Here comes Krokus to kick their ass.
-- Beavis and Butthead, watching video to “Balls To The Wall”
It’s 2010, so of course it’s time for a new… uh… KROKUS album. Yes, you read that correctly. A new KROKUS album. What’s more City of Devils is covering it. You might find that odd. But like everything we do, for those who look hard enough through our horseshit, there’s a nice shiny pony waiting to be found. Our morality tale today involves sticking to your guns.
KROKUS are one of the great casualties of ‘80s metal. Put them up there with RAVEN, SAXON, ACCEPT and a few other mostly-Euro bands who were woefully unprepared to deal with American-style marketing. This theme is covered with great love and detail in Martin Popoff’s Collector’s Guide series; we’ll try to not to repeat him too much, but the truth is the truth.
Starting in the ‘70’s as a god awful pub rock band from Switzerland, KROKUS released an LP that was re-released at various times as Pay It In Metal, but should have been called Pay And Ask For Refund. It featured one of the guitarists on vocals. Thankfully they ditched that idea and got Marc Storace to handle the task, primarily because he sounds just like Bon Scott.
The first two KROKUS albums with Storace were a gateway to the NWOBHM for young, impressionable suburban minds. I can remember fighting with my parents and demanding that they drive me to Tower Records on Easter Sunday (I won a bet they would be open), so I could blow my Easter load on KROKUS’s Hardware and DEF LEPPARD’s High and Dry. I stared for hours at the lyrics and photos on Hardware. These guys were mysterious and from Switzerland. They were solid like AC/DC but noisier, more trebly, especially on songs like “Easy Rocker” and “Burning Bones.” They wrote about nasty things on “Mr. Sixty Nine” (“it’s a bad joke / the way in which he died / he did choke / on a lady’s sanitary pad”) and “Smelly Nelly” (about an unhygienic lass who is good at sexual intercourse and is “making easy money on welfare from the state” – nice Swiss touch, that). It was one of those great records from a time and place that won’t come back.
By One Vice At A Time, KROKUS were full-on AC/DC clones with some marketing push. Their next disc, Headhunter, would prove to be their greatest. There was tje smoking double bass action on the title track, the power ballad “Screaming in the Night”, and backing vox by Rob Halford. The sound was crisp and loud. Blasting Headhunter on a friend’s Walkman, I secretly planned revenge on my entire high school, wondering if anyone could see the sheer joy in my heart as I stalked the halls like some amoebic version of a Columbine kid. Metal was really happening by then, and Headhunter promised great things to come.
Ahh, but the fall was swift and long. The next disc, The Blitz, was an obvious cave to management. KROKUS swiftly lost the metal fan base they apparently were taking for granted. Like RAVEN after All For One and SAXON after Power and the Glory, our heroes were set adrift without self-defense training in the big ‘ol US of A, listing about in a sea of new hair cuts, makeup, and cocaine, with compressed, sterile production and songwriting that attempted to second guess the tastes of kids in the heartland. What the young headbanger had taken as integrity and vision turned out to be nothing more than dumb luck and blind marketing, as post-Headhunter KROKUS scurried like aging hippies from one sinking ship to another, trying to regain momentum lost in a metal world that was double bassing and palm muting right past their tour bus while pulled over in St. Louis looking for decent Mexican dirt weed. But the live shows were still good. I remember seeing them headline with WASP and HELIX in Sacramento on The Blitz tour. It was a rockin’ good time, but not good enough for me to buy their records.
43 line up changes, two singers, some greatest hits packages, live albums, departing and returning key members, and a handful of reunions later, we are treated to Hoodoo, the product of a “real” reunion of the “original” members for their first album in “20 years.” I guess they count differently in Switzerland (obviously since the “Dirty Dozen” greatest hits package has 17 songs), but there was some “new” KROKUS in the ‘90’s. And we always get a little suspicious when a band reunites with an original drummer who goes on to play flawlessly on the new disc. Sort of like how Bill Ward is only wheeled in for the Ozzy “original” Sabbath, leaving Vinnie Appice for the heavy lifting on everything else. And surprise, Kenny Aronoff shows up on the liner notes as a “guest musician.”
So what of Hoodoo – is it a true “return to form”? Well, the first thing to do on any KROKUS album is look for the rip offs of other bands, because there are usually a few, and it is fun to guess whether they are intentional. Further, the language barrier makes for some unwittingly brilliant lines. Here we are treated to a CD cover that looks exactly like Hot Wire by KIX, oddly another band confused of ripping of AC/DC. Then they mention “blow my fuse”, which is a KIX album. One chorus is “too hot / too hot to handle.” Not to be confused with UFO’s “too, too hot/ too hot to handle.” And like dumbshits they cover “Born To Be Wild.” In the great lyrics category, we get the corker: “Don’t feed me cocaine / It’s more than I can bear / Don’t give me ecstasy / Don’t want to be square.” You know what? That is true!!
Don’t get me wrong. This is a good album. It’s the best AC/DC album this year. Especially with Bon Scott dead and Brian Johnson’s voice hanging on the skin of his shiny bald plate. And it should be. KROKUS had “20 years” to think about what makes them good. Turns out they are pretty good at sounding like AC/DC. The time of Headhunter is long gone. They’ll never be back there, nor will metal. But the world can always use a steady beat, a solid bass line, grooving riffs and a singer who cuts through a mix, and the Young brothers aren’t exactly prolific. If you like AC/DC, you will like this record. But you need to quit thinking about what could have been. In fact, you need to quit thinking altogether. That’s the answer: put on Hoodoo (soon to be at a cutout bin near you) and quit thinking. A good Saturday night is sure to follow.