In the past, despite my frothing passion for 80s Hard Rock, I’ve never been able to get into Switzerland’s KROKUS. For me, it was mainly due to the screeching Brian Johnson-esque vocals of frontman Marc Storace. I’ve not exactly a huge fan of AC/DC, so Storace’s vocals, in addition to the raw, chunky guitar riffing, was enough to remind of heavily of the Aussies, thus turning me off.
That is, until I heard “Hellraiser”.
It’s amazing that, thirty years into their career, a band like KROKUS can still produce a quality album. Although I wasn’t a fan of them previously, even I can admit that their early 80s albums “One Vice At A Time” and “Headhunter” are classics. That being said, I believe fans of the band will find “Hellraiser” to be the band’s strongest effort in recent memory. Storace has toned down the “screech” in his vocals considerably, thus making his voice more powerful and less grating. He can still hit the high notes, as evidenced by the Robert Plant-esque wails he delivers on “Take My Luv”. The guitars, however, are what really push the band beyond the status of AC/DC soundalikes; sure, Mandy Meier and Dominique Favez can play traditional bluesy riffs, but they can also deliver absolutely ripping solos that Angus Young could never touch in his wildest dreams.
Oddly enough, there is a bit of a Southern Rock edge to a few songs on the record, such as “Midnite Fantasy”. The song sounds closer to early AEROSMITH than AC/DC, which I really don’t mind at all. The wailing, bluesy lead guitar gives it a laid-back feel to it.
Now, many people harbor the misconception that KROKUS are a Glam Metal band. While they certainly had a few of that era’s trappings in the past (I’m currently looking at a 1986 picture of the band…yep, they liked leather and Aqua Net), and hell, even today it permeates their music somewhat (look at the spelling of “love” on two of the tracks on “Hellraiser”), they are most certainly not Glam. Would you like an example? Please observe track seven, “Spirit Of The Night”. Do you know what kind of music it is? It’s freaking Power Metal! Yep, good ol’ KROKUS, performing a killer Power Metal song complete with double-bass, shredding lead guitar, and vocals somewhere between IRON SAVIOR’s Piet Sielck and GAMMA RAY’s Kai Hansen. This was my favorite track on the album, aside from the classic stomper “No Risk No Gain”.
All in all, “Hellraiser” is a brilliant return to form for the Swiss band. The more annoying qualities of the band appear to have been weathered down over the years, creating a more tasteful, ear-pleasing version of KROKUS. It’s also nice to see from “Spirit Of The Night” that they’re willing to experiment with more modern styles…maybe we’ll see a heavier, faster KROKUS in the future?
(Online December 19, 2006)