Review Summary: A sign of things to come.
By the time King's X released their 1988 debut 'Out of the Silent Planet' they were no longer strangers to the rock scene. The band's members had been a professional touring musician for a while before they met each other. In fact, they joined forces after touring with separate bands and meeting each other at shows. They then spent nearly a decade paying their dues as 'The Edge' and 'Sneak Preview' before they finally managed to cut 'Silent Planet'. Thus 'Silent Planet', even though it's their debut album, is the work of a group of seasoned professionals and not a bunch of teenage neophytes. But even while taking this into account, the musical vision and cohesiveness of the band is startling in its clarity. King's X, from the very start, were an almost completely fully formed entity. Combining progressive rock, heavy metal, pop, soul and funk influences in a way that that simultaneously recalled Jimi Hendrix, Rush and The Beatles without ever sounding the least bit derivative, King's X instantly set themselves apart from the rest of the late-80's rock landscape.
For most bands 'Silent Planet' would be a creative high-water mark, but for King's X it was merely the beginning of an incredible run spanning 8 years and 5 albums where the band churned out some consistently brilliant hard rock at a prolific rate. 'Silent Planet' may not be the best offering from this period, that honour goes to 1989's 'Gretchen Goes to Nebraska' and 1994's 'Dogman', but it serves up the goods, which in the case of King's X means it's chock-full of Bassist-Singer Doug Pinnick's powerful and soulful voice, Guitarist-Singer Ty Tabor's superbly melodic soloing and riffing, Drummer-Singer Jerry Gaskill's tastefully understated drumming and the band’s calling card, their ethereal and airtight harmonies.
One of the problems with hindsight is that the album, despite being groundbreaking and masterful in its creativity, is still in some senses a product of its time. The production on a lot of the album gives it a very “80’s rock” feel. Despite the fact that Tabor’s riffing in drop-D was heavier than anything most mainstream bands dared to play and Pinnick’s singing could shift from gospel-influenced soul to paint-peeling metal screaming seamlessly and effortlessly, the production smooths out and buffs any rough edges the music may have had, giving it an almost Def Leppard-ish sheen.
However, even the dated and dating production values of the album cannot stop the band from shining through on pretty much every song. Right from the space-rock intro of album opener “In the New Age” the band moves from strength to strength, experimenting wildly without ever seeming like their reach exceeds their grasp. The experimental attitude of the band finds them tackling everything from psychedelic rock on the opener, to power ballads on “Goldilox”, to psychotic funk on “Sometimes”, to charging hard rock on “King” and “Shot of Love”, to sludgy metal on “Visions”. In particular, "Shot of Love" stands out with it's vaguely sitar-influenced open-string riffing and call and response vocals.
Each song also containing a strong undercurrent of progressive rock mostly manifesting itself in the song structures which, while focusing on the traditional verse-chorus structure, never devolves into cliche. Most of the lead vocals are handled by Pinnick, but Tabor and Gaskill occasionally get to contribute with the former’s voice being the perfect mode of delivery on the psychedelic opener, and even when they're not singing lead, their harmonies are never far away from the mix.
What is abundantly apparent from the outset is that the band has instrumental chops to spare, but they never let their instrumental virtuosity overwhelm the song. The focus on every cut is structure and tightness. This sense of restraint is nowhere more apparent than in Ty Tabor’s soloing. Considering that this album was made in 1988 and the overwhelming guitar aesthetic was “faster, louder, crazier”, Tabor manages to shred without ever losing the melody or seeming like he’s “wanking”. Also, enough cannot be said about the range and power of Pinnick's voice and the amount of emotion he manages to put into every syllable he sings.
Lyrically-speaking, 'Silent Planet' is heavily influenced by the band’s Christian beliefs. While the band never mentions “God” in the album, the faith of the band is hard to ignore when listening to songs like "King", "Shot of Love" and 'Power of Love." Even the title of the album is taken from a book by noted theologian and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis whose writing the band apparently admired. However, despite the fact that the band’s lyrical themes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the band chooses to focus on positive and uplifting topics of hope and love rather than religion per se and the songs are generally catchy enough for the actual topic of the song to not matter.
Ultimately, the album displays a band entering its zenith as a creative and musical force. Sadly, despite receiving an enormous amount of critical acclaim, the band was steadfastly ignored by the mainstream record-buying public, in a recurring pattern that would last their entire careers. Fortunately, this failed to deter the band and they would continue to tweak and improve on the template created by this album.
Shot of Love
In the New Age