King's X

XV

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Over the years, the majority of rock critics have not been big supporters of heavy metal. But there have been certain metal bands that critics have applauded and championed as "thinking man's metal," including Living Colour, Jane's Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, and Anthrax. King's X have also often been exalted by critics as "smart metal" because of their spiritual, contemplative, philosophical lyrics -- and that intellectual approach to metal (as well as hard rock and alternative rock) continues to work well for them on XV. Doug Pinnick, Ty Tabor, and Jerry Gaskill are as deep-thinking as ever on this 2008 release, but despite its intellect, XV is an easy album to absorb. In terms of melodies and hooks, XV goes for immediacy -- and some of the credit for that goes to veteran producer/engineer Michael Wagener, who King's X enlisted for this album. XV isn't the first time King's X have worked with Wagener; they also used him on 2005's Ogre Tones, and they obviously thought enough of Wagener to hire him a second time. Hooks, of course, are something Wagener knows a lot about; he worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Accept, Alice Cooper, Great White, Dokken, and many other headbangers in the 1980s -- and the hookiness that Wagener is known for prevails throughout XV. But that isn't to say that Wagener tries to turn King's X into Accept or Great White. A lot of the metal and hard rock that Wagener produced in the '80s was headbanger party music, and XV is hardly party music. Instead, tracks like "Broke," "Rocket Ship," "Alright," and "Pray" achieve musical immediacy without sacrificing the lyrical sophistication that King's X are known for. Some of the discs that King's X have provided in the 21st century have been uneven, but XV is among their most consistent and focused albums of the 2000s.

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