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Krokus: "Original Album Classics" Collection Review
Krokus will be next year's Def Leppard.— Krokus manager Butch Stone to Circus Magazine, September 1983
Get the Set!
KROKUS - Original Album Classics 3-CD set (Sony/Legacy/Arista, 2012)
Swiss rockers KROKUS never quite lived up to that rather grandiose managerial prediction shown above, but they managed to carve out a pretty decent career for themselves during the big '80s metal boom. American audiences probably remember them best for 1983's Headhunter album - a derivative-but-fun slab of early '80s metal which included the enduring radio staple "Screaming in the Night." Krokus was considered a "new" act at that time, but Headhunter was actually their seventh (!) release - which meant the band already had a fairly deep catalog of pre-Headhunter albums waiting for curious fans to unearth them.
Founded as a progressive rock act in Switzerland in 1975, Krokus' first two records - 1976's self titled debut and 1977's To You All - barely made a splash, even in their homeland. A stylistic switch towards AC/DC styled hard rock on 1978's mostly ignored Pain Killer album (aka Pay It In Metal) did little to reverse the band's waning fortunes. It wasn't till Marc Storace - a singer originally from the tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta, who'd been kicking around the European rock scene since the late '60s - joined the fold in time for 1980's Metal Rendez-vous that things started falling into place for Krokus. Storace's distinctively gritty and powerful vocal style - a blend of Bon Scott's pub-rock swagger and Robert Plant's arena-rattling wail - fit the band's sound like a glove. The rest, as they say, is history.
I was a casual Krokus fan during their brief early '80s heyday but they hadn't been on my radar for a long time -- until I recently scored a bargain-priced CD of their greatest hits, which renewed my interest in the band. Seeking to re-acquire some of their albums that I owned in my youth, I came across a cool Krokus box set that was released in 2012 as part of Sony/Legacy's Original Album Classics reissue series. The box features Marc Storace's first three albums with the band - 1980's Metal Rendez-vous, 1981's Hardware and 1982's One Vice At A Time - each in neat little cardboard slipcovers meant to mimic the appearance of the original vinyl LPs. The set was an absolute steal for ten bucks so I snapped it up and I've been going down Metal Memory Lane with the trio of CDs all week long.
"Metal Rendez-vous" (1980)
I've owned Metal Rendez-vous on vinyl since the mid 1980s but since I no longer have a turntable to play LPs on, I hadn't heard it in dog years. Therefore, revisiting this album after more than two decades was like getting a letter from an old friend. Metal Rendez-vous is about as subtle as the automobile collision on its front cover, kicking off nicely with the uptempo "Heat Strokes" before sliding into second gear with "Bedside Radio" and the heavy-duty "Shy Kid." "Tokyo Nights" is a mid-tempo track that begs the audience to sing along, almost like an early blueprint of "Screaming in the Night." "Back Seat Rock N Roll" brings things to a satisfyingly pummeling close.
Comparisons to AC/DC are unavoidable when listening to Metal Rendez-vous (and indeed, most of the band's catalog) due to Storace's Bon Scott-esque vocals and Krokus' propensity for using groan-worthy sexual double-entendres and puns in their lyrics and song titles, just like their Aussie heroes. What Krokus may lack in subtlety, they more than make up for in terms of catchiness and sheer volume!
My brother owned Hardware on cassette back in the day and it was a frequent player back then, but I've never owned a copy myself, therefore I hadn't heard it in at least a quarter century. The rumbling "Celebration" gets things off to a moody start before kicking into "Easy Rocker," which salutes the band's fans clad in leather jackets, covered with patches of "those heavy bands." A particularly nasty groupie is immortalized in "Smelly Nellie," and it doesn't take much imagination to figure out what the charming "Mr. 69" is about. Contemporary audiences will likely be shocked at a line in album-closer "Mad Racket" in which Storace barks about a rival, "He's a transvestite -- he's a fag!" (I don't think he's talking about a cigarette...) Of the three albums included in this set, Hardware was my least favorite, in spite of a few decent tracks. It just doesn't have the fire of the other two albums that bookend it. .
"Rock City" (1981)
"One Vice at a Time" (1982)
One Vice at a Time was released in 1982 - a year prior to Krokus' "breakthrough" success with Headhunter - and was possibly their hardest-rocking (and also most derivative) album thus far. It kicks off with one of Krokus' best-known pre-Headhunter songs - the oh-so-subtle "Long Stick Goes Boom" (hint: it's not about a stick of dynamite...), which rips off AC/DC even more blatantly than usual. (Which is really sayin' something!). Krokus continues to mine The Thunder From Down Under for inspiration for the rest of the album, especially on tracks like "Bad Boys, Rag Dolls" and "Down the Drain." Seriously folks, they owe Angus and Malcolm Young some royalties for this one! Despite its near-total lack of originality One Vice is still a fun listen, especially when it's cranked up to appropriately obnoxious volume levels.
"Long Stick Goes Boom" (1982)
So whatever happened to Krokus anyway?
After the platinum success of the Headhunter album, Krokus' fortunes took a fairly swift downward turn. The band made the poor decision to abandon their headbanging, pedal-to-the-metal approach on follow up albums like 1984's The Blitz and 1985's Change of Address, favoring a slicker pop-metal sound aimed at American rock radio and MTV. The metal fraternity said "no thanks" to their new direction, labeling Krokus sell-outs and bandwagon-jumpers. Storace left the band after 1988's barely-noticed Heart Attack and Krokus split up after one album with a new singer (1990's Stampede).
Storace returned to the fold a few years later for 1995's successful To Rock Or Not To Be reunion album, and the band has been active ever since - even if membership has been something of a revolving door from album to album. Krokus' most recent CD, Dirty Dynamite, was released in 2013 and they remain a popular draw on the concert circuit, especially in Europe.
I hope I've piqued your interest in this underrated band. If you're interested in checking their material out for yourself, this Original Album Classics 3-CD set would be an excellent place to start your journey. Now, all I need to do is pick up Headhunter on CD and I'm all set...
KROKUS Select Discography:
Krokus - Phonogram, 1976
To You All - Phonogram, 1977
Pain Killer (aka Pay It In Metal) - Phonogram/Mercury, 1978
Metal Rendez-vous - Ariola, 1980
Hardware - Ariola, 1981
One Vice at a Time - Arista, 1982
Headhunter - Arista, 1983
The Blitz - Arista, 1984
Change of Address - Arista, 1986
Alive and Screamin' (live) - Arista, 1986
Heart Attack - MCA, 1988
Stayed Awake All Night - Arista, 1989
Stampede - Phonag, 1990
The Dirty Dozen: Very Best Of - Ariola, 1993
To Rock Or Not To Be - Phonag, 1995
Round 13 - Phonag, 1999
Rock the Block - Warner Music Group, 2003
Long Stick Goes Boom: The Anthology - Castle, 2003
Hellraiser - AFM, 2006
Fire and Gasoline (live) - Reality, 2007
Extended Versions (live) - Sony, 2007
Hoodoo - Sony, 2010
Dirty Dynamite - The End, 2013