King’s X are one of those bands that always had the critical acclaim but no breakout commercial success. Their first five albums are as good as anyone’s. 1989’s Gretchen Goes to Nebraska is the best prog rock LP of the 1980s; 1992’s self-titled record is a masterpiece of introspective proto-grunge; and 1994’s Dogman is a groove metal classic. They also invented the syncopated drop-D guitar riff as we know it on their 1987 debut, Out of the Silent Planet. At one point in their career, people used to sneak on stage to take photos of the band’s amp settings in the hope they could discover the secrets of Ty Tabor’s guitar tone. Ask Devin Townsend, Dream Theater and Pearl Jam what they think of King’s X, and they’ll tell you that the Texans are the group that never received the wider recognition they deserve.
Fourteen years is a long time between albums, and Three Sides of One is a record that King’s X needed to make to satisfy their modest but loyal fanbase. It’s even more surprising that it sounds like a 2010 follow up to 2008’s XV rather than a 2022 comeback. That might be because the band are now in their seventies and have been away for too long. Opener, ‘Let It Rain’, fizzles on a succession of ugly guitar slashes and thrives on the soulful rumination of Doug Pinnick’s legendary voice. You’d think it’s 2000’s Please Come Home… Mr. Bulbous all over again with a darker twist. Like that patchy LP, the mood here is one of maudlin anxiety with a bigger emphasis on chord progressions and vocal harmonies rather than vintage guitar riffs. It’s a good springboard for the bizarre noise-rock sludge of ‘Flood, Pt.1’, which captures the band at their most iconic – low-tuned, heavy, ghostly in their flashes of light among the grey shades of contemplation. An album full of songs like this would be a good way to sign off on a wonderful career.
Unfortunately, King’s X fall victim to the filler and flab of 1996’s Ear Candy and 2001’s Manic Moonlight on some of the cuts here. How can something as innocuous as ‘Festival’ make it on to a comeback LP? We know that The Beatles were always the biggest influence on the band besides Led Zeppelin, but this sounds like John Lennon fronting a dad rock tribute band. ‘Holidays’ reminds you that the Fab Four were guilty of inspiring the atrocious Britpop of the mid-1990s, with its happy harmonies and vintage guitar licks packaged into a three-minute ditty like a six-pack of Diet Pepsi. You can’t fault the song writing, but this is weak material. Thank Christ for the down-tuned prog-metal of ‘Swipe Up’ and the captivating guitar power of ‘Watcher’. The former reminds you how many bands ripped off King’s X over the last two decades, the latter harks back to the classic Faith Hope Love for a piece of dreamy rock centred on a three-way vocal harmony that would make The Eagles blush.
Fans will pinpoint many positives in this record. Ty Tabor’s head voice resonates with more oomph than normal, and his guitar tone is much dirtier than on previous records. Doug Pinnick will be remembered as one of the greatest singers in rock, and his voice shows no sound of wavering in his seventies. It’s good to hear his grimy bass guitar adding a brooding texture to the likes of ‘Nothing but the Truth’. Likewise, ‘All God’s Children’, is a strong contender for an instant classic with its Black Sabbath doom notes merging with the majesty of The Beatles in a coherent formation we’ve come to expect from King’s X. If only they included more of their trademark syncopated riffing rather than the Van Halen-esque hard rock of ‘Give it Up’, which contains a catchy chorus but defines the term ‘grandad rock’.
King’s X were a legacy band as early as 2005 having survived hair metal, grunge and nu metal, but they looked out of place during the rise of metalcore in the early 2000s. We should be grateful for the magnificence of the 1987-1994 era and can continue to celebrate their influence on prog metal, but Three Sides of One will do nothing to win over a new generation of fans.
Release Date: 02/09/2022
Record Label: Inside Out Records
Standout tracks: Flood, Pt. 1; All God’s Children; Watcher
Suggested Further Listening: King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989), King’s X – King’s X (1992), King’s X – Dogman (1994)