I don't remember KING KOBRA to be a "bad" band; I just don't remember much at all about 1985's "Ready to Strike" and 1986's "Thrill of a Lifetime" beyond Carmine Appice occupying the drum stool and all that bright 'n shiny blond hair. More importantly with regard to the new self-titled album, I don't remember them being this "good". Twelve new tracks; 12 absolute keepers.
A term like "hair metal" sells this one short. While the ballad-esque "Fade Away" and power balladry of "Cryin' Turns to Rain" share similarities with the form, it is really only because of the pop flavors and sentimental sensibilities, which are largely irrelevant as sole indicators for genre classification. Both also happen to be well written, moving cuts. The guts of KING KOBRA's third effort are made of kick ass hard rock and penetrating hooks. A heavy hittin' Appice joins bassist Johnny Rod (W.A.S.P.) to lay down a tight, power-driven foundation for the blazing guitars of David Michael-Philips (LIZZY BORDEN) and Mick Sweda (BULLETBOYS), while vocalist Paul Shortino (ROUGH CUTT, QUIET RIOT) injects soulful swagger into his command of these memorable tunes. Songs like "Turn up the Good (Times)", and "Top of the World" actually lean more to the hard rock side of European heavy metal — running the gamut from UFO to SAXON to WAYSTED — as they do typical (or stereotypical) hair metal. In fact, the only relevant '80s reference for at least a few of these tracks is "Dr. Feelgood"-period MÖTLEY CRÜE because of the rhythmic muscle involved. Hell, "This is How we Roll" wouldn't have been out of place on a MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP album. If you listen closely you might even pick up a little HELIX ("Dirty Dog" specifically) in the riffing of "Midnight Woman". And the hooks don't get much bigger than on the pop-inflected goodness of "Live Forever", not to mention "Tear Down the Walls" with its AUTOGRAPH-sized chorus, both proving to be nothing more complicated than catchy, rockin' fun. Getting Shortino in the band to replace original throat Marcie Free (previously known as Mark Free) was a stroke of genius, his role as bluesman extraordinaire on the sizzling "We Got a Fever" a starring one.
It seems BLACK 'N BLUE comeback effort "Hell Yeah!" is getting the lion's share of attention and though it is a solid release, KING KOBRA's self-titled scorcher is a superior album and a much more consistent one at that. Frontiers Records has been on a roll this year, so much so that my faith in the state of 21st century hard rock is approaching a level of full restoration.