King Kobra - Ready to Strike (Axe Killer) 1985
1. "Ready to Strike"
Spandex, make-up, and bleach blonde hair teased to the sky, that is except for resident drum hero Carmine Appice (ex-Ted Nugent) who sets himself apart with his dark brown doo. The music here is a fairly decent slab of melodic, 80's pop metal. For this style this CD is fairly heavy as well; hanging with the likes of Dokken and Rough Cutt . While their sound is slightly generic, the band manages to write some decent anthems that make the CD very enjoyable. Vocalist Mark Free has a decent set of pipes to boot, which really pushes this CD over the edge. (Some years later Mark later decided he was a girl, had an operation and changed his name to Marcie.) Surprisingly the ballads are kept to a minimum here with "Dancing With Desire", a decent sing-along power ballad that isn't as cheesy as might be expected from this spandex clad bunch. Some of the leads even take on a slight Thin Lizzy/Iron Maiden dual lead style. The guitars are have a heavy bite to them, despite being a bit synthisized sounding. "Ready to Strike" also features the bass playing of future W.A.S.P. bassist Johnny Rod.
King Kobra - Thrill of a Lifetime (Axe Killer) 1986
"Mean Street Machine" is an up-beat, spirited rocker that kicks the album off while "Redline" is a speedy, heavy rocker. "Mean Street Machine" was actually a song that guitarist David Michael-Philips had recorded with his former band Schoolboys. For whatever reason, the lyrics were re-written by Carmine Appice who gains a writing credit on the song. The album features two Gene Simmons compositions that had already appeared on Wendy O. Williams solo album four years earlier. Since neither "Legends Never Die" nor "It's My Life" were big hits for her, I suppose someone thought they could possibly be hits for King Kobra. (Doro also recorded a cover of "Legends".) "It's My Life"was originally intended to be on the 1982 Kiss album "Creatures of the Night" album but did not make the cut. (Kiss' version of the song is featured on their box set.) King Kobra's take on the song sounds very much like 1980's Kiss. Johnny Edwards slightly raspy voice, almost sounds as if Peter Criss were singing it. Actually Edwards raspy howl reminds me of a cross between Criss and Dave Meniketti of Y&T.
"Perfect Crime" and "Burning In Her Fire" are closer to the AOR of "Thrill" but without the wimpy production that album had. "Take It Off" is a typical 1980's, party-hard, party-naked type rocker with a hooky chorus. It's sort of surprising, given the times, that this song didn't get some radio play. Obviously the band being on a smaller label was to their detriment at the time. Of course, what would poofy-hair 80's rock be without a ballad? "III" ends with a ballad titled "Number One"
King Kobra and melodic rock fans seem to universally think that "King Kobra III" is the weakest of the first three albums. I on the other hand think it's their most solid. Edwards raspy howl seems to fit the sleazy L.A. vibe this album has and I certainly appreciate the beefier production over the plastic-studio-sheen of "Thrill of a Lifetime". Frankly I think this should have been the follow-up to the band's debut. I wonder how much more popular King Kobra might have been if it had been?DISC TWO
After the disappointing sales of "King Kobra III" in 1988 Carmine Appice split up the band and formed Blue Murder with ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes. For a brief period in 2001 Carmine attempted to put King Kobra back together. "Hollywood Trash" was the 2001 "reunion" disc from King Kobra, though it isn't a true reunion as Carmine Appicce and guitarist Mike Sweda are the only members left from the original band, joined by MSG voalist Kelly Keeling and former Lita Ford guitarist Steve Fister. Musically the band doesn't attempt to recall the past whatsoever, but instead records an album of modern hard rock. Opening track "Do It" is driven by a funk groove whereas "Bitch" is a more upbeat modern radio rocker. The title track on the other hand recalls a 70's sound with some slide guitar and a Southern rock vibe. "Watch What You Think" is a sleazy hard rocker that reminds me of Whitesnake, right down to some uncanny vocals similarities between Keeling and Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale. Overall the album has a very different sound and feel than what I would have expected from King Kobra.
"Hollywood Trash" seems to be universally loathed by King Kobra fans. In fact, the album doesn't really sound like classic King Kobra. Reading though a few old interviews, Carmine attempted to explain it as "Hollywood Trash" is not a re-union record, rather a brand new King Kobra album, with a "fresh" line-up and and a new sound. That may be true, but when a band hasn't released a record in a couple decades then suddenly a new record appears under that band's name, then fans will expect a certain sound. If Carmine really wanted to release a new album with a new sound and not get compared to the old records, he should have released it under a different band name, or perhaps as a solo record. The fact is, using the band name is going to make fans expect a certain sound. However, looking beyond that, "Hollywood Trash" isn't the waste of plastic that many fans make it out to be. It's a decent rock and roll record.
1. Rock This House (4:33)
2. Turn Up the Good Times (4:41)
3. Live Forever (4:21)
4. Tear Down the Walls (3:55)
5. This Is How We Roll (3:42)
6. Midnight Woman (4:15)
7. We Got a Fever (4:03)
8. Top of the World (4:10)
9. You Make It Easy (4:39)
10. Crying Turns To Rain (4:19)
11. Screamin' For More (4:38)
12. Fade Away (4:46)
In 2010 drummer Carmine Appice, bassist Johnny Rod, and guitarists David 'Michael-Philips' Henzerling and Mick Sweda reformed King Kobra with a new singer, former Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot frontman Paul Shortino (aka Duke Famous in "This Is Spinal Tap".) I like old King Kobra, especially their debut. They were a fun 80's band with a decidedly Hollywood glam sound. However, it is my opinion that as they continued to release albums, the gloss and sheen of the studio robbed the band of any true rock 'n' roll grit they might have had. So who would expect King Kobra to reform decades later and release something good? To be honest, I half expected this album to be some attempt at modern rock or something else that wouldn't hold my interest for more than a listen or two. I couldn't have been more wrong. The 2011 eponymous album could very well be their best album ever, or at least on par with "Ready to Strike".
A tune like "Rock This House", had it been on the band's debut or their follow-up could easily have been a hit for the band. The upbeat rocker is sure to be a concert opener. "Tear Down the Walls" is heavy rocker built around a robust riff and heavy guitar sound while "Life Forever" is a more melodic song akin to the material on "Thrill of a Lifetime". The smokey, gritty and bluesy voice of Paul Shortino really gives the songs depth and charisma. Others songs such as "Screaming For More" and "This is How We Roll" offer more upbeat hard rock, while "Fade Away" closes the album on a more melodic, mellow moment.
"King Kobra" is a meaty, raw, rock 'n' roll album. While it does have a more modern production the vibe is absolutely from the 1980's. The album is packed full of fun, anthemic songs with killer hooks and soulful vocals. It's great to hear a reunion record from a band that wholly embraces their roots.