christian rock

REVIEW: Stryper – Even the Devil Believes (2020 Japanese version)

STRYPER – Even the Devil Believes (2020 Avalon Japan)

The resurrected Stryper have been riding a solid yellow and black wave of quality for several albums now.  Singer/guitarist Michael Sweet has honed in on an early-80s metal sound as Stryper’s foundation, with emphasis on riffs, vocal melodies and cool guitar solos.  2020’s Even the Devil Believes dwells within this rich landscape, drawing inspiration from classics galore.

Speedy metal abides.  “Blood From Above” sounds like Accept and Stryper in an atomic collision.  No quarter given here; this song is full-on, and you can easily imagine it coming from a lost album of the 80s.  However, a title like “Make Love Great Again” could only have come in 2020.  Stryper usually stay out of political commentary, but it’s obvious what “There’s a culture building walls, just like vultures consuming all,” is an oblique reference to.  While no artist should have to “stay in their lane”, this isn’t the kind of thing I want to be reminded of when I listen to Stryper.  Otherwise, the track is a slow metallic Dokken-esque groove, with an uplifting chorus.  Perhaps George Lynch has been rubbing off on Michael Sweet, but if Dokken had recorded “Make Love Great Again” in 1987 it would been a single.

Third song “Let Him In” is back to straight preachin’, only it’s preaching from a the open window of a yellow and black ’81 Corvette, rippin’ the tires.  The Dokken vibes resume on “Do Unto Others”, with a guitar solo that sounds as if inspired by the School of Rhoads.  But then the title track “Even the Devil Believes” sounds like “Breaking the Chains”.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it just means these songs have a classic vibe that brings back memories and emotions.  The chorus has the melodic sensibilities of Harem Scarem while there’s a dual solo a-la the mighty Priest.  Stryper then ease up on the pedal with “How to Fly”.  Still heavy, but nobody’s racing this time.  If anything this recalls some of the better kinds of 90s rock, with still uplifting melodies playing over slower grinds.  But then it’s back to biting, vicious and righteous metal on “Divider”.

Something cool happens on “This I Pray”.  Out come the acoustics, and we have a ballad that doesn’t sound all that different from Stryper’s celebrated underdog album from 1990, Against the Law.  Though Michael Sweet has spoken poorly of it (mainly because they dropped the Christian lyrics), fans have praised the musical direction of that album.  “This I Pray” feels the same, but without the lyrical change, and should please many diehards.  “Invitation Only” on the other hand brings back the keyboards, and not in a wimpy way at all.  More like Marillion.  This track sounds like a harder, tougher lost song from In God We Trust.  

Moving on to the end, the penultimate “For God & Rock ‘N’ Roll” sounds like a Stryper anthem.  Some fun solos and a fist-pumping chorus to go?  This sets off “Middle Finger Messiah” (now there’s an image for ya) to thrash its way to the finish line.  Kudos to drummer Steven Sweet for laying down the pace for this one.  It’s a fully loaded McLaren flying the flag of Jesus, but at least you know what you’re getting with Stryper.  Plenty of folks who can’t relate to the lyrics just get off on the music.  And “Middle Finger Messiah” sets the phasers on “stun”, especially during the solo/breakdown 2/3rds of the way into the song.  The album doesn’t state who is playing which solos, Michael Sweet or Oz Fox, so we’ll just salute the both of ’em.

The Japanese bonus track is an acoustic mix of “This I Pray” which, in this version, is more in the ballpark of later period Cinderella.  Once again, not a bad thing.  The electric guitars are turned down, letting us hear the nice acoustics, with keyboards providing a little bit of colour.

Here’s the problem with Stryper of late, and it’s a nice problem to have.  They’ve put out some pretty awesome albums in recent years.  Murder By Pride (2009),  No More Hell to Pay (2013), Fallen (2016), and God Damn Evil (2018) all raised the bar, collectively by several measures.  Stryper have been so great for a good stretch that it’s almost futile to rate them all numerically.  May as just say:  yep, they did it again, so go and get it.

5/5 strypes

REVIEW: Darrell Mansfield – “Thunder and Lightning” (1985)

DARRELL MANSFIELD – “Thunder and Lightning” (1985 Broken Records, from Revelation)

Back in old ’86, Bob Schipper taped a bunch of Christian rock bands from a co-worker at the local Harvey’s.  He recorded five songs by two artists:  REZ and Darrell Mansfield.  I, in turn, recorded them from him.  Those artists, Rez and Mansfield, were hard to find at retail.  We’d never even heard of them before.  As time went on, 12 years at the Record Store, I never saw them.  You had to go to a speciality Christian record store.  (Or, in the 2000s, just look online.)

The one Darrell Mansfield track that I really liked from that tape was called “Thunder and Lightning”.  We both loved it.  Didn’t know anything about the guy.  Couldn’t find his albums.  The tape eventually became unplayable.  What to do?

The easiest thing was just to download the song off iTunes.  Eager to hear it again, and unsure if I wanted a whole Mansfield album, that’s exactly what I did.

From his 1985 disc Revelation, which boasts cover artwork that I liken to God meets Judas Priest, “Thunder and Lightning” is the opening track.  Appropriately it commences with some rip-roarin’ guitar soloin’.

So here’s the thing about Christian rock.  You either dig it or not.  There is plenty of guitar and vocal howls n’ shrieks to entertain the masses.  Mansfield’s lyrics are not heavy handed; they can be ignored.  It’s pretty obvious what they’re about if you pay attention, but only if you pay attention.

“The wind is blowing like a rolling stone, all the believers will be goin’ home.  Don’t be caught in the fallin’ rain.  Don’t need to suffer, don’t need the pain.”  The only clue to Darrell’s true message here is the word “believers”.

“Come on, don’t lose control.  Come on, don’t lose your soul.  Come on, put your feet on a rock, come on get your neighbours and rock!”  Anyone familiar with Christianity knows that one of several meanings of the word “rock” is a metaphor for faith.  Subtle enough.  One of the more blatant lines is “We wanna meet you in the Heavenly cloud, don’t be reluctant don’t be too proud.”  Still easy enough to miss.

“Thunder and Lightning” seems to be about one of those end-of-the-world scenarios.  Disaster looms, but the faithful are saved.  Mansfield refers to the “Storm-catcher” without naming Jesus.  It’s actually better done than a lot of Stryper lyrics.

There’s a smoking 40-second guitar intro,and the another 40 seconds of blazing mid-song.  That’s a pretty generous amount of guitar for a 4:48 song.  (Apparently future Mr. Big guitarist Paul Gilbert played on some of the other album tracks.)  What sells it though is not just the insane-o guitar playing, but also Mansfield’s powerhouse voice.  When the guy makes his voice crack, Tyler-esque, on certain words, it just hits the spot!

This is a brilliant track that, whether you’re a believer or just a rock n’ roller, deserves to be heard again.

5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Stryper – Live at the Whiskey (2014 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Live at the Whiskey (2014 Avalon Japan)

Stryper kill it live.  This is evident right from the starter’s gun on the band’s 2014 album Live at the Whiskey.  Pulling no punches, they tear immediately into the Priest-like “Legacy” from the acclaimed No More Hell to Pay.  Anybody who showed up that night expecting frills and lace hasn’t been paying attention.

Another newbie, “Marching into Battle”, which sounds as if it could have rolled off the same assembly line as Soldiers Under Command, wields riffs like swords.  Vocal sweetening is unfortunately obvious.  Most fans would prefer to hear bum notes or missed words over two Michael Sweets singing at once.

The first oldie is a goodie for sure:  “You Know What to Do”, followed immediately by “Loud N’ Clear”, both from the original Yellow and Black Attack.  As if trying to cram all their best early hooks into this one segment of the show, the trinity of “Reach Out”, “Calling to You” and  “Free” are rolled out one by one.  Robert Sweet (Stryper’s “visual timekeeper”) is far heavier live, imbuing the songs with more tonnage.

Heavier metal returns on “More Than a Man” which could have been Iron Maiden if the lyrics weren’t about receiving Jesus in your heart.  After “The Rock That Makes Me Roll”, Stryper returned to their present day with the awesome “No More Hell to Pay”, riffy and slow, like soaring Dio-era Sabbath. “If the dawn reveals the end of days, I’ll follow You till there’s no more hell to pay.” It’s a catchier chorus than it reads, and it’s followed by “Jesus is Just Alright With Me” which is basically all chorus and guitar solo!

Stryper didn’t ignore their most pop album, 1988’s In God We Trust.  The hit single “Always There For You” is stripped bare of its keyboards and re-arranged for blowing speakers.  Even Against the Law, from a brief period when Stryper dropped religion from their lyrics, is visited.  “One For All” was one of the heavier tracks from that great LP, and the lyrics maintain a positive outlook.  Focus then returns to the first cluster of albums with “The Way”, “To Hell With the Devil” and of course “Soldiers Under Command”.  No more mistaking the message now!  “Oh, oh, oh, what did you say?  Oh, oh, oh, Christ is the way!”  In the early days, Stryper were far less poetic, but they sure were heavy.

As is the norm, Japan received a bonus track for their pressing of Live at the Whiskey, and it’s actually a studio song. “All of Me” is the only ballad on the album, a spot-on re-recording from To Hell With the Devil.  Aside from the lower key, it’s almost identical.  One has to assume it’s an also-ran from 2013’s Second Coming album.  Can’t have too many ballads on one album, of course.  Valuable bonus tracks are always appreciated.  This one came as a bit of a surprise.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Stryper – The Roxx Regime Demos (2007, 2019 vinyl edition)

Stay tuned this week for a slew of Stryper — every album this week is an edition with bonus tracks!

STRYPER – The Roxx Regime Demos (2007, 2019 coloured vinyl reissue)

Before we get to Stryper, you know what I’m sick of?  Vinyl reissues.  Charge me $30 or $40 bucks for some coloured version of a record I’ve bought three times already?  I could walk into any store and walk out with a dozen coloured vinyl reissues of stuff I have on CD.  Who cares anymore?

Stryper cares.*

Original CD cover

In 2007, Stryper released and album of their earliest demos when they were known as Roxx Regime.  (Fun fact:  they released it on July 7 2007, or 777.)  The album had eight songs, some of which made it onto later albums like The Yellow and Black Attack and To Hell With the Devil.  When they issued the album on vinyl this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Stryper.com, they did it right:  three bonus tracks included!  They also gave it a new cover.

Upon dropping the needle on this lovely clear blue and yellow record, it’s immediately Stryper.  The lineup is the classic:  the Sweet brothers Michael and Robert, Oz Fox, and Tim Gaines.  The Stryper sound was there from the start: shards of metal paired with angelic harmonies and blatantly Christian lyrics.  The recordings are expectedly rougher than the album versions you’re used to, which is one reason people buy these demo albums.

“You Know What to Do” one side one is the track that stands out as special.  The others form a backdrop of yellow and black soundalikes, solid enough but not unique.  There’s also an early ballad called “You Won’t Be Lonely” that is missing the magic of “Honestly” on side two.  Some odd drum fills for a ballad too, and a cowbell too?

“Co’mon Rock” on side two borders on thrash metal, lyrics aside of course.  Bang thy head; it’s a corny ass-kicker.  “Tank” is an interesting drum solo, brief and pounding.  That leads into the first bonus track, an alternate demo of “My Love I’ll Always Show” from side one.  The song has some cool components, but at least Stryper added value to the reissue by offering a second demo of it.  Same with “Loud N Clear”, even rougher than the more polished demo on side one.  The drums sound more like a machine press than a musical instrument!  Then, Lord have mercy, another version of “You Won’t Be Lonely”, including cowbell!

The best track among the Roxx Regime Demos is a nearly perfect version of the hit ballad “Honestly”.  Why did it take three albums for these guys to finally release “Honestly”?  This demo has piano and keyboards but relies mostly on an acoustic arrangement.  It’s more lullaby-like, but still gleams with the class that the final song boasts in droves.  Check out the keyboard solo!

The whole thing amounts to 40 minutes of music including the bonus tracks, so the Anniversary Edition of Roxx Regime is the version that collectors and real fans want to grab.

2.5/5 stars

3/5 stars for the reissue

 

*Maybe they don’t after all.  Shortly after this LP arrived, Stryper announced a CD reissue with the bonus tracks intact.

 

 

REVIEW: Stryper – God Damn Evil (2018 Japanese import)

STRYPER – God Damn Evil (2018 Frontiers Japan)

Timothy Gaines ejected from Stryper, unfortunately not on the best of terms.  He was swiftly replaced by Perry Richardson of Firehouse, who fit into the rock regime smoothly and easily.  God Damn Evil is Stryper’s first with the new bassist, but latest in a long string of credible and crucial Christian metal albums.

But first a word about Walmart, who refused to stock this album based on the title alone.

This exemplifies two huge problems in society today.  One:  the inability to think for oneself.  Two:  pandering in fear to the whims of the general public.  Walmart were afraid they’d get complaints about an album called God Damn Evil, and so refused to offer it.  It’s patently obvious what the title means; just look at the cover art.  God is damning the evil.  Spelling it out even further, the evil is clearly depicted as “money”.  (Maybe the corporate mega-giant doesn’t like this anti-capitalism message.)

Maybe Stryper should have titled this album God Damn, People Are Stupid.  You can’t buy God Damn Evil at Walmart, but you can buy Night of the Demons on Blu-ray.  Go figure.

The music is what matters most, and the word on the street is that God Damn Evil is their best album yet.

That’s a tough claim.  After all, Fallen and No More Hell to Pay are both excellent metal albums, and surely rank among Stryper’s top five.  God Damn Evil shares a similar heavy direction, and even matching cover art, forming an ad-hoc trilogy.  The new one is the heaviest of the three.  Fans were taken aback by lead track “Take It to the Cross”, the closest Stryper have been to thrash metal.  From guttural grunts to screams so high they border on self-parody, “Take It to the Cross” is aural shrapnel of the best kind.

The only other track that comes close to “Take It to the Cross” in terms of speed is the Priest-like closer “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here”.  There is no question that Stryper can make metal as gleaming as their heroes do.

More traditional is “Sorry”, a metal groove with a slaying chorus on top.  It’s one of many contenders for “favourite song”, along with a swaggering “Own Up”.  “Lost” reduces the tempo, but not the power.  The message is there too, but not overwhelming.  Anyone can headbang along.  The title track “God Damn Evil” is unexpectedly different, being a straightforward hard rock tune with an anthemic chorus.  Stryper fear no evil in “The Valley”, a heavy metal retelling of Psalm 23 (“the valley of the shadow of death”).  Another top track is “Beautiful” which bears a Sabbath groove the likes of which is the basis of the genre.  It’s melodic, but not a ballad.  There’s only one of those:  “Can’t Live Without Your Love”, available in Japan in two versions.  The standard 80s-sounding power ballad would stand proudly next to “Is This Love” by Whitesnake.  The Japan-exclusive acoustic version is even better.

The highlights are many, and filler nonexistent.  Without giving up a shade of their integrity, Stryper have managed to remain true to their origins and yet evolve into higher, heavier grooves.  The key is the eternal youth of singer Michael Sweet.

Although some still think Stryper are a synonym with bad 80s bands, you’d be wrong to discount them now.  Stryper may well indeed have done their best album in 2018.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Stryper – Fallen (2016 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Fallen (2016 Frontiers, Marquee Japanese import)

As far as this writer is concerned, Stryper are the reunion kings.  Their 80s output featured fantastic singles like “Calling to You” and “Free”, but many of the albums were uneven and not as rocking as you knew they wanted to be.  Since their heavy-as-hell (pun intended) comeback album Reborn (2005), Stryper have been off the leash.  It seems they gave up trying to fit in to any specific mold and are just trying to be true to themselves through their music.  2016’s incredible Fallen could be the pinnacle of the reunion era.

Unabashedly Christian, the opening track “Yahweh” happens to be one of the most potently epic slices of rock I’ve heard.  A choir sings “Yahweh, Yahweh…” while lead wailer Michael Sweet spits out of his words as few singers in metal can do.  His range is still remarkable and he has lost none of his lung capacity.  There are Maiden-esque riffs, latter-day Metallica grooves, and some seriously epic solo work by Sweet and guitarist Oz Fox.  And that’s all in just the first 6:21 of the album.  It’s strange to say, but you could compare “Yahweh” to similar epic tracks by Ghost.

“Yahweh” may be the most impressive track on a very good metal album, but it’s certainly not the only one.  The cool descending riff that accompanies “Fallen” bites into your flesh, while Sweet’s chorus lifts the ceiling.  There is also material that sounds like old school Stryper, such as “King of Kings”, “Big Screen Lies” and “Pride”.  These songs boast big and classic sounding choruses and riffs.  Stryper even snuck in a Black Sabbath cover (not their first) of “After Forever”.  The words fit Stryper like a leather studded glove:

Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone,
Open your eyes, just realize that He is the one,
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate,
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes, I think it’s too late.

A lot of people forget how Christian that particular Sabbath lyric is!  Very amusing how much flack metal took from the church in the 80s, all the while “After Forever” dated back to Master of Reality in 1971!  Granted, I’m certain that most Catholics wouldn’t appreciate the line “Would you like to see the pope on the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?”

Whether you are a believer (it’s not a requirement) or just a worshipper at the altar of St. Halen, Stryper serves up plenty of hot metal on Fallen.  The modern grooves of “Heaven” and “Let There Be Light” are two that should appeal to many, and long time fans of Stryper will go bananas for the emphasis on melodies and choruses.  And Stryper didn’t forget their ballad fans, either.  “All Over Again” is a typical bombastic Stryper ballad, but not with the extra saccharine they used to utilize in the 80s.  And if that is too bombastic for you, check out the acoustic version included as a Japanese exclusive bonus track.  I think I prefer the bare acoustic version, but I’m also getting tired of getting acoustic versions as my Japanese bonus tracks.  It seems the go-to bonus track lately has been the acoustic version.

Rest assured, Stryper have not Fallen.  Quite the opposite. They continue to soar on mighty wings of metal.

5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: King’s X – Best of King’s X (1997)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 9


Scan_20151021KING’S X – Best of King’s X (1997 Atlantic)

Alas, it was inevitable.  After six stunningly good albums, but none of them gold, in 1997 Atlantic dropped King’s X.  In the mid-90’s it’s amazing that King’s X hung around as long as they did.  Many labelmates has long since been dumped, or broke up.  King’s X did not break up, but instead continued to work on their own, self-producing a new album.  Atlantic meanwhile prepared the calculable “best of” package for release.  Whenever a band gets dropped from a label, a “best of” is bound to follow.  It’s a law of science.

It’s a pretty straightforward release.  Chronologically, you get most of the major singles and hits from all six albums.  Then you get the three requisite unreleased songs.  Finally, a 10 minute live blowout from Woodstock ’94, previously unreleased.  In an unusual touch of quality for a release like this, Ty Tabor himself remastered all the tracks for the album.

We already took a close look at most of these songs earlier in the series, and there are no real duds.  The CD is weighted too heavily to the later albums, leaving Silent Planet and Gretchen under-represented with only four songs between them.  Hearing “King” opening the album is perfect, and the inclusion of “Pleiades” earns respect.  The other two tunes, “Summerland” and “Goldilox” are awesome but predictable inclusions.  The self-titled album and Dogman are represented by two tracks each.  We could have done with more Dogman.  “Shoes”, for example, or “Pretend”.  Three songs from this set come from the more commercial Ear Candy.  Again, you can’t really criticize the choices too much, because all the songs are great.  How do you squeeze more in?

Well, one way would be not including the unreleased songs, but these are record company bait to entice fans to shell out for it.  The three studio cuts are self-produced demos from 1996.  Appropriate to that era of the band, these are more commercial sounding than typical King’s X.  The production is not lush, but they have a lively quality.  “Sally” is nothing to write home about, but it’s a concise King’s X pop rocker with plenty of cool noodling by Ty.  Both “Sally” and the next song, “April Showers” feature fuzzy wah-wah guitar, always a treat.  Doug Pinnick sings the funky “April Showers”, which sounds a bit more King’s X.  Possibly the best song is the sparse ballad “Lover”, also sung by Doug.  It just depends on whether you prefer the mellow hippie sounds of “Lover” or the funk of “April Showers”!

The closing piece of the album was a surprising but important inclusion, and that is the live version of “Over My Head” from their opening set at Woodstock ’94.  This 10-minute track features a passionate singing rant by Doug Pinnick. He has often spoken about his difficult upbringing, and how he never heard the words “I love you” as a child. “This is a song about my grandma…she raised me from a child…she was a very religious lady…she went to church every night…she read her Bible all the time…” begins the painful rant. It still gives me chills, but it has a positive note.  If you have kids, make sure they know that you love them, more than anything in the whole wide world.

Yes it’s an odd way to take up 10 minutes of a “best of” CD, but it had to be on here. It was a historic moment for this band. Anybody in the crowd that day who wasn’t completely blasted on drugs would remember that moment forever.

Opening up Woodstock ’94 should have propelled King’s X into the stratosphere. They just couldn’t catch a damn break.  They couldn’t even be given a decent album cover for their own damned Best Of!

4/5 stars

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)

REVIEW: King’s X – King’s X (1992)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 6


Scan_20151104KING’S X – King’s X (1992 Atlantic)

The end of an era: the self-titled album.  When you self-title a record, it’s usually meant to be a statement.  Who knows if King’s X knew that theirs would be the end of the classic era of the band?  Tensions with producer/manager Sam Taylor were increasing and this would be their last collaboration.

King’s X, the album, seems to hone in on songwriting.  There are no long bombers, just short and taut King’s X songs.  “The World Around Me” exemplifies this.  The main ingredients are intact: Doug’s soulful but pained lead vocals mixed with the lush backing of the other two, the heavy but uniquely constructed riffs, and the diverse assortment of influences.  This song, and the next (“Prisoner”) get in and get out quick, delivering the necessary hooks with integrity.  They don’t spend time noodling or meandering.  The songs are more direct this time, without selling out.  You still can’t mistake what band this is.  There is only one band that sounds like King’s X, and that’s due to a unique vocal blend, and playing that sounds like no one else.

“The Big Picture”, the first ballad, doesn’t sound all too different from the Faith Hope Love material.  Good song, but a retread.  Then we’re “Lost In Germany”, with Doug and Ty Tabor sharing vocals, but this is one song that annoys more than it entertains.  Something about that chorus.  “Germany, lost in Germany!”  Maybe it’s the fact that my old boss at the Record Store used to make fun of this song, or maybe it’s just corny.  It has a tricky little Steve Vai-esque guitar lick, but I don’t want to be “Lost in Germany” any more.  Having found the autobahn, we get off next at the “Chariot Song”.  Accelerating breakneck, this song kicks ass.  Time signatures and keys change left right and center, but it’s a cohesively awesome song.  All I dislike are the self referencing lyrics: “Out of the planet comes Gretchen with faith, hope and love.” You’ll love the psychedelic Beatles section in the middle. Fave tune “Ooh Song” blows out the speakers. The stuttery riff and dark melodies hint at where King’s X were headed. “Ooh Song” and “Chariot Song” are a whopper of a one-two punch, 100% King’s X, no selling out.

“Not Just for the Dead” is uplifting, with hints of piano and sitar. It has a proud, anthemic quality before it too ventures into psychedelia. An album highlight for sure. Then, “What I Know About Love” (the closest thing to a long bomber on this album) has a long Ty Tabor solo section; very cool. “Black Flag” was the lead single but never a favourite of mine. Like “Lost in Germany”, something about the chorus just isn’t happening. Seeing Doug flying around in his underoos, in the music video, is entertaining however. There are also some King’s X puppets — somebody made actual puppets of the guys for props in this video. I sure hope somebody hung onto those!

Winding down the album, Ty’s mellow “Dream in my Life” just kind of sits there. It doesn’t have the drama I crave in King’s X. Fortunately, the closer “Silent Wind” kicks ass completely. The verses and chorus are equally excellent. This is a powerhouse of a song, and though a closer, could have made a much better single than the two they picked!

King’s X created another solid album, but for the first time it felt like they had not progressed. King’s X feels like an amalgam of previous King’s X albums, and maybe that was the point. Still one of the greatest rock bands of all time, they spun their tires a little here. But change was afoot.

4/5 stars

DOGMAN FRONTThe only King’s X album I reviewed prior to this series was Dogman (1994), and that review is the next chapter in this series. You can read it by clicking here now!

As stated above, Kings’s X, the album, was the end of an era. Dogman would be dramatically different. There were no lead vocals by Ty Tabor, and they had gotten much, much heavier. Putting the emphasis more on the groove, and installing Brendan O’Brien at the console, King’s X delivered a punishing sledge of an album. Dogman rates 4.9999~/5 stars, just shy of a full 5/5. Check out the full review for that.  Also previously published is a mini-review for a promotional CD single for the track “Pillow” from Dogman, complete with two then-unreleased live bonus tracks.   Click ’em both.

 

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994)

REVIEW: King’s X – Faith Hope Love (1990)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 4


KING’S X – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990 Atlantic)

This is where I hopped on board the King’s X train.  It was the quirky video for the irresistible pop rocker “It’s Love”.  It wasn’t the first accessible King’s X single, but it was the first I ever had the chance to hear.  And it was instant.  It was an immediate, “Ah!  So this is King’s X!  I have to get this.”  And I did.  Before then, I had only read about them in magazines.  Their cool cover art, striking album titles, and brilliant reviews had them on my radar.

“It’s Love”, written and vocalized by Ty Tabor, emphasizes the melodic aspects of the band.  They always utilized Beatles-like harmonies over chunky guitars.  This mixture was perfected for the charts on “It’s Love”, and it did make a minor dent.

Although “It’s Love” might be the most instantaneous song on the album Faith Hope Love (the band’s third), it’s not the most impressive.  Not even close.  And that’s saying something!

With Faith Hope Love, there was a downshift in intensity but not in quality.  The album is overall a little less edged, but just as challenging.  Indeed, the title track is almost 10 minutes of swirling rock, with dual lead vocalists and startling instrumental integrity.  There is also a song called “We Were Born to Be Loved” with smoking playing, false endings, and enough technical chops to satisfy the most ardent fan.

King’s X have never taken the easy road, lyrically or musically.  “Legal Kill” is abstract but can be interpreted to be about a few sensitive issues in today’s society.  It’s not preachy:  “I only know what I believe, the rest is so absurd to me.”  It’s a beautiful song, a peaceful acoustic ballad.  A song like this could have been a hit for anyone, except King’s X it seems.

Scan_20151023 (3)

Other accessible rock songs include the love song “I’ll Never Get Tired of You”, a beautiful sentiment.  The “Fine Art of Friendship” combines the vocals of Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor in that patented blend, always so tasty.  Then there is the slow, dark ballad “Everywhere I Go” by Doug.   There aren’t any weak songs on Faith Hope Love, although I find the softies “Mr. Wilson” and “Six Broken Soldiers” (vocal debut of drummer Jerry Gaskill) to be not quite as amazing as the rest of this stunning album.

The centerpiece is “Moanjam”.  By the opening rumble of Doug’s bass and the intense tempo, you might think it’s a Motorhead song.  Proving their diversity, “Moanjam” combines smoking metal riffing, lush harmonies, and Doug’s unmistakable soul singing.  You could put “Moanjam” on an album 10 times and it would still be a hell of an album!  With subtle Christian lyrics (“I sing this song because of You, You’re the glory”), you can headbang to it without thinking too much about the words.   In fact, doing so is quite an enjoyable experience.  It’s also a blast to air-drum to Jerry’s speedy parts; just be sure to catch your breath!

Although Faith Hope Love was their most accessible album yet, in many ways it really wasn’t.  It was over an hour long, containing two long-bombers.   The arrangements are still challenging, and still uniquely King’s X.  There is nobody out there who plays guitar like Ty Tabor does, and nobody who can sing like Doug Pinnick.  Faith Hope Love is a completely unafraid album.  Unfortunately it might also have been their last chance to grab the brass ring.   With grunge around the corner, bands like King’s X were hastily pushed aside.  What a shame.  This record could have been their Revolver.

5/5 stars


Scan_20151023 (4)

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)

REVIEW: King’s X – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 3


KING’S X – Kings of the Absurd (split 1990 Metal Crash live bootleg with Faith No More)

Live bootlegs vary in quality, but usually have one thing in common: they are almost always interesting.  Kings of the Absurd, a split live bootleg from Italy, raises a curious question.

Why put Faith No More and King’s X together on one CD?

No reason.

The King’s X set is from London at the Astoria; Faith No More’s from a festival set in Italy many months later.   It’s an odd pairing, with no common musical denominator.  If anything, both bands share critical acclaim, but that’s about it.  Why are they together on one CD?

No reason!


Absolutely no reason.

The Faith No More portion of this CD will be reviewed at a later time, probably as part of a Faith No More review series.  For now we’ll just examine the four songs presented by King’s X, which, believe me, are enough to melt your face off without the help of Mike Patton and co.  I found this CD in the racks of the used CD store in which I started working, in early 1995.  Loving both bands, and stickered at just $11.99, this was an easy winner once you figured in my staff discount.  I was just lucky to have snagged it before Thomas, also a massive Faith No More and King’s X fan.

“What is This?” is the only song lifted from their debut album Out of the Silent Planet.  The original set was 10 songs, and this was the second, but it works as an opener as well.  The heavy groove and the slick backing vocals of Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill are intact.  Doug is more impassioned live than on album, which is the way it is with any good soul singer.  Doug’s take on “What is This?” is very different from the album; he just lets the vocal come out as it does.  Even on this crappy sounding CD, you can hear that the bass is hella-heavy, and that Jerry Gaskill is one of the most underrated drummers you will ever lay ears on.

Doug addresses the crowd between songs.  “We’re going to try to do almost everything that we know tonight for you,” he teases, with no idea that these words would end up on a live bootleg with only four songs!  Next (and the next song played that night) is “Out of the Silent Planet” from their then-current Gretchen Goes to Nebraska album.  The complexity of the backing vocals doesn’t seem to present them a problem.  It’s clear that this is one hell of a trio, as if you were in any doubt.  The CD doesn’t have “Sometimes”, the next song played, but instead goes to “Summerland”, also from Gretchen.  The poor sound hampers the song slightly, since it’s lighter and doesn’t slam as hard as the others.  Doug is again outstanding, not only one of the greatest singers in rock but also a top notch bassist.  “Fall On Me” (Gretchen) ends this short set.  It was a great song on album, but live it’s just as amazing.  Doug’s lungs sound as if diesel-powered.

The fact that King’s X only got tacked onto the end of a Faith No More bootleg CD is sadly not unexpected.  They got boned by the music business, so why not by bootleggers too?  The whole set is out there, and it sounds like an amazing show.  Just check out this article and the comments section, over at our friends Every Record Tells a Story.  A few readers were there that night.

You gotta give King’s X a 5/5 stars for a set this hot, but Metal Crash get 0/5 stars for the CD

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet

Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska