By the late '80s, it should have no longer been a novelty to find African Americans actively involved in the making of heavy guitar rock music. Unfortunately, though, it was. Even worse, it pretty much still is today. That truth deeply puzzles me given that the most groundbreaking, explosive guitarist of all time (Jimi Hendrix, anyone?) was a black American and more than a few of the most influential artists of early rock and roll also had such a heritage. Somehow, though, hard rock music has continued to remain painfully and disproportionately white for going on a half century. Nevertheless, soulful progressive metal band King's X has done its best over the years to change this embarrassing demographic fact, spending its three decades of existence brashly blending disparate genres and employing the inspiring, gravelly, blues-tinged howl of lead vocalist Doug Pinnick to lead the way into, perhaps, a colorblind brave new world. Oh, we're not there yet, to be sure, and I'm as much to blame as anyone, I suppose, for bringing up race in lieu of an exclusive focus on just the music. But these are sometimes the things we think about, I guess, for better and for worse.
In a purely musical sense, King's X is an inventive power trio that rose up during the mid '80s out of the American heartland, stubbornly searching for new ways to deliver distorted guitar riffs, explore spiritual themes, and generally make joyful rock and roll noise. 1989's Gretchen Goes to Nebraska remains one of the band's most seminal album releases, functioning certainly as a provocative concept album as well as a simple display of the group's substantial chops. Along with guitarist Ty Tabor and drummer Jerry Gaskill, bass player and lead vocalist Pinnick eschewed typical musical boundaries in favor of a somewhat improvisational, soulfully visceral take on heavy metal and hard rock. As such, it's little surprise that the band was never quite able to reach mass audiences, and in many ways that remains a positive thing. Ultimately, King's X has been able to carve out a serviceable niche into which music lovers seeking an atypical music experience will happily travel. In some ways, "Over My Head" can be seen as one of the most conventional of King's X tracks, if only because the song rests on fairly simple, minimalistic lyrics and an ongoing central guitar riff. However, Pinnick's positively transcendent vocals - punctuated by occasional screams that must make Little Richard beam with pride - take the performance to an entirely unexplored level of gospel-tinged intensity that should nonetheless capture the imaginations of even the fiercely irreligious among us. King's X has typically bristled when observers insist on labeling the group a Christian rock band, and it's easy to see why. This is a band of the people, most interested in what music can do for us all - regardless of individual worldview.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic