If there were ever to be a wing of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for most underrated bands, one of the first inductees would rightfully be progressive metal act King’s X. This trio out of Texas has been trudging the club and small theater circuit since the late 1980s, never really breaking through, though they produced some of the most compelling videos on MTV at the time—when the M in MTV actually stood for “music.” And they are the musician’s musicians, well-respected by other members of the rock-and-roll community, but close to anonymous among the general public—even the head banging subgroups.
At the time, they produced three strong albums coming out of the gate: 1988’s “Out of the Silent Planet,” 1989’s “Gretchen Goes to Nebraska” and 1990’s Faith Hope Love.” Of these, “Gretchen” was overall the strongest. With Doug Pinnick on bass/vocals, Ty Tabor on guitar/vocals and Jerry Gaskill on drums/vocals, King’s X produced a wall of sound that many five-piece combos would be hard-pressed to produce.
Working in conjunction with manager Sam Taylor on organ and piano on some tracks, “Gretchen” has a very clean but unpolished production value that really rings true. It represented quite the antidote to the classic rock radio virus that broke out in the 80s and has ravaged the airwaves ever since. Taylor was a veteran of the ZZ Top organization so he was very familiar working with rocking trios on solid albums. As an allegorical journey, the album “Gretchen Goes to Nebraska” is quite the trip.
The standout track on “Gretchen” has to be “Over My Head” as Pinnick hears music, music, music over his head. While not a gospel-inspired song, it has the feeling of an old time faith revival meeting with the singalong chorus. Tabor really smokes on the guitar solo. To close it out, the three of them shift into fourth gear and push the pedal to the floor.
“Summerland” is a nice melodic mid-tempo number to simmer it down a bit from “Over My Head” with an aching for a forgotten place to which we need to get back. Seems a bit like “Paradise Lost.” You’ll notice that throughout most King’s X compositions there lies an undercurrent of Judeo-Christian figurative language. Fortunately, they don’t take it much beyond that, relying mainly on allusions and symbolism to get their point across to the listener.
An exceptional track on “Gretchen” takes form on “Mission” where the congregation is gathered behind the stained glass windows, but we’re not sure if they know why they are there. It could just be for an assembly of a social get-together. King’s X really makes the indictment that many parishioners simply go to church as an affectation and are not necessarily there for salvation—or could just be scared of hell!
“Pleiades” and “The Burning Down” strike a similar yearning chord. These are the most spiritual cuts on “Gretchen” with the latter one closing it into one of those Easter egg type hidden tracks at the end. It’s sped up and very faint, so you’ll have to crank up the volume to make it out, but the payoff could well be worth it.