Following a 14-year drought, progressive hard rock trio King’s X have finally returned with a new album, Three Sides of One. Fittingly enough, it begins with a dramatic stormer called Let It Rain, which is immediately followed by a proto-djent maelstrom of open D syncopation called Flood Pt. 1.
Sure, King’s X have blown the gates back open, but it took some convincing for the trio to go with the flow.
“I’ve been ready to do a record since the last one; I pushed it all the time,” bassist-vocalist dUg Pinnick says of the gap, guitarist Ty Tabor adding, “It’s just been a long time since we were all hungry enough to get in and make that happen.”
Drummer Jerry Gaskill admits he’d been the holdout on making new music, perhaps a reaction to having suffered a massive heart attack in 2012 that necessitated being revived, and having a second cardiac event in 2014 that led to open-heart surgery (“Dying kind of threw me for a loop – that might have been a factor in why I didn’t want to do [the album]”).
Following a reassuring call with producer/engineer Michael Parnin (Mark Lanegan, Neko Case), however, Gaskill was onboard to begin recording sessions in 2019.
All of King’s X had produced solo albums between 2008’s XV and Three Sides of One. Pinnick, in particular, notes that he’d written hundreds of songs along the way, some of which appearing through his work with outside power trios KXM and Grinder Blues, as well as his most recent solo release, 2021’s Joy Bomb.
But with more than 40 years of innate chemistry flowing between himself and the rest of King’s X, it only took a couple of takes at Parnin’s Blacksound Music facility in Los Angeles for the bassist to realize what he’d been missing.
“I did a lot of side projects in those 14 years, but coming out of the control room and listening to the first song back, that was the first time I ever got it: ‘This is King’s X, and this is perfect’. Not in an egotistical way, I just keep forgetting that these are the guys that I make this magic with.”
He continues: “There’s this comfort that I feel in the bubble of [King’s X] that I don’t feel when I play with other people. With others, I feel like I’m holding onto them, doing what I have to do, but with King’s X it’s like I’m riding in a Rolls Royce – [it’s] laid back.”
There are, in fact, some supremely chill moments to behold on Three Sides of One – check the elegiac, orchestral strings-backed prog-folk of Take the Time – but the track that kicked off the sessions, Festival, is also one of its most frenzied.
It’s a tempo-pushing anthem about the joy of putting on a performance, capped with an off-the-cuff blaze of bluesy leadwork from Tabor. That said, there’s a sinisterly blasé slant to the in-song promoters’ suggestion of the risk that comes with putting on a festival: “what’s the worst, maybe somebody dies?”
“To me, it’s the ultimate irony song,” Tabor says. “The song makes me want to celebrate – the song makes me want to have a festival – and yet the underlying message is, ‘if you don’t know what you’re doing, things can turn out badly.’”
On a technical front, though, King’s X are on top form throughout Three Sides of One – whether that’s Tabor’s vibrato rising through a “heartfelt, melodic and slow-to-get-there” two-minute solo on spacious blues-ballad Nothing But the Truth, or the band locking in for the punishingly percussive low note chugging of Swipe Up.
Pinnick sums up the latter: “I was looking for the mathematical thing that King’s X does – you know, Born to Be Loved, things like that – it’s just a part of how we write.”
In the studio, Pinnick plunked at his signature Schecters, while Tabor mainly toted his ’83 Strat Elite and a Goldtop Les Paul.
The guitarist notes that a massive in-studio pedalboard yielded lush results from a Leslie speaker-modeled RotoSIM and a Rook Royale boost, though a major part of Tabor’s tone remains the solid state grit of the Lab Series L5.
“They have way more of an immediate, punch-in-the-face [quality] than tubes,” he says. “Everyone else I know that plays through them thinks they sound like crap, and they hate them – and I totally understand – but I prefer transistors; they fit with how I play guitar.”
Upon an already triumphant return, Three Sides of One’s most uplifting moment might be Give It Up, which cross-pollinates a pulse-quickening Texas boogie with a galloping Seventies metal sneer. Pinnick admits it’s a song about growing older, but ultimately, it’s about determinedly hanging onto his groove.
“I’m 71, so I’m concerned about that,” he elaborates. “I’m trying to figure out how I can build myself up without pushing myself too hard, because there are times when I’ll hit a high note, full-force, and I’ll faint for a minute, or my hands’ll go numb. I’m thinking ‘Is this a stroke, or am I just hyperventilating? What’s the deal here?’”
At the same time, the bassist isn’t backing down from a challenge. With a new album and touring on the way, King’s X are definitely back. In other words, Pinnick isn’t giving up any time soon.