Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Golden Grails Of Metal

Golden Grails Of Metal peers deeply and passionately into a classic record from metal's past, each extended review including reflections from the creators themselves on just why the examined work of art shone so brightly. This week: Gretchen Goes To Nebraska from King's X.

King's X are pretty much the only modern metal band other than Soundgarden who have garnered near universal praise from all corners of the metal community. Fans and bands alike look fondly upon most of the band's catalogue, but when pressed, begin to pick favourites, Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, often being elected as an astonishingly self-assured, astonishingly early actualization of the band's challenging and heavenly Beatles-meets-Sabbath alloy.

Released in 1989, King's X second record shed any semblance of restraint one might have detected within Out Of The Silent Planet. I'll probably always have fond memories of that record, offers guitarist Ty Tabor. Because it was very experimental, in terms of sounds and things. I can literally remember throwing cymbals up against the walls of the studios, and having a mike in a certain part of the room just to get a certain sound. That kind of stuff. And it was just fun. I can remember that we weren't really under much pressure or anything. We were just thrilled to be able to make our second record, and have an OK from our record company to be as experimental and free as we wanted. So we were kind of like young kids in a massive candy store, saying OK, we can have anything we want. We didn't imagine that once we got a record deal, it could ever be that cool, know what I mean?

And what they came up with met a certain balance between fresh naivety and the complicated structures and statements of the next few spreads. Lead track Out Of The Silent Planet set the mood with throbbing, jazzy chords over a Sabbatherian plod. while Over My Head became one of the band's only hits, vocalist and bassist Doug Pinnick pronouncing the dovetailing of faith and music, driving home the point with a reference to his grandmother's spiritual experience. Summerland remains one of the band's more memorable ballads, shooting into brilliant harmonies come chorus time, a stark and superior element within the King's X sound which Tabor shakes off with a shrug. In terms of our harmonies, basically we just go out and sing them (laughs).There's no real secret. You sing until you get it right. We don't really spend any more time on them than other bands, I don't think. I mean, we generally knock vocals out fast. The Difference also features harmonies at the fore, the lyric written straight out of a scene from a C.S. Lewis book,, Lewis being one of Tabor's favourite philosophers, the skeptic Christian and his intellectualized spiritualism complementing nicely the King's X canon.

In terms of the record as a whole however, much effort was expended. Yeah, we spent a lot of money, and we spent a whole lot of time too, Tabor recounts. We were in the studio for three or four months, and tried to create a record to sound the way we wanted. I remember trying to take care to make sure that each guitar part was in some way, creative, a little different. I really had a whole lot of influences but I've never been the kind of person who hears some great guitarist, and then figures out what he's playing. It's the same way with songs.I've never been one to appreciate songs that sound like they were stolen from someone else. But saying that, I'm sure that King's X has failed and done that on some songs, you know? It's just impossible for everything you do to be totally unique and creative. But, I was heavily influenced by The Beatles, and I was heavily influenced by a lot of the early '70s rock. But with my own thing, I've always wanted to just be me, know what I mean? Because when I listen to early Alice Cooper or whatever, it had its own trademark thing, and to me, that's the highest honor. I always wanted whatever I do to be unique in some way. I'm sure I do sound like other people, but it's not intentional if I do.

This individuality is something that shows up on the next few Gretchen tracks, Tabor flashing between chords, picking, alternative tunings, acoustic and Hendrix-psychedelic electric, Send A Message being a particularly rousing romp with a strong, anthemic chorus, although Don't Believe It stands out for Ty. That's really one of my favorite least-known tunes. I really like the vocals. It's just a really fun song.I don't even know that we ever played it live. Closing the record is a track that perhaps points to the ponderous of Faith Hope Love, The Burning Down lumbering like a classic King's X mantra, big on pomp, emotion but sparsely-rhythmed by band backbone Jerry Gaskill, Tabor trying out many guitar effects during the shimmery extended finish.

What has occurred by record's end is a sparkly, funky metal feast that flips positive switches of a half a dozen varieties, versus the mainstream of metal which mires is darkness and debauchery. Ty confirms. I do believe that there's still a lot of good out there in the world. I do have hope. I'm just kind of at the other end of the balance from all this other dysfunctional music that's out there, you know?

So coupled with the band's purifying melodies, odd, almost doomy heft, and heartfelt team-oriented vocals, this became a band revered, but never commercially successful as the level of praise would suggest. Indeed, after four records exclusively with major label Atlantic, King's X are back with Metal Blade.

Which must really irk the band, something Doug Pinnick has acknowledged many times in interviews, Doug perhaps emerging as the bitter cynic amongst the ranks. Ty on the other hand, seems to be at peace with it all. You know, it's really funny. I mean, at first, things like that are exciting and you say 'oh great the critics love us' or whatever or 'other bands love us'. And then after a few years you go, man, I wish we could fulfill this. You say, I wonder why we're not going platinum or gold or something? And then after a few years you suddenly don't care about it at all anymore. You don't even think about it. You're just happy to still be making records, and you just focus on making the best records you can, and not really worry about the sales. The truth of the matter is that we all make a very decent living. We're so lucky that we have this gig. I mean, it's bought my house that I have, and everything. It takes care of my family, and I'm allowed to write and make music, and do other albums with other people. And really King's X is responsible for that. So I don't really have a lot of disappointment or bitterness with it anymore. I started recognizing that I've really got it good, and that I'm doing all the things I ever dreamed about when I was a kid. And we still continue to be able to make records and go out and tour and stuff. So King's X is wherever it is, and it's not really up to us whether it ever becomes massive or not. It's up to us to be happy with the art we do and that's really all we think about at the moment. I mean, it could be worse, we could be a band that everybody hates and also hasn't made it big (laughs).