King’s X — In The New Age: The Atlantic Recordings 1988-1995 (HNE Recordings)

Fertile, infallible and wildly unfashionable, King’s X were the thinking man’s Faith No More.

Few bands straddled the peak of hair metal and the emergence of grunge with such panache.

And 35 years on from their sparkling CS Lewis-inspired debut, a robust body of work defiantly stands the test of time.

Proudly ploughing their own magical furrow, the Missouri natives knew no limits and were as likely to please prog afficionados as much as power metal devotees.

Helmed by the indomitable Doug Pinnick — doubling up on bass and lead vocals — King’s X proved themselves as inspirational innovators.

Fans included the soon-to-be-massive Pearl Jam and future metal flag bearers Pantera.

And although the disruptive Out Of The Silent Planet leaned on psychedelia, funk, soul and gospel, it was a hard rock record with a heavy edge — both lyrically and sonically.

Pinnick, Ty Tabor (guitar) and Jerry Gaskill (drums) swiftly became a power trio par excellence, drawing comparisons with Rush, Motörhead and more.

If the diversity driving their unique sound prevented mainstream success — no King’s X record reached the top 80 of the Billboard charts — then that genre-defying identity was also the band’s biggest weapon.

Critics tried and failed to pigeon-hole a three-piece ahead of their time and ahead of the game but with each fresh record, evolution guaranteed hasty reassessment.

Rock? Metal? Funk? Prog? Label King’s X all you like but the six albums collected here only serve to confirm that classifying Pinnick and co. was a mug’s game.

And as 1996’s often overlooked Ear Candy nears its 30th anniversary there’s never been a better time to appreciate these eclectic pioneers.

Breaking Out Of The Silent Planet

Such was Out Of The Silent Planet’s broad appeal that King’s X supported that game changing 1988 debut with gigs alongside Cheap Trick and Robert Plant as well as Megaforce label mates Anthrax, Testament and Overkill.

If the multi-talented trio didn’t belong to their own scene then they were more than happy to gatecrash the classic rock crowd or the thrash metal party.

And those formative years exposed to multiple genres helped shape a succession of remarkably ambitious records.

Immersive tracks like Goldilox and King had teased the band’s obvious potential but Pinnick and his pals truly hit their stride on 1989’s Gretchen Goes To Nebraska.

Summerland, Mission and The Burning Down became instant fan favourites and introduced themes of faith and spirituality — leading to Billboard including the Texan-based trio on their Christian music chart.

Not for the first time the ambiguity surrounding King’s X piqued fresh interest but failed to translate to significant sales.

Faith Hope Love dropped a year later and the band’s slow climb towards something approaching chart success continued at a snail’s pace.

On the back of radio friendly single It’s Love, King’s X finally celebrated a US Top 100 album.

Significantly, their cult appeal and a growing industry buzz landed the band opening slots on Iron Maiden’s huge No Prayer For The Dying tour and the US and European legs of AC/DC’s Razors Edge trek.

Junior’s Gone Wild (not included in this set) featured on the soundtrack of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and Megaforce’s parent label, Atlantic Records, decided the time was right to promote King’s X to the main roster.

Ear Candy for the 90s

The band’s self-titled 1992 album was released against a backdrop of tension and a darker record didn’t quite meet expectations.

Taylor and King’s X parted company at a time when the pressure was on to take things to the next level commercially.

But this most precious of acts had always placed their art above everything else and Pinnick wasn’t going to allow poor sales or rocky relationships to divert him from his chosen path.

King’s X rolled with the punches and dug in: 1994’s Dogman became the band’s second successive UK top 50 album as metal bible Kerrang! continued to champion a heady mix of proto grunge and progressive hard rock.

Producer Brendan O’Brien (Stone Temple Pilots/Pearl Jam) came on board to help navigate a new direction and tours with Scorpions and Mötley Crüe kept the band up front and centre.

Standout tracks Black The Sky, Human Behaviour and Manic Depression continued to showcase King’s X as masters of their songwriting craft but Atlantic was already rueing the decision to throw more money behind their ‘cult favourites’.

Label support had waned to a worrying degree by the time 1995’s fabulously ironic Ear Candy yet again showcased an unerring ability to regenerate and regroup in the face of adversity.

One of the best albums here laughs in the face of convention and hones a sound that had become synonymous with ambition and self-confidence for the best part of a decade.

(Thinking And Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do, Lies In The Sand (The Ballad Of…) and Life Going By were never going to be MTV-fresh hit singles but all three and more served as a timely reminder that King’s X weren’t done yet.

In The New Age: The Atlantic Recordings 1988-1995 represents a treasure trove of experimental rock and provides compelling evidence that Pinnick, Tabor and Gaskill always had the X factor…and still do.