Part Five of a series on classic KICK AXE!
BONUS: Check out Superdeke’s concert review from this tour by clicking here!
Kick Axe may have had a slight identity issue.
They certainly didn’t benefit at all when two of their songs (“Hunger” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way”) were released under another name on The Transformers soundtrack. Nobody knew that “Spectre General” was in fact Kick Axe. Unicron may have been defeated, and Rodimus named as the next Prime, but Kick Axe didn’t gather any of the spoils. There’s also the issue of their critical second album. Vices was clearly a metal album and the band had an obviously heavy image, complete with toothy mascot. When the second album saw its release, the mascot was gone and the lead video was a ballad!
The twist in the tale is that Welcome to the Club is considered by many fans to be Kick Axe’s best album; and they may be right.
The record label Pasha was trying to steer Kick Axe in a lighter direction. Producer Spencer Proffer couldn’t be there, so staffer Randy Bishop was sent to Toronto to write and record the next album with the band. They did this at the legendary Metalworks, and then the album was sent to Proffer in California to mix. You’d expect this kind of operation to be detrimental to the music. You’d be wrong.
The songs are tighter than those on Vices. Yes, opener “Welcome to the Club” lacks the full-fisted punch of “Heavy Metal Shuffle”, but they are traded in for a dusky, cleaner vibe. This is an older, wiser band and the lyrics reflect that. “If you’ve had your share of heartache…welcome to the club.” The drums are still thunder on tape, and George Criston could bellow like few others, so the “softening” of Kick Axe was actually quite minor.
“Feels Good – Don’t Stop” lets the bass lead the way, for a bangin’ chorus that any band would have given their nuts to write. Another flawess chorus is found on the powerful “Comin’ After You”, which may in fact be the perfect 1985 hard rock song. Softer verses build up to the kick of the first chorus, with backing keyboards providing unobtrusive texture. “Make Your Move” is another expertly written rock song, something like Bon Jovi circa 7800° Fahrenheit. Did Sambora spend time studying this album? Then a dramatic “Never Let Go” has a creeping, dark vibe that makes one wonder just what Black Sabbath would have sounded like with George Criston on lead vocals. When Ian Gillan left to join Deep Purple, Criston was one of the singers that Tony Iommi was very interested in. This song is a glimpse into what that might have sounded like.
The side two kick-off, “Hellraisers” is a cold steel classic. A signature guitar lick and a chorus plumbed straight from the most melodic depths of hell is all it takes. Well, the solo cooks pretty hot too. “Hellraisers” is most likely the best tune on Welcome to the Club, which goes a long way to making it the best Kick Axe song, period. By the next track, “Can’t Take It With You”, Kick Axe discovered a time machine and somehow came up with a cool wah-wah riff right out the 2000s. There is no way we’ll ever know for sure, but it’s not out of the question that this riff was lifted by time travel from John Norum of Europe during the sessions for Start From the Dark.
Anyone who felt Welcome to the Club underdelivered in terms of heavy metal probably thought “Too Loud…Too Old” was the best song. Heavy groove and speed co-mingle, and the result is one of the heaviest hard rock tracks in the history of the genre. “Feel the Power” dials it back in terms of heavy, but is no slouch of a track, not with all those Brian Gillstrom drumquakes. Guitarists Larry Gillstrom and Ray Harvey had a knack for harmony guitar solos, as heard on “Feel the Power”. Not to mention the capable backing vocals by the entire band, rounded out by Victor Langen on bass.
The oddball ballad goes last, and it really is a surprising one. Continuing a tradition that would follow through on all their albums, Kick Axe did a cover. This time it’s the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends”, but via the Joe Cocker arrangement. The good news: George Criston was more than capable of handling the difficult song without sounding like an asshole. Not an easy task! He is accompanied by Canadian stars like Alfie Zappacosta, Lee Aaron, Rik Emmett, and Andy Curran which gives the song some authenticity and serious star power. Lee Aaron in particularly kicks the song right in the nuts when she steps up to the microphone.
It was this track that was chosen as the lead video, and immediately confused all the kids sitting at home watching MuchMusic. This was the “On the Road to Rock” band, clearly, but they didn’t sound like that anymore. The music video almost looked like a charity single, with everybody singing together in the studio. We didn’t know what to make of it, and the clever but tame Hugh Syme cover artwork really didn’t speak like Vices did.
It is always a shame when a great album by a deserving band gets ignored. Thanks to Rock Candy and their awesome CD reissues, it’s not too late to get into the Club.