Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: "Killen" (1987)
KILLEN (Victora Records, 1987)
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 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 in 2015.
...and yet, at the risk of sounding like a total douche, I don't understand what is so special about this album!
"Challenge of Eternity"
I Knew 'Em When...Sort Of
I thought 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 them till our paths briefly crossed in early 1989. Some friends and I attended a showcase of local hard-rock talent at a club called "On Stage," and Killen were the evening's headliners. 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, I remember next to nothing about Killen's set that night (aside from a vague recollection that they may have covered a Motorhead song). Over my next few years of college I occasionally saw their album - released by the band on their own "Victora Records" label - on the shelves of local Staten Island record stores, but I never bought a copy. Eventually I graduated, 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 posted a photo of Killen's album in a thread for showing off pics of their "obscure metal vinyl." I innocently commented something like, "Killen! That's a name I haven't heard in a long time, I saw them live once."
...within five minutes, my forum inbox was exploding with messages from the guy who'd posted that photo. He wanted to know every minute detail about that night I saw them live -- which songs they played, 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 the band members, and on and on. The obsessive line of questioning quickly creeped me out, so I responded, "They were just a local band that I saw once, twenty years ago. I don't even remember if they were any good!" 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 Killen, and I decided that he was a psycho and a troll, so we went our separate ways.
The exchange sparked my curiosity, so I did a bit of Googling and was surprised to learn that Killen's album was a hot collectible on the second hand 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 or Discogs. I wished I had access to a time-traveling DeLorean, 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 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. 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.
I wonder if the members of Killen were surprised to find out that there was still interest in their material after all these years? Shoot, if I come across a copy of that reissue, I might even buy one... just for old time's sake!
© 2014 Keith Abt