Krokus spawned a few remarkable records in their early days. Names like Pay It In Metal, Hardware (to a lesser extent), Metal Rendez-Vous still resound to this day. The latter caused this reviewer to seriously veer towards this band, by the way. And it makes sweaty, rocky concerts in “the pit” come back to memory.
But nothing mentioned before really blew the true Heavy Metal record Headhunter of 1983 out of the water, their 7th studio album. Not equaled then, and not ever since. And – clearly – the record was a true forerunner to what was to become speed and thrash. Metallica was already at it, but this was early stages.
To prove this specific slice of pudding, the record indeed hit Platinum status in the US and – also – got to rank 28 on the Billboard 200. A feat in and by itself, at a time when US bands were in their prime.
And a word to the album cover. The metal skull and bones together with the name Headhunter is just superb. A fitting visual to a very metal album.
The disc also features its very own epic and spicy stories. For instance, Chris Von Rohr got himself fired from Krokus later in 1983. Or it was his loose mouth, and some Machiavellian machinations from management that led to his demise at that time.
Well, it was probably the trap. You know, this noisy thing that opens and closes all the time and you often shovel stuff into it. And – as a close second – perhaps his somewhat boring contribution to bass playing played a role too. A style that has not changed in deed or appearance to this very day.
But nothing is forever and Chris is now – in 2015 – firmly ensconced back in the old, new formation, moins Fernando Von Arb. He actually emerged as the de-facto leader of this band. Who would have thought that?
And what the fuck happened to their guitar play? They been on drugs?
The change is truly remarkable. The somewhat laid back, mid-tempo riffing of things past all of a sudden went by the board. And got replaced by technically much more refined guitar work. The pace for that tracklist gained a lot of steam as well, and started to display REAL power songs.
I reckon the change to a harder, faster delivery is partly due to their one-time producer Tom Allom (also called The Colonel), best known for his long involvement with Judas Priest. Tom, of course, did many other outstanding bands too, like Def Leppard, Black Sabbath and odd ones like Strawbs (go figure, and for sure no metal).
Now, the album was made with Allom in Orlando, Florida and he rocked them around some. Even if he thought – by his own words – that they sounded a lot like … AC/DC.
Why are we not surprised? Right?
In the end, his influences seemed to be such that their sound now was way more metal than ever before, and for sure much less AC/DC. But whatever the reason for the boost, the effect was, and still is, outstanding.
And as a result, Headhunter is one of the records heaping less guilt on the Swiss band Krokus as an AC/DC sound-alike. You will still find some similarities, though. But compared to other albums of theirs, the extent of the damage considerably lessens.
And never forget, their own style and Storace‘s voice really lend themselves to this belief. Unlike other records – of course – like their latest disc Dirty Dynamite, where they really knocked themselves out in Bon Scott-ism.
Their pre-Headhunter albums already got them this reputation by the way. Back in the ’70s and especially in the US, which – commercially – must have been an enormous setback.
As the lore goes, Headhunter saw the light of day to win back this market and especially got us the rock ballad Screaming in the Night for that purpose. But more to that later.
And you know what? When Headhunter (the title song) takes off, it just projects a smile on my face. Drums first, then lead guitar, then rhythm guitar, then bass and off they rock onto their Heavy Metal highway with a scream that would make David Byron (ex Uriah Heep) proud.
That’s Marc Storace at his very best.
He had then and still has a reach today that will make many other metal fronts appear pale by comparison. An absolutely stellar start to a totally metal album. Then Eat the Rich and Ready to Burn both still living on the A-side, follow in this rocky path to glory with full tilt. Typical Krokus fare, with a level of energy, not quite known before.
Now, Screaming in the Night has been screamed, bitched and moaned about a lot over the past 30 years or so. It actually charted in the US on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. And it is played by stations to this day, so there is some merit.
No. Okay, it is actually mainstream, but this is exactly its downfall. In my book the track does not qualify as a decent rock ballad, it is so overgrown with moldy cheese. And the lyrics on that one: Well, let’s not go there. Pretty much the only negative on this very speedy and powerful metal album.
‘Cause Headhunter takes off in the second half – the B-side – full steam with Night Wolf. This one is like enjoying a second lead track. And the disc will not let up. Moving through to Stayed Awake All Night with a most astonishing mid-section.
Now, what really knocked me flat is the rocker Russian Winter at the very end of the album. This one would have qualified for a starter. But hey, great news to have yet another kicker occupy what used to be the knacker’s yard for leftover fillers. Stellar!
So, back in 1983 Krokus seemed to have found their ultimate nirvana in Headhunter. A metal-clad monster from start to finish, with a very small, soft mid-section.
The style came away from the mid-tempo fare the band served us with, and had a go at us much more aggressively than ever before. And the effect was truly remarkable, with rock hard tracks that still resonate to this day. In truth, they tried to reproduce this spirit recently, and – to an extent – succeeded. However, this never reached the heights of this old record.
Ed’s note: And this is why Headhunter made it onto the Old’n’Tasty series as well. Good stuff.
Record Rating: 9/10 | Label: Arista | Web: Official Site
Release date: 25 April 1983