Artist: King 810
Album: Memoirs Of A Murderer
Originally Released: 2014
Label: Roadrunner Records
Time and hindsight are both wonderful things. When you can afford them, they allow you to develop considered and fully formed opinions. If used wisely, they can deliver the space for reflection and grant you new perspectives. And so I hope it is with Skin Back Alley and King 810’s debut album, Memoirs Of A Murderer.
Vaste swathes have been written about this band and their record, both in print media and across the web. Column inches and bits and bytes are full to bursting with missives about frontman David Gunn and his metal crew.
And to my mind, most of it is complete and utter shit.
A few minutes spent with the internet search engine of your choice will deliver you thousands, nay millions, of results leading to reviews, articles and opinion pieces about King 810. Even the most cursory of clicks will show that many, many people – both Joe Public and professional music journalist alike – have given Memoirs… the most brief of listens and have then subsequently jumped to the most base of conclusions.
You will read a lot about how they are simpleton nu-metal copyists. You will read equal amounts about how the band glamourise gun culture and violence. Others will tell you that Gunn is a one-trick pony, able only to sing about death, murder and how difficult life is in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Many will conclude that King 810 are not worth your time or hand earned money.
They are all wrong.
Memoirs Of A Murderer is an astonishing debut album. Hard hitting both musically and lyrically, it is a multi-layered thought-provoking masterpiece. Heavy metal albums – let alone FIRST heavy metal albums from new bands – rarely come as fully formed as this. Repeated listens prove richly rewarding.
To my mind, David Gunn is both artist and poet. Take the time to study both his words and his delivery, and their strength will hit you squarely between the lobes like the bullets he references. The fact that the majority of these words were committed to memory whilst Gunn languished in a US jail with no pen or paper to speak of makes them all the more hard won.
From the brutal opener of “Kill Em All”, through the lacerating “Fat Around The Heart” and on to “War Outside” and beyond, Gunn’s emotional intensity and poetic flow are excoriating, laying bare the reality of his inner emotions and outward strength. If there is a more visceral discussion of what it is like to live life on poverty stricken streets where carrying a gun is both the norm and necessary, then I have yet to hear it.
Nor do Gunn and his King colleagues do anything to glamourise their subject matter. This record does not exist to shout “Look at me! Aren’t I clever and cool with a gun in my pocket!” It does not boast or beautify. No, this album is run through with dread, fear, regret, the hardening of hearts and the sure knowledge that to be prepared and carry a gun is to become something less than human at the same time as being the only way to survive.
In it’s more reflective moments, and contrary to those bullshit shiny surface opinions, Memoirs… is also about so much more than it might at first seem.
“Write About Us” is brilliant in its execution, with a far more nuanced and stripped back sound it introduces a general theme of people trapped in their own lives, searching for someone they trust to help them live beyond their lot: “And they whispered unto me write down what you’ve seen / So the world knows our story and we’re finally free / They said we need it right and you’re the only one we trust / So promise that you’ll write about us.” In its second half, the song then moves in to the specifics, detailing the very lives of the previously anonymous people and fulfilling their wish and Gunn’s promise: “I haven’t seen Veronica since I told her how I felt / And the twins OD’ed and Sarah sells herself / Maxine’s on the needle, Kelly’s man cuts her up / I see Kristy where she works and she don’t bring the past up.” And so it goes on, the result of some kind of genius, an even more hard-hitting heavy metal Springsteen.
Musically there is more than enough to admire here, too. The irony is not lost on me that King 810 are currently touring the US with Slipknot, the band that they are most regularly accused of copying with impunity. Bar a guitar lick here and there that could – at a stretch – be considered similar to their forebears, King 810 plough a furrow all of their own. At their most musically intense, they are as brutal as any metal band out there. But their sound is run through with atmospheric sound effects, electronics and spoken word passages presenting the album as if it were the titular memoir of David Gunn himself.
Equally, King 810 are capable of a much more broad range of emotion and corresponding soundscapes. “Eyes”, “Devil Don’t Cry” and “Take It” all deliver impressive and impassioned moments far beyond what others are perceiving as a coarse and stunted aural bludgeoning.
So yes, on the surface and without a great deal of thought or consideration, it could be argued that King 810 are all about guns and violence. But I would argue that the people shouting loudest to tell you that are those who haven’t listened very closely at all. Or if they have listened, they certainly haven’t heard.
King 810 have, in Memoirs Of A Murderer, delivered one of the finest and most fully realised heavy metal debuts of the decade. The fact that it makes you squirm and reconsider your world view is something to be applauded, not sneered at from a hard and cynical place. Its ability to get under your skin and show you a vivid new perspective is what elevates the album above most of its contemporaries and puts it firmly on the pedestal labelled “art.”
Find out more about King 810 at their official website
Watch King 810’s video for “Fat Around The Heart” below: