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Thirty Years Later: King’s X – Out of the Silent Planet

The 80s will forever be associated with the ultra-processed sounds of drum machines, reverbed vocals, and heavy metal guitar overdrive, but there were plenty of outlier bands aiming to bring organic styles back to the rock world. Nobody was doing it quite like King’s X though. While the Texas-based power trio would come the closest to commercial success in the next decade, their signature sound was firmly in place on their 1988 debut.

Out of the Silent Planet has enough of the guitar crunch that would later draw the hard rock scene’s attention and lead to opening slots with AC/DC and Iron Maiden, but King’s X are three flower children at their core. The emphasis on harmonized vocals and compact songwriting shows a Beatles influence in a way that so few have captured before or since, while the psychedelic guitar textures conjure memories of Hendrix and the funk rhythms show obvious debt to Sly and the Family Stone. Add in a subtle prog influence and possible grunge foreshadowing and you’ve got a band seemingly designed to appeal to any type of music listener while still retaining a style all their own.

The solid musicianship keeps such an eclectic vision from collapsing on itself. Seeing how the band members had already been together in some form for nearly a decade at this point, it makes sense for them to have near perfect chemistry. Like subsequent King’s X outings, this isn’t really an album for extended instrumental passages or elaborate structures outside of the thrash break on the closing “Visions,” but it takes a lot of talent to pull such a varied, eclectic style.

It is also obligatory to mention the band members’ incredible vocal talents. The dual vocal format is nothing new, as ZZ Top and KISS did it before and Alice in Chains would soon join in, but it’s rarely done with this much effort in the arrangements. The extensive harmony layouts and trade-offs go beyond mere rock ‘n roll hollering, while the grounded feel helps keep it more gospel than classical.

The singers also manage to sound distinct when delivering individual lines, as bassist Doug Pinnick has a more soulful howl while guitarist Ty Tabor’s voice has more of an alternative tinge to it. Both singers know their ranges well and tend to sing songs that cater to their specific styles, but the typecasting that would set in on later efforts can be felt here. There’s a reason why Pinnick was one of Ritchie Blackmore’s first picks when Deep Purple’s MKII reunion fell apart in the early 90s.

Thankfully, the songwriting doesn’t just coast by on amazing vocals alone. Despite sliding under the commercial radar, the album’s singles are well written and catchy; “King” delivers a particularly engaging set of hooks while “Goldilox” defies power ballad convention with a somber delivery more in line with a late 80s answer to “Tuesday’s Gone.” Elsewhere, “In the New Age” makes for a heavy opener once the opening ambiance is out of the way, and “Wonder” mixes acoustic mysticism and a steady chug.

The distinct sound is enough to make Out of the Silent Planet a fascinating debut, but the delivery also makes it worth noting. The experience of the musicians gives the style a confident aura but there’s also enough room for development that the band has happily delivered in the thirty years since. In short, this is an excellent starting point for what some have spent decades hailing as the world’s most underrated rock band.

“In the New Age”
“Power of Love”
“What Is This?”

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