Complete studio albums (and more!), part 15
KING’S X – Black Like Sunday (2003 Metal Blade)
After a couple albums that were…well, they were pretty far out, man…King’s X may have needed to get back to basics a little bit. Mr. Bulbous was undoubtedly a very experimental beast, and then Manic Moonlight introduced the drum loops. A number of fans had dropped off the train, this one included. It is only now that I have purchased 2003’s Black Like Sunday.
The concept of the album was pretty simple. Fans had been begging for Jerry Gaskill, Doug Pinnick, and Ty Tabor to re-release their very first indi album when they were still known as Sneak Preview. It is estimated that fewer than 500 copies of this album exist, but the band have never been eager to release it again. Indeed, rumour has it that the band destroyed over half of the original 1000 themselves. What they chose to do instead was re-write and re-record some of the old Sneak Preview songs, and release them as King’s X. There is no explanation of this inside the CD, so unless you were paying attention to the press, you might just think this was an ordinary everyday King’s X album.* Armed with 14 mostly shorter songs, they once again switched gears.
Laying it down right from the start, “Black Like Sunday” kicks rumps and gets ’em shakin’. Without having a clue what these songs might have originally sounded like, “Black Like Sunday” is admirable for its stock solid rock groove. Nobody in rock can groove like King’s X, but this is more straight than they normally play it. Jerry Gaskill is uncharacteristically laying down simple 4/4 drums and Ty has a nice rockin’ riff to hammer out.
“Rock Pile” is…different…takes some getting used to…but once you do? It’s in your head. It’s like two songs jammed together. A weird Van-Halen-esque unmelodic spoken word chunk, welded to a chorus from a corny Beatles song. On first impression, I thought “This is awful”. On third listen, it was, “Oh yes, this song! The heavy one with the catchy chorus…” and I was hooked. “Danger Zone” is also on the weird side, melding an oddly melodic vocal with a hair metal ballady electric chug. Much like “Rock Pile”, initial impressions are not good. Further listenings reveal that these songs stick in the memory, and that Ty’s rich guitar sounds are an absolutely highlight. His solo on “Danger Zone” is right out of the Neil Young book of awesome.
It has nothing to do with Rush, but “Working Man” rocks at mid-pace with many shades of the 80’s. “Dreams” has an odd reggae vibe, but grafted onto a heavy detuned King’s X riff. It’s not the greatest tune and probably the first that really fails to make an impact. Up next is “Finished” which is a pleasant pop rock tune. Nothing special once again, but instrumentally King’s X always have something to offer, and this time it’s Doug’s busy bass runs. Then things do get black like Sunday, on “Screamer”, an exotic vintage-Sabbathy stormer. Deep Iommi string bends meet tribal drumming meets Doug Pinnick. It’s a challenging listen but it has plenty to offer. “Bad Luck” is more down the alley of traditional King’s X, and it kills with its heavy groove.
King’s X have always been capable of tender ballads, so though unremarkable, “Down” will appeal to fans of that side. In contrast, “Won’t Turn Back” is stuttery chunky heavy metal. All of these songs have some strangely melodic vocal parts, and “Won’t Turn Back” is like that. It often feels like a chorus from a pop song has been transplanted onto a heavy metal song on this album. It’s one of the factors that makes Black Like Sunday hard to digest on first listen. At times it’s hard not to ask, “What the hell were they thinking?”
Steering the ship back on course once again, the song “Two” could have been on Tape Head since it has that bass-heavy stripped back kind of sound. “You’re the Only One” does not sound much like King’s X, but it does sound like quality hard rock. Maybe even pop punk. The Beatles harmonies work well here overtop a song that could have been written by Weezer. I wouldn’t doubt that Rivers wishes he wrote this song!
The only long song on the album is the incendiary, 11-minute-plus “Johnny”. Very Rush-like, “Johnny” is smouldering King’s X goodness with a big fat bow on top, so get ready to get down. Most of the 11 minutes is a long jam, a laid-back one in fact, but just listen to the interplay. Fantastic stuff. After an exhausting listen like that, what you really need next is the pop-punk-country-funk of “Save Us”. Ending the album with a short pop rocker really snaps you back to attention, and then it’s all over.
Assigning a rating to a King’s X album is difficult when you haven’t had years to absorb them and grow into them. Having said that, Black Like Sunday” makes a good impression. The songs are adventurous if a bit awkward, and there are enough gems here to warrant a purchase. Added bonus: the booklet doubles as a 2003 calendar! An amusing touch.
*There’s no such thing as an ordinary everyday King’s X album.
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)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)
Part 13 – PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 Ty Tabor)
Part 14 – Manic Moonlight (2001)