King Kobra’s 2011 comeback disc turned its back completely on the brilliant AOR sounds that filled the grooves of the band’s 1985 classic ‘Thrill of a Lifetime’, preferring instead to indulge in shameless musical chest-beating and overly macho clichés. Overall, it wasn’t as bad as 1988’s absolute stinker ‘King Kobra III’, but it represented a far cry from their best work. Although it is their sixth release, they’ve chosen to call their 2013 outing ‘King Kobra II’, since it clearly picks up the mantle where the self titled record ended, pairing the band’s founding members with ex-Rough Cutt vocalist Paul Shortino for more leather-based party rock anthems.
Let’s be honest, if you heard that previous album, you know exactly what you’re in for here. It’s fairly sweaty, gravelly and tough – all things, that in the hands of a great band, would produce great results. In the hands of King Kobra and Paul Shortino, however, it represents approximately another hour of howling clichés, delivered by an unremarkable vocalist and often workman-like band.
Following the sound of a roaring train, ‘Hell on Wheels’ sets the tone for most of this record. The guitar riffs roar apace and Paul Shortino pushes his vocal accordingly. As far as rousing rock is concerned, it has the same carefree manner, for example, as Yngwie Malmsteen’s ‘Riot In The Dungeon’. The band sound tight and if thunderous rock in an fashioned stance is your bag, its fine, but to be honest, for many it’s just going to sound like old hat, as they trot out the kind of metal motifs and clichés you’ve all heard a thousand times since 1980. In a similar mood, ‘Knock ‘Them Dead’ isn’t much of an improvement, since it rattles of a near one-line chorus, the kind that makes some of the dumbest rock bands appear eloquent in comparison. Still, both tunes appear consistent with the hard rock style of the previous record…
The swaggering bar room rock of ‘Have a Good Time’ marks a definite musical improvement; Appice’s hard rock drums adopt a decent live sound, the guitars are chunky and the sleazy atmosphere taps into the best edge of Shortino’s gruff voice. Just as it seems it’s all going to be okay, they wheel out an absolute howler of a lyric: “Have a good time, all the time / Don’t need any reason, don’t need any rhyme”; oh dear…and just when the music was sounding better too. Although it initially promised a good stab at bar room rock, there’s nothing appealing here in the long term. No matter though, if that’s what you crave, it’s easy enough to reach for that old Quireboys disc… ‘Got It Coming’ slows things down to an enjoyable mid-pace and with that comes a (very welcome) shift towards something far more melodic. The twin lead guitars lend a decent combination of chugginess and clean tone, which overall gives the tune a lift above most of the material here. Shortino, meanwhile tackles the song like a cut-price David Coverdale, rasping and growling through most lines like a work-a-day pub singer, while Appice tackles the backbeat like a bog standard tub thumper – wholly unremarkable work for a man with nearly five decades experience.
Despite some bad lyrics and an all round tendency to be heavy-handed, there are a couple of times on this release when King Kobra show signs of improvement. Although based around another clichéd title ‘When The Hammer Comes Down’ has the benefit of featuring an unshakable guitar riff in a slightly more interesting style than the Kobra norm. Mick Sweda and David Michael Phillips weave a circular and almost funky tune between them – somewhere between a very dirty early Aerosmith workout and an Electric Boys demo – over which there are also some reasonable lead breaks. Adding extra groove, Carmine Appice works a funky, almost John Bonham-esque beat (minus squeaky bass pedal), constantly driving the tune forward. The chugging epic ‘Deep River’ is decent enough too, with Shortino tackling the material in a markedly superior way. For the undemanding this Zeppelin/Kingdom Come hybrid ticks all the right boxes – meaty riff, heavy drums and an epic feel throughout – even throwing in a few Eastern sounds (a la Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’) and a female choir to finish. You’ve heard ‘Kashmir’ a million times, you love Rainbow’s ‘Stargazer’ and a number of other similar Eastern influenced workouts…and although it is hugely unoriginal, it’s possible you might dig this too – it’s without doubt the strongest offering on this record.
Those who loved the unashamed cheese-fest nature of the 2011 release will likely love ‘King Kobra II’ just as much. Its abilities to rock it out old-school stylee whilst churning out notions of having “a good time…all the time” and peddling out as many hard rock clichés as they can muster are without question (sadly). For those pining after the band’s shinier AOR moments (as heard on the albums with Mark Free on vocals back in the mid-80s), this will often represent yet another batch of songs that’s best avoided. [If you’re reading this and have never heard ‘Thrill of a Lifetime, check it out ASAP.]