King Kobra band photo

KING KOBRA – II

King Kobra IIWhen King Kobra started out back in 1985, they were one of those bands we all thought would be the next big thing in melodic metal / hard rock. They had all the ingredients for being so. They were great musicians, had catchy hard rock songs that were commercial enough to reach out to a broader crowd, but still with enough edge to please the hard rockers and, by 1985 standards, they looked cool with the right clothes and enough good-looking guys to attract the female part of the audience. We know today that that didn’t happen. The band was formed by former Vanilla Fudge / Cactus / Rod Stewart drummer Carmine Appice (who co-wrote Rod’s horrible disco hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”…) who was just fresh out a tour with Ozzy Osbourne where he had replaced Tommy Aldridge. By this point, Carmine had had enough of being a paid backing musician and wanted to start fresh with his own band. Hard rock and metal were about to make it real big by then and Carmine felt the direction the winds were blowing. He had his vision clear and he had his own criteria of how his band would both look and sound. First, they all had to be great players, just like he was. Second, they had to look the part as well. Carmine was friends with Mötley Crüe and he liked the way they were approaching things. He also thought that their look with three black-haired guys and the contrast of the blond singer was really cool, so he decided that King Kobra would be a Mötley Crüe in reverse. Said and done, when he had found the members, Mick Sweda and David Michael Philips (born Henzerling) on guitar, Johnny Rod (born Tumminello) on bass and lead singer Mark Free, they had to dye their hair blonde which made Carmine the only black-haired guy in the band. They also added pink spots in their hair, for some unknown reason.

They got a record deal with Capitol Records and were given two songs, first single “Hunger” and “Piece Of The Rock”, from Canadian rockers Kick Axe (why on earth they didn’t keep those songs for themselves is beyond me…) and released their debut album Ready To Strike, but despite “Hunger” being a minor hit, the album didn’t sell that well so for the next album a much more commercial approach was to be taken. It was 1986 and the success of bands such as Def Leppard and Bon Jovi had given hard rock a more poppy touch and that made their new album Thrill Of A Lifetime more a pop album than a hard rock one. The song “Iron Eagle (Never Say Die)” became a bit of a hit, but the album failed completely and soon after both Free and Rod left the band and was immediately replaced by singer Marq Torien and bassist Lonnie Vencent. But that didn’t last long and Torien and Vencent took Mick Sweda with them and formed Bulletboys. Appice and Phillips brought in singer Johnny Edwards (later Foreigner), guitarist Jeff Northrup and bassist Larry Hart and recorded the ill-fated (and pretty bad) album King Kobra III (1988) before the band split for good. Appice and Sweda tried to resurrect the band in 2001 with Steve Fister (ex Lita Ford) and Kelly Keeling (ex Baton Rouge, John Norum) on vocals with the dreadful album Hollywood Trash but things never lifted off at all. But in 2011 the original line up minus singer Free (who by then had been in bands such as Signal and Unruly Child and had also had a sex change and are now known as Marcie Free, again in Unruly Child) decided to give the band a go again, this time with ex Rough Cutt / Quiet Riot singer Paul Shortino at the mike. A great move as Shortino’s voice has that raspiness that Free also had and he has the lungs of a lion and a huge range, easily one of the best hard rock singers around today.

However, their self titled reunion album from 2011 was a bit uneven. It had some really good songs, but unfortunately too many forgettable ones as well. Me, I always wondered if King Kobra would be relevant in the 2000s and after they had decided to keep going with yet another album, entitled II (not much thought has been put into their record titles, I guess…), I reckon they are. I think it’s great that they have decided to give this a fighting chance despite the fact that they never sold big units the first time around and the fact that many people doesn’t have a clue who this band are. That’s why it feels nice to state that their new album is a step in the right direction. In fact, I believe that this is the best King Kobra release since their debut. The album opens great with “Hell On Wheels”, a real ass kicker, but still very melodic. “Knock ’em Dead” is good, but a bit too ordinary, plus it’s really lyrically clichéd with its “we tell the world to fuck off” lyrics. “Have A Good Time”, the first single and video is catchy and groovy and will probably work great in a live situation, but unfortunately it’s a bit forgettable, “The Ballad of Johnny Rod” is a cool idea, with the bass player telling his life story, but the song is too weak. “Take Me Back”, the ballad, however, is brilliant and in my ears, this is a hit as in HIT! “Running Wild” is a killer, rough, yet melodic, “Got It Comin'” is pop-metal and a brilliant song – I wish King Kobra would do more of these as the style fits them extremely well – and “The Crunch” is a great and groovy piece of hard rock. In “Deep River” they give us a dark, long, soulful, bluesy hard rock tune that goes in the heavier vein – awesome! They round off the whole thing with “We Go Round”, a poppier hard rock song and again, more of this, please. The more melodic kind of hard rock is what they does best. As a whole, a very good album and better than their reunion album as this feels more genuine and thought through. I have a feeling that if they just lose their most forgettable (luckily enough, there aren’t that many of them here) tunes and keep on going, King Kobra could be a strong force to be reckoned with. After this album I’m very curious about how they will sound live. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Sweden Rock 2014 booking.

Jon Wilmenius (7/10)

Tracklist:

01. Hell On Wheels
02. Knock ‘Em Dead
03. Have A Good Time
04. The Ballad Of Johnny Rod
05. Take Me Back
06. When The Hammer Comes Down
07. Running Wild
08. The Crunch
09. Got It Comin’
10. Deep River
11. Don’t Keep Me Waiting
12. We Go Round

5 comments on “KING KOBRA – II

  1. I have Ready to Strike. It’s OK. Not something I listen to frequently. It was the video for the Iron Eagle song that makes me laugh.

    “What do you think we are man, machines? ”

    “That’s exactly what you have to be if you want to fly.”

    I like Shortino though, and I think this could interest me enough to warrant a look.

  2. Watching the video now: Jonny Rod rockin’ the man-boobs!

    I have heard he was the craziest partier of the bunch. But Shortino is still sounding good. He almost looks a dead ringer for old-school John Corabi!

  3. Yep. I heard some crazy rumours about Rod as well. I won’t speculate as I’m not sure how true they are, but he still looks like he’s the craziest of the bunch.
    Shortino both looks and sounds sharp.

  4. As far as Kick Axe giving them those two songs for the debut was from what I read yrs ago .Spencer Proffer asked Kick Axe to submit a couple,of songs for the Kobra debut and they obliged and wrote a couple of good ones as u mentioned…

  5. Well, Kick Axe did a version of Hunger and put it on the CD version of their album Welcome To The Club, a killer record, I might add, as abonus track.

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