King’s X Keeps the Faith
“I read the Bible. I know what he did. Man, the guy was cool!”
Doug Pinnick is talking excitedly in a Dallas restaurant and stabbing a fork emphatically into his steak ‘n’ shrimp combo platter, setting off a noisy chain reaction of clinking and clanging by the multiple zippers on his leather jacket and the half dozen or so thin silver bracelets he wears on each wrist.
“Here he is, sitting with the worst people in the world,” Pinnick continues, ignoring the curious stares coming from adjacent tables, “all the ones that nobody else would touch or come close to. Here he is, talking to them. And he’s not telling them to get their lives together. ‘Don’t feel guilty’ – that’s basically what he said.”
“And that’s all we’re saying – ‘Don’t feel bad about what you’re doing,'” Pinnick declares, peering intently through the shaggy overhang of his jet black mohawk. “The hardest thing about living in this world is feeling good about yourself.”
The “he” Pinnick’s referring to is, of course, the He, Jesus Christ. The “we” is King’s X, the biracial hard-rock trio from Houston whose critically applauded blend of muscular progressive metal, Beatlesque vocal sunshine, AOR melodic savvy and utopian optimism is making chart waves via “It’s Love,” the breakout track from the group’s third LP, Faith Hope Love by King’s X. And Pinnick, the band’s outspoken black bassist and lead singer, is explaining how he, guitarist Ty Tabor and drummer Jerry Gaskill weathered 10 years of writing, gigging, recording and, for long periods, starving together – and succeeded in doing the seemingly impossible. That is, reconciling their own devout Christian beliefs – and the attendant missionary responsibilities – with the baser thrills of rock & roll, the worldly temptations of pop stardom and the harsh realities of both the secular and Christian music industries. Not to mention the contradictory expectations of their rapidly growing audience, composed largely of equally devout metalheads whose idea of a new messiah is more likely to be Danzig or Slayer.
“This is what we’re supposed to be doing,” Pinnick insists, “what they’re all supposed to be doing,” taking a poke at his more puritanical brethren. “Being themselves in the world. Feeling the friction. We come out and play, we feel one way, maybe the crowd feels another. But we rub against each other, we understand and learn. And we disappear after that. But still, something happens.”
That something can be simple air-guitar nirvana. Later that night, at the City Limits, a heavy-metal watering hole in suburban Dallas, King’s X roasts a capacity crowd with repeated bazooka blasts of what Pinnick likes to call “the pound,” an appropriate euphemism for the explosive compound of thundering hard-rock classicism, wily hooks, speed-metal zoom and startlingly soulful vocal interplay. Flashes of the band’s disparate influences – early Rush, U2, Sixties Brit pop, progressive soul no-nonsense thrash – whiz by, shoehorned into rib-rattling, sing-along torpedoes. One minute, the band is driving head bangers into fits of spasmodic ecstasy with the staccato James Brown-cum-Metallica time changes of “We Were Born to Be Loved.” The next, Pinnick, Tabor and Gaskill are executing the delicate stair-step harmonies of “I’ll Never Get Tired of You” with the cathedral elegance of the Beatles on Abbey Road.
It’s easy to miss the message amid top-drawer mayhem like “Power of Love,” a buzz-bomb pledge of spiritual allegiance from the band’s 1988 debut, Out of the Silent Planet, or the frenetic hallelujah “Moanjam” (“I sing this song/This one’s for you/You’re the story. . . . You’re the glory”), which roars like Van Halen at Bad Brains speed. There’s more epic spirit than specific doctrine in Pinnick’s gritty, robust singing; imagine Bono speaking in R&B-gospel tongues (particularly that of Sly Stone). And over three albums, King’s X has mentioned its savior only once by name in a song, the pulverizing “Over My Head” from the 1989 LP Gretchen Goes to Nebraska. Even then, it was only in passing – “Music music/I hear music…. Oh Lord/Music over my head.”
But that is because King’s X is not a Christian band, “playing the game of using the right words here and there,” as Ty Tabor brusquely puts it. Rather, the members of King’s X argue, they are simply a band of Christians, less interested in parroting dogma than in celebrating life and blowing minds. And so what if the devil has all the best tunes?
“I like a lot of bands whose lyrics or lifestyle I might question,” Pinnick says without apology. “Like Black Sabbath. The core of a lot of our music is Black Sabbath. Yeah, the guy’s talking about Satan and stuff. But that’s just what he’s singing about. Hopefully, that’s what we get across, that we just play music.”
“The spiritual aspect that people always tie to us includes everything.” Jerry Gaskill contends. “It includes that Saturday-night-party thing.”
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