Seeing as how heavy-metal in the Eighties has featured one Zeppelin-Aerosmith Xerox after another, it seems only a matter of time before hard rock chokes on its own redundant power chord philosophy.
But right when you really think it's over, there comes a voice from a suburban garage far away: What if you mixed Zeppelin with the Bee Gees? Don't laugh. That just might be the stuff that record contracts are made of in the future. And if you need a preview, just take Houston power threesome King's X as an example.
Oh, King's X isn't exactly Jimmy Page does the Gibb brothers, but it's not that far off. Try Cream with a little Kansas mixed in. Or Yes beaten with a Metallica spatula. Or even Styx with huevos. And what do you get?
The next big metal thang, of course. At least, that is, according to your average leather-pants-wearing rock critic, bang-your-forehead-with-your-fist fan, or Bible-carrying heavy-metal addict (King's X's members are Christians).
All this attention is kind of bewildering to King's X lead vocalist and bassist Doug Pinnick. "I hear what people say and how they react," Pinnick says before the band's show last Sunday at Rockers. "We were in L.A. a couple of nights ago, and everyone from the Bangles to Kingdom Come to Kiss were there. You name it. All these guys were saying we're their favorite band. All these people say we're the new thing, and I'm saying, `I don't get it.'"
Pinnick's bewilderment isn't hard to believe. King's X's success has been eight years in coming. The lanky bassist met up with Dead-Headish guitarist Ty Tabor and Sgt. Pepperish drummer Jerry Gaskill in Springfield, Missouri, where the three began playing originals similar to their stuff now. The band couldn't get booked, eventually degenerated into playing Top 40 tunes and developed an identity crisis.
"Then we started writing originals that sounded like songs on the radio," Pinnick says with a haunted look as he recounts the tale. "Then one day we woke up and went back to what we are, because you get tired of being a prostitute. So we went back to ground zero."
Which happened to be in Houston, where the band hooked up with producer Sam Taylor, known for his work with ZZ Top. Taylor became a guru of sorts for the band and encouraged Tabor and Gaskill to harmonize with Pinnick.
The band's first album on Atlantic Records, Out of the Silent Planet, was received as the biggest thing to hit heavy-metal since hairspray. English metal mag Kerrang gave it five K's and named it the top release of 1988. The band supported it with a successful tour opening up for Blue oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, and Robert Plant.
"Sam called himself a mirror," Pinnick says. "He never really changed us, he just helped us see what we really wanted."
Soon King's X inspired Houston bands to walk on ground where the Deadheads in Dallas and the folkies in Austin have feared to tread.
"There's a lot of bands down there that haven't got signed yet that have taken on the King's X attitude," Pinnick boasts.
The bassist describes Houston as some kind of outlandish Betty Crocker Cook-Off of groups, mixing musical genres any which way they choose. The bassist throws out as examples the all-girl group Velvet Hammer (Metallica with splashes of Heart) and the Galactic Cowboys ("like the Moody Blues meets thrash").
Besides inspiring the Houston metal scene, King's X has had a growing impact on the Christian heavy-metal scene. Religious metalheads are looking to latch on to something new now that Stryper is slowly sinking into the black hole known as the Air Supply Zone. Still, Pinnick says the band is violently against being classified as a Christian band and that Gaskill in particular gets downright pissed off about being pigeonholed.
"Everyone in the band is Christian, but we're into the basic Jesus Christ thing," Pinnick says. "There's a lot of crap that goes along with it that we don't follow. So we just try to stay away from being termed a religious band. We're totally against it. But we're the talk of the town with the Christian bands, too. We're like the great new hope."
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Pinnick says that one reason the band is being co-opted into the Christian underground is because of the "psychedelically spiritual" lyrics he writes. But except for "The Mission," which defends honest preachers while deriding TV evangelists, Pinnick's lyrics concentrate on obscure sci-fi themes. At times, it seems Pinnick is the kind of guy who might spend too much time playing Dungeons and Dragons.
But the lyrics do work well with King's X's heavy harmonies, the fine pickin' of Tabor and the walking bass and yelping vocals of Pinnick on the group's new LP, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska. The band's video of its first single from the album, "Over My Head," has been welcomed aboard MTV's Top 10 for a ride.
If the band's popularity takes hold of the video generation, King's X might be heavy-metal's band to watch in the Nineties. But Pinnick admits the Seventies have been very, very good to the King's X sound. The band leader says he wants King's X to be an example for all bands wishing to explore their roots, even if they include the AOR-radio bands of their youths.
If Pinnick is to be believed, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you have an ELO album in your music collection. Just combine it with the Clash and make it palatable for the masses of a new decade.