake on side two. It seems like Kick Axe were aiming for something more than just melodic heavy metal. There are intricate bass parts, well written solos, thoughful lyrics and complex changes. Cookie-cutter metal, this is not. It’s intelligent rock, the kind that fans of the genre take pride in owning. And then, “the chase is on”, it’s “The Great Escape”. This hurried rocker borders again on Iron Maiden, but things go slower for “Medusa”. A rolling bass riff is the main feature for this slightly progressive composition, perhaps a bit too highbrow.
“The Dark Crusade” is, appropriately, more metal. The beat, courtesy of Brian Gillstrom, is Priest-like circa Defenders of the Faith. It’s a sound representative of the era. Meanwhile George Criston takes the vocals to near-operatic levels. A clever bass-led song called “Magic Man” ends the album with an atmospheric tone, and George Criston even ends it with some Ian Gillan screams a-la “Child In Time”.
Unfortunately but predictably, Kick Axe broke up in 1988 and the members went their separate ways. After a number of side projects, a remarkable thing happened: Kick Axe reunited. They even made an album, called Kick Axe IV. The only catch: George Criston didn’t participate. Instead, Victor Langen’s brother Gary (who happened to also be the original drummer in Kick Axe) stepped up to the microphone. That era is outside the purview of this series, based on the classic original period, though perhaps after a few Discogs purchases, we’ll continue the story. Today, Kick Axe continue with capable young singer Daniel Nargang.
As the final album in the original Kick Axe triumvirate, Rock the World delivers on a lot of promise. Most bands tended to go more commercial album to album in the 1980s. By being dropped by Epic, Kick Axe were able to unlock some serious heavy metal ideas, combining them into something a little more original. The sonics could have used some more tender loving care, but they only had a month to make this thing. It is the best thing they could have produced by themselves at the time, and probably the most pure. The right producer could have tightened up the songs just enough to make each one a classic unto itself. Rock the World is an indulgent Kick Axe album, just going for it, and fuck the world!
Part One: “Reality is the Nightmare”
Part Two: “Weekend Ride”
Getting More Tale #773: Rock Candy + Internet = Kick Axe!
Part Three: Vices
Part Four: The Transformers soundtrack (as Spectre General)
Part Five: Welcome to the Club
Part Six: Rock the World