[PLEASE: Press play above to hear the premiere of “Mythomania” from Kings Destroy’s self-titled, due out May 5 on War Crime Recordings. Thanks to the band and label and Earsplit PR for allowing me to host the song with this review.]
There is no band currently active I feel as close to as Kings Destroy, and if you’ve read this site at any point over the last five years, you’ve probably in some measure seen that relationship develop. Their first 7″, Old Yeller/Medusa (review here) introduced them in 2010 as a group of NYHC veterans — guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski of Killing Time, vocalist Steve Murphy of Uppercut, while drummer Rob Sefcik was in both Electric Frankenstein and Begotten — exploring heavy stoner doom riffing in a definitively East Coast style, an undercurrent of aggression never far off even at that formative stage. The subsequent debut LP, And the Rest Will Surely Perish, was released through this site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum (original announcement here), and that album further demonstrated the band’s doomly refinement in cuts like “The Mountie” and “Old Yeller,” which still feature in live sets on the regular. It was a record I was proud to be associated with in the small way I was, and one to which I continue to have significant sentimental attachment, even if everything the band has done since has blown it out of the water. Their second full-length, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (not reviewed, but discussed here), was released on War Crime Recordings and brought changes in the songwriting process with the departure of bassist Ed Bocchino and arrival of Aaron Bumpus, and the result was a genre-defying work that retained the heaviness of the debut, but set a context for itself that was neither doom nor not-doom, a strange and effective atmosphere pervading especially the reaches of side B (a vinyl is due any day now on Hydro-Phonic) songs like “A Time of Hunting” and closer “Turul.” Even the relatively straightforward “Casse-Tete” and “The Toe” had an off-kilter aspect to them, a weirdness to their attack that became, at least for me, the defining characteristic of the album.
I’ve seen Kings Destroy over 30 times in the last few years — that’s a literal figure, not an exaggeration — toured with them twice last year and would again in a minute, conditions permitting. I consider them friends, so when I say that their self-titled third album is their best work to-date, you can take it either one of two ways: Either I’m partial because of my relationship with the band, or I’m the guy who’d know better than just about anyone else, save perhaps the band members themselves and producer Sanford Parker, who’s worked with them on all three of their records (Mike Moebius of Moonlight Mile as well). Comprised of seven tracks totaling a vinyl-minded 34 minutes and topped off with Josh Graham artwork that captures the city-minded grit at the heart of its construction, Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy strips down the anti-genre turns of A Time of Hunting to something rawer, truer to their live presentation, and ultimately bolder in its style. When they want to, they write a fierce hook — “Mr. O,” opener “Smokey Robinson,” “Embers” — and when they want to, they delve as deep into oppressive atmospherics as they’ve yet gone — closer “Time for War.” Three albums in, their songwriting is diverse in pace and intent, but equally assured throughout, and their sound has found a place that’s unconcerned with genre even to the point of not working against it. “Mr. O,” an immediate highlight following the Beavis and Butt-Head-worthy chug of “Smokey Robinson,” is an unabashed stoner rock song and a paean to Yankees outfielder Reggie Jackson, called “Mr. October,” that’s laid out honestly enough to not care who it might alienate or how. It finds companionship in the album’s second half with the relatively upbeat “Green Diamonds,” but is nonetheless a beast unto itself within the Kings Destroy catalog. They may never do anything else like it, but even if not, it’s ground they’ve covered and covered well, with all the frenetic movement and blistering solo work one could ask. The subsequent “W2” thuds harder — Sefcik sets the rolling groove that the guitars and bass seem to be riding — and is slower, but solidifies the concrete-and-pavement vibe of Kings Destroy‘s urban portrayal, the album depicting a city, New York, that’s both dangerous and alluring, dirty and gone, worthy of scorn and nostalgia. It’s not outlet shopping and bike lanes. It’s smoggy air and the fear of being stabbed.
This atmosphere — a classic image of New York toughness — is maintained without, for the most part, playing into to the band’s hardcore past (also present; Killing Time plays sporadic shows). A confrontational sensibility emerged on A Time for Hunting, which not only was weird as hell but punching you in the face with that weirdness, and there’s some of that on Kings Destroy as well on “Smokey Robinson” or “Time for War,” with its gang vocals and slow, seething crawl, but the album isn’t limited to one angle or direction of approach. Enter “Mythomania,” the centerpiece of the tracklist. With a creeping guitar intro, subdued, open verses and hair-raising chorus payoffs leading to an apex that provides one of Kings Destroy‘s most satisfying emotional resolutions, marked out by Murphy‘s best performance here — his voice and the listener’s back seem to break at the same time at the very end of the song — and leading the way into “Embers,” which is the longest cut at 6:25 and furthers the grandiose feel with an even catchier roll. The ability to shift into and out of these modes so smoothly is one of the clearest instances of growth since their start, and ultimately it’s the balance of patience with an underlying intensity in “Mythomania” and “Embers” that makes them such landmarks for the band. When “Green Diamonds” hits, it’s something of a return to earth, a shorter, quicker pulse placed to set the stage for “Time for War,” though its value is more than positional. An atmospheric shift, it’s also the most straightforward verse/chorus hook on Kings Destroy, emphasizing the album’s little need for frills when a concise, efficient method will do, which it does. How then to explain “Time for War?” A new expression of the experimental bent that last time led to “Turul,” maybe? A nod to the increasingly blurred line between hardcore and doom? Maybe this is a cop-out, but I think it’s just another song Kings Destroy wanted to write. Its build, slow, understated, but still mean, ready to boil over, is perhaps the most “New York” of the bunch, Murphy growling over an abrasive drone and a churning riff before the gang vocals kick in. It’s both the most atmospheric and the most crushing piece on the album, and its duality suits it well.
But Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy doesn’t end in the chaos one might expect, and “Time for War” doesn’t build to a driving climax. It has a payoff, to be sure, but ultimately, it passes quietly into a softer drum progression and quiet guitars and bass, that drone still there to lead the way out after Sefcik‘s final crash. All the more fitting that the band should cap the record by skirting the anticipated move, since that’s been their specialty all along, from their let’s-riff-and-see-what-happens beginnings through this self-titled’s assured sense of sonic personality and well-honed, individualized take. It’s true that I’m a fan of the band, and I’m more than willing to acknowledge that I’m in no way impartial as regards their work, but the fact of the matter is I’ve been listening to this record for the better part of a year in one form or another, if not over a year, and it’s quite simply the best thing they’ve done up to now. The songs are memorable and well defined, but feed into an overarching flow that’s executed confidently now matter how far out it goes, and the translation of what Kings Destroy do live is an accomplishment unto itself. Call me biased. I’ll take a lesson from the album and not give a fuck. Recommended.Brooklyn, Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy Self-titled, New York City, self-titled, War Crime Recordings