Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: "Killen" (1987)
KILLEN (Victora Records, 1987)
Hello and welcome to another installment of Forgotten Hard Rock Albums! This time we'll be examining a release that's even more obscure than usual - an album that up till now has been virtually unknown outside of the cultish sect of ultra-subterranean metal-vinyl collecting devotees. The self-titled, self-released debut album by Staten Island, New York's KILLEN didn't make much of a splash when it was first released in 1987, but its reputation has slowly grown over the years, to the point where copies of the LP now easily command several hundred dollars on eBay. In response to the continued demand for this ultra rare LP, the underground metal specialists at Cult Metal Classics Records re-released the Killen album on CD and vinyl in 2015.
...and yet, at the risk of sounding like a total douche, I still can't understand what is so special about this album!
"Challenge of Eternity"
I Knew 'Em When...Sort Of
I like to think that I had a pretty good grasp of what was happening in the underground metal scene during the late 1980s, but even though I attended college in Killen's home town of Staten Island, New York, I'd never heard of the band till our paths briefly crossed on one night in early 1989. Some friends and I were attending a showcase of local hard-rock talent at a club called "On Stage," and Killen were the evening's headliners. I remember that the club was wallpapered with posters advertising Killen's self-titled debut album, which proclaimed them to be "Staten Island's Biggest Metal Band"... a bold statement which in retrospect was akin to saying that you were the best player on the Montreal Expos, i.e. it sounded impressive, but it didn't really mean anything.
I will be honest and admit that after more than a quarter century, I remember next to nothing about Killen's set that night (aside from a vague recollection that they may have covered a Motorhead song). In other words, I didn't become a life long fan, but I didn't think they sucked, either... In fact, they didn't make much of an impression on me at all. Over the next few years of college I occasionally saw their album - released on the band's own private "Victora Records" label - on the shelves of local Staten Island record stores, but I never bought a copy. Eventually I graduated from college, moved away from the area, and forgot all about Killen for close to two decades. I assumed that the rest of the metal world had done the same... but I was wrong!!
"Soldiers of Steel"
Birth of the Cult...
Some years ago, a guy at a metal Internet forum I frequented (which shall remain nameless) posted a photo of Killen's album in a thread where members showed off pics of their "obscure metal vinyl." I innocently commented something like, "Wow, Killen! That's a name I haven't heard in a long time, I saw them live once." This proved to be a mistake.
Within five minutes, my forum inbox was exploding with messages from the guy who'd posted that photo, wanting to know every minute detail about that night. He asked me which songs were in Killen's set list, if I'd met the band, if I'd bought a t-shirt or any other merchandise, if I had any press clippings, live tapes or other Killen recordings I could send to him, if I had any idea how he could contact any of the band members, and on and on. This obsessive line of questioning was creeping me out just a little, so I responded with "Whoa, dude! They were just a local band that I saw once, years ago. I don't even really remember if they were any good!" ...and the conversation went downhill from there. After some hilarious back-and-forth, the guy eventually branded me a "loser" for not recognizing the metallic uber-genius of the mighty Killen, and I decided that he was a psycho and a troll, so we went our separate ways.
However, the exchange got me curious about hearing Killen's music again, so I did a bit of Googling and was surprised to learn that their album had become quite a hot collectible on the second hand metal market. You could've knocked me over with a feather when I saw copies of their LP going for upwards of three hundred dollars (!) on sites like eBay and Discogs. Suddenly I wished I had access to the time-traveling DeLorean from "Back to the Future," because I would've gone back to 1989, bought up every copy of their record that I could find, and raked in some major eBay benjaminz in the present day!
I certainly wasn't going to pay THAT kind of coin for a record that was an unknown quantity, but thanks to the magic of YouTube and some other internet sites devoted to out-of-print metal, I was soon able to revisit Killen's album...
...and after only a couple of songs I was saying to myself, "People actually pay hundreds of dollars for this? Seriously?"
Re-visiting the Past...
I'm still puzzled at how an album so spectacularly average has managed to garner such a legendary reputation. I have heard worse metal records than this (Thrash Queen, anyone?), but I have a feeling that the guys who give this album props on forums and proclaim it to be some sort of long lost Heavy Metal Holy Grail are only doing so because it's rare as hell, and therefore owning a copy is a Metal status symbol among people who care about such things. In other words, a record doesn't necessarily have to be GOOD as long as it's "rare" or "cult."
Killen is a typically low budget '80s indie metal record - cheaply recorded and hollow sounding, with lots of echo and fuzz - and their tunes are pretty standard issue "true" (or perhaps that should be "tr00") metal stuff about steel, swords, barbaric marauders and the supernatural, owing much to "epic" bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and fellow New Yorkers Manowar. I'll admit that a couple of tracks ("Soldiers of Steel" and "Stricken By Darkness") were somewhat cool in a chugging sort of way, but for the most part making it all the way through this 9-track album was an endurance test. Giving credit where credit's due, Killen sounds like they had their you-know-what together instrumentally... but unfortunately, the vocals are a textbook example of "acquired taste."
Legend has it that Killen once had a full time vocalist in their lineup, but he quit the band just prior to the recording of this album. Rather than delay the release of the LP by taking the time to look for a replacement, bassist Vic Barron stepped up to the mic and took over the vocal duties. This was a spectacularly bad move, because Barron's monotone, mumbling vocal delivery becomes unintentionally funny pretty quickly, and when he attempts to pull off those oh-so-Metal high pitched screams, he sounds like he's just been punched in the nuts.
According to Killen's entry on Metal Archives, they hung around the Tri-State area metal circuit long enough to to release an additional five song demo entitled Restless Is The Witch in 1989, which ended up being their swan song.
Cult Metal Classics' Hype Video for the KILLEN Reissue:
Reissued at last!
It had been a number of years since I'd even thought about Killen, but then I heard through the grapevine that Cult Metal Classics Records - a small but dedicated indie label based in Greece that specializes in reissues of rare/obscure metal albums - would be giving them the deluxe soup-to-nuts re-release treatment in 2015, and the memories came roaring back yet again.
According to their hype post on Facebook, Cult Metal Classics' reissue was released on CD and vinyl (of course!) and featured "remixed and remastered sound from the original tape reels" as well as "enhanced artwork." To sweeten the deal even further for completists, the five tracks from Restless Is The Witch were added to the album as bonus tracks. So hey, all of you diehard metal mutants who never had enough cash to snag an original pressing of KILLEN on eBay, your ship has finally come in!
I wonder if the members of Killen were as surprised as I was to find out that there's still interest in their material after all these years? Shoot, if I come across a copy of this reissue, I might even buy one... just for old time's sake!
© 2014 Keith Abt