More From The History Label…
Reviewed by Brian McGowan and reissued by Rock Candy Records, UK.
In their formative years, Kick Axe warmed up their musical muscles by touring heavily in their native Canada, later relocating to the USA when they signed to now legendary producer, Spencer Proffer’s Pasha label, releasing debut album, Vices, in 1984.
They had fine toothcombed the world of heavy metal vocalists and recruited George Criston. His raspy, full throated roar is a blazing, larger than life contrivance that suits songs like the shout-it-out-loud ‘Heavy Metal Shuffle’ down to the ground. Proffer knew how to get the best out of a young band, expertly conducting the shifts in tone and texture on Vices, carefully pumping up Criston’s ferocious howl and guitarist, Larry Gilstrom’s feral axework, regularly going for the jugular with vampiric intensity.
On the album’s standout tracks, ‘On The Road To Rock’ and ‘Stay On Top’ Criston’s theatrical delivery makes Alice Cooper sound like the Carpenters. And Gilstrom’s uncompromising hard edged guitar attack, as nuanced as a punch in the face, comes up time after time with clanging, abrasive, primal chord riffery.
Elsewhere, on the Irresistibly surging ‘Passing Through’ and the down’n’dirty ‘Alive& Kickin’, vocals and axes dovetail together gleefully in a maelstrom of prime heavy metal performance.
Back when the album was first released, the anchoring clatter and thump of the band’s rhythm section were lost in the mix. Today, the artists are done a huge favour by the fidelity of Rock Candy’s remastering process. We now know that the unsung bass and drum heroes created the glue that held the music together.
A beautifully worked up cover of Humble Pie’s ‘Thirty Days In The Hole’, originally included as the cassette only bonus track, is now present and correct on this reissue.
Welcome To The Club
It’s clear that Spencer Proffer had given the band wings and that they took flight with Vices. But there was a feeling that the their unreconstructed heavy metal debut had frightened the natives. Or at least had frightened that generation of natives who buy albums.
Sometimes then, you have to surf the tides. A peep over the parapet confirmed that the competition now was considerable. Dokken, Night Ranger, Honeymoon Suite, King Kobra, Giuffria and many other comparable bands were circling. So, without exactly shaking off their heavy metal shackles, Kick Axe wrote and recorded a bunch of very fine songs, arranged and recorded (again by Proffer) with a target audience in mind.
The songs don’t lack muscle or attitude, but it’s all less frantic, more mature. The title track and ‘Make Your Move’ are probably the picks. Neither lack ambition. Vocalist Criston and axeman, Gillstrom together rein back the raw power without sacrificing emotional honesty, and both embrace enough of melodic rock’s trademark aural hooks to satisfy genre aficionados.
This measured, considered approach continues into the album’s ballads, that said though, there’s an unapologetic, chest beating sense of drama to ‘Coming After You’ and ‘Never Let Go’. Old habits etc etc.
Critics condemned Welcome To The Club for falling between two styles. Maybe the next album would be the one.
Rock The World
And it is.
Blessed with an ambitious, unambiguous title, Rock The World (1986) sees the band truly finding their feet. Proffer may have catapulted the band into rock’n’roll prominence by capturing their raw, innate power in the studio, but by jettisoning the band’s heavy metal baggage, this propulsive, self produced third album shows us the way. The energy and the urgency they had once sought to communicate through the cacophony of heavy metal now seems to have been the work of an earlier, angrier band. On Rock The World, the music has now been finely tuned and reaches us through the compelling, satisfying medium of melodic hard rock. Mostly.
The songs may take a little longer to unlock but the wait is worth it. The band’s evolved songwriting guile and new found restraint is primarily evident on ‘Red Line’ and ‘The Great Escape’. Criston has cut back on the vocal histrionics but now seems to have deepened his resolve. Gillstrom’s controlled bursts of radiant guitar combine with Criston’s voice perfectly. It means that when they step outside the confines of the shiny new template, as on ‘Devachan’, delivered with the the operatic staginess of Savatage, it hits you between the eyes.
Two tracks at the back end of the album further reveal the band’s artistry and indeed their artistic ambitions. The epic ‘Warrior’, and the quasi religious ‘Magic Man’. The songwriting is sharper here and more focused. The arrangements take a progressive rock approach, approximating the same superb vocal arrangements and soaring, searing axe solos you would have found on a Kansas album.
The album was not a great success. A year later they were dropped by the label. Shockaroonie.
If Rock Candy Records didn’t exist we would have to invent it. New interviews, new band photos and the whole story on this reissue/remaster.
Vices: 7 out of 10
Welcome: 6 out of 10
Rock The World: 8 out of 10
- Heavy Metal Shuffle
- Stay On Top
- Dreamin About You
- On The Road To Rock
- Cause For Alarm
- All The Right Moves
- Just Passin Through
- 30 Days In The Hole (bonus track)
Welcome To The Club:
- Welcome To The Club
- Feels Good, Don’t Stop
- Comin After You
- Make Your Move
- Never let Go
- Can’t Take It With You
- Too Loud…Too Old
- Feel The Power
- With A Little Help From My Friends (w/Rik Emmet, Alfie Zappacosta and Lee Aaron)
Rock The World:
- Rock The World
- The Chain (Fleetwood Mac cover)
- Red Line
- We Still Remember
- Great Escape
- The Dark Crusade
- Magic Man