|[published]:||2014, January 14|
|[in]:||Selective Memory Magazine|
|[article]:||Turn Your Radio Off! A Look at Kick Axe's debut Vices|
Many may remember this '80s Saskatchewan heavy metal group by Rock The World. The album, released in 1986, is their only album readily available through iTunes and Amazon. It is also an odd artifact for the band's preservation as it was a last hooray before their label Pasha dropped the group from their roster.
It would seem more logical if Kick Axe's Welcome To the Club was dominantly available for the reasons of it being a more radio-friendly album, as well as a notch in the 1985 Billboard Top 200. Despite their heavy metal anthemic roots re-determined on Rock The World shortly before the band's collapse, Welcome To the Club was the peak of their career. Not only that, but the success landed them on the soundtrack of Transformers: The Movie (1986) under the moniker Spectre General.
The album that defines this band for several reasons is their debut Vices, and 2014 will see its return as a 30th anniversary re-issue.
Vices moved past the early years of band development before George Criston became the voice of Kick Axe. The build up to this started out with Victor Langdon-brother of drummer Gary Langdon-on bass and vocals. Relocating to Vancouver, this led guitarist Larry Gillstrom's brother Brian Gillstrom to step in and take over vocal duties. He was quickly replaced for Charles McNary who brought them a spot on a Playboy compilation album and got them their first taste of national attention.
When Criston joined the group, they were readying their debut. The current lineup, at the time, became as follows: George Criston (lead vocals), Larry Gillstrom (lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals), Raymond Harvey (lead and rhythm guitars, backing voclas), Victor Langen (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Brian Gillstrom (drums, backing vocals).
What Vices gave us from the start was the heavy metal anthem, "Heavy Metal Shuffle." Thanks to the Chicago Bears and the 1980s, anything with the word "shuffle" in the title became an allegory for corniness. Yet what we get from Kick Axe is full throttle spunk that fires up with some drum trickery and sparks by Criston's wailing war cry. The hip grinding that ensues is pure '80s rock thrusting. The band wastes no time to prove they are the heavy metal soldiers you want them to be. And the heavy artillery? Those Kick Axe righteous guitar solos that roar is the answer.
The title track is an oddball song on the album where there is a presence of a disconnect between the music and vocals as Criston does everything in his emotional power to stand above the rest. Part of it is the production, the other is the varying planes each member exists on. It's Criston's vocal drum solo; an exemplary of bravado in his voice that drives this song through. The video is even more bizarre, showing a guy trying to buy drugs but then turns into an animated figure being sucked up into a vagina and swimming around in a womb trying to get past a bunch of pills. There is an asshole (actual, not literal) that sucks up pills with a chameleon tongue. The dude morphs into sperm. When he returns to human form, it shows various facts on the harmful effects of meth as people are escaping from a house that has just exploded into fire. An obvious anti-drug song, looking back, while the United States was focused on combating marijuana, cocaine and heroin usage, the song was very progressive for its time tackling a bigger '90s problem.
"Stay On Top" serves two purposes. Overall, it's a typical Kick Axe song that pretty much follows suite of "Heavy Metal Shuffle" and is a level of positivity that "Vices" was a level of warning. Both standouts appear at the end of the song. One, it leads in to what could (and probably was live) a massive drum solo. Two, instead of going that direction on the recording, the song dissipates into their rock ballad. "Dreaming Of You" blends more Led Zeppelin folk into the song than most hair band love crooners tend to incorporate. But that quickly changes as they follow the Dokken structure of love balladry and the chorus rocks almost as hard as their hard rocking songs.
One thing to note is that a bonus track that appeared only on the cassette release was a cover of Humble Pie's "30 Days In The Hole." Less English rock-tinged and more respective to the traditional definition of a cover, Kick Axe puts their own big beat flare, never going overboard with it as the rest of the album can profess. The song ended up on the soundtrack of the movie Up The Creek (1984).
"On the Road To Rock" shares the same sentiments as a Judas Priest rager, building the same drive as "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," which was probably an eye opener to fans as the band did a slew of opening dates for Priest after this release. "Alive & Kickin'" is a little more psychedelic and expressive for the band adding vocal effects. "All The Right Moves" proves that we have just experienced a fluid yet tightly-bonded album with "Just Passing Through" being the icing on the cake. The icing is made up of glorious harmonies that stretch out into the cosmos. The finale may not be altogether necessary beyond the simple message that this album is a moment and they knew that. Little did they realize that their moment is really embedded in three more albums of the '80s. Vices gives us a snapshot of the time, a high point of Canadian metal from the beginning and an album worthy of immortality.
Both Welcome to the Club and Vices will be re-released on Wounded Bird January 14.