King's X - Dogman
Music You Might Want to Consider - K
In the early nineties I was still trying to figure out my faith. I knew by then that I was a Christian, but I determining the rules of my faith, the dos and the don’ts, that was a bit more difficult to navigate. Because, unfortunately, when you take rules that were handed down from God Himself, and mix in mankind, you run the risk of human ego, control, and religious fervor becoming the guidepost instead.
There was no better example of this struggle than the rules regarding rock and roll back then. Christian music was a subgenre of popular music in general, and there was constant debate about whether or not Christians should subject themselves to secular music, if there are Christian alternatives exist. At the time, I was firmly in the Christian-Music-Only camp, which made King’s X a bit of a conundrum.
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I was a subscriber to Heaven’s Metal magazine, so I was familiar with the name King’s X early on. Every year, lead singer and bass player Dug Pinnick would win multiple reader awards, and editor-in-chief often had glowing praise for each album they released. That’s not unusual for something so niche as Christian heavy metal, but King’s X was exceptional, because they were not a “Christian” band.
Like Stryper before them, King’s X was a band of Christian musicians who were signed to a secular label. This was incredibly rare in the eighties and nineties, because music was segregated by genre and faith, with Christian music often being bootleg versions of their secular counterparts.1 There were several examples of this (Whitecross was a substitution for Ratt, X-Sinner was a substitution for AC/DC.), but mostly it was watered down rock and roll that nobody listened to, except youth group kids, kids dragged to church by their parents, or kids with well-meaning Christian relatives trying to lure them away from the secular stuff.
By this time, I was a youth group kid, becoming well versed in most Christian metal. My secular music experience was mostly limited to what I saw on television or happened to passively hear on the radio or at the mall. I was almost completely ignorant of secular heavy metal, since 99% of it wasn’t played on the radio very often.
But then came Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. I was a rabid Bill & Ted fan, both before, and after I became a Christian. One of the best things about both Bill & Ted movies is that the soundtrack is just as good as the films themselves. And what band was featured on the soundtrack for Bogus Journey? King’s X.
So, my two worlds had sort of converged. Which meant I had to find a King’s X album to enjoy. I started out with their earlier stuff, Gretchen goes to Nebraska, and Out of the Silent Planet, two concept albums with the spirit of C.S. Lewis, and their self-titled record, King’s X.
All of these albums are top notch. Melodic, full of great harmonies, and hard hitting. They ended up in heavy rotation for me, and to this day, I listen to them a few times a year.2
But I was listening to these albums long after their release. The album that I hold near and dear to my heart is the first one that I bought on the day that it came out - 1994’s Dogman.
Grunge had become king in 1992, thanks to Nirvana, and it was beginning to gain steam in the Christian market as well, courtesy of upstart indy label Tooth & Nail. Since King’s X was signed to Atlantic, they were obligated to release something new, and Dogman was the result.
A bit harder and heavier than their previous outings, any track on Dogman would fit in the rotation on any alternative rock station in 1994. Particularly the title track, and most of the A-Side. The harmonized vocals are mostly diminished, and in their place, Pinnick takes control with vocals that were reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix3. The band seems tighter as well, Ty Tabor’s guitar and Jerry Gaskill’s drums form a wall of sound that’s impenetrable.
Their are multiple highlights to this album, but the one that moves me the most is “Cigarettes”, the heartbreaking homage to living with an aging parent battling alzheimers.
In the midst of me listening to this cassette on the bus for probably a month straight, I had a classmate4 who was in a grunge/punk/noise band with two of his friends. He brought a videotape of their rehearsal into class, and a bunch of us gathered around the tv to watch.
I blurted out, “Man, a three-piece band, like King’s X.”
And another classmate started to laugh. “Dude, more like Nirvana.”
He was right. But in my mind, King’s X had “gone grunge”, so at the time, I thought it was an appropriate comparison. I tried to argue my point, but I admit that I was wrong.
But Dogman is a solid album, and my favorite of theirs, despite them releasing multiple records since then. In fact, they have a new album, their first in 14 years, coming out in the fall. I’ll definitely be checking it out. Will it be good, I’m sure.
But nothing will ever compare to the days when i was listening to Dogman at full volume, with a pile of comic books in front of me. Something about nostalgia listening hits different, and no matter what music you’re into when you were 15, Christian OR secular.
Need proof of this? Every Christian bookstore had some version of a, “If you like (Insert Secular Band Here), you’ll love (Insert Christian Band Here)” poster or display. The ironic thing was, 95% of the time, the bands sounded nothing alike. No, I don’t think that Petra was a good substitution for Bon Jovi, no matter how much Lifeway Christian Books tried to convince me.
Mostly due to the fact that, for reasons I don’t quite understand, I get the song Prisoner stuck in my head at random times. It’s weird.
Look no further than their cover of Hendrix’s Manic Depression, which closes the album out on an incredibly high note.
I wrote about this classmate, Josh, in my entry about Beck, a long time ago.