Although King 810 had formed as early as 2007, it was with the shooting and stabbing and attempted robbery of lead singer David Gunn in 2012 that the true King 810 as we know them was born. The 2014 album Memoirs of a Murderer was a stunning debut for many different reasons. Stylistically it took risk mixing poems, murder ballads and hardcore on one record but it also painted a world of Flint, Michigan that King 810 come from, a world where jobs are scarce, gun and knife crimes are rampant and as well as dealing with just normal difficulties of growing up, the young face an uncertain future where death, injury or prison are daily realistic occurrences. Flint itself was classed as the second most violent city in the US.
Live King 810 have forged a very loyal and passionate following; with their crowd at times themselves being described as violent yet all of this is in contrast to the message in interviews the band give. They want to highlight the reality of towns like Flint but not glamorise them, they have a message which is dark but also needs addressing. Memoirs of a Murderer also acted as therapy for Gunn as he openly, on record, tried to deal with his feelings towards his own crime against him, the feelings of loneliness, the questioning of how this could be, the paranoia and depression he has suffered as a result. This was all presented in the King 810 heavy backdrop and Gunn’s spoken word style to lead vocals.
Any thoughts that Gunn has been able to move on from that debut (and why should we think he has or would have after such a traumatic event) are instantly dismissed with the opening track “Heavy Lies the Crown” where the opening narrative questions his being, his feelings where he is at now and even questions the music. The fact that King 810 have travelled the world playing their music means that those important to them were left behind in Flint and Gunn questions whether things could have been different if he had been there. It’s an incredibly intense and bold opening statement to this album. Musically this is dark, fragmented, mainly about the drums with very little other instruments getting a look in. It also serves to introduce the main themes of the album, this is about Flint, the struggle that many of its citizens face daily, the fear and hand to mouth existence, the fact that the guys in King 810 feel guilt that they have been touring the world and that their absence means that not only have they temporarily escaped but friends have lost that battle in their absence.
There is no denying it, this is at times a tough listen. It is dark, you will feel guilt for your cosy suburban middle class life and helpless too that this is going on. As I am writing this I have just found the PR release for this album which comes in the form of an open letter. David Gunn’s general message is that this album is about them not you and they don’t give a fuck if you like it or not. This is their world not yours. To be honest I didn’t need an open letter to know this; it is self-evident. Because the strength of King 810 is the narrative style vocals and this go to serve two purposes:
a) firstly they are easy to memorise, sing along to where you can, they are actually inclusive. This is why songs like “Alpha and Omega” work so well. They actually have a certain popularity about them, the punctuated hardcore guitars allow you to slam away to this music. “Give Me My People Back” is another fine example, ignore the message for a second, it actually quite life affirming, it allows you to lose yourself in its art.
b) David Gunn is an excellent narrator, it does not matter that you do not come from their world, Gunn is able to present you with a window into his, just a minute, and for that minute you can connect and this is what King 810 do so well. They may be at the bottom of the pile of western world struggles but they connect to the audience through these struggles and their audience relates to this. Your own struggle may not be as extreme but there is a connection.
It is this poetry of the lyrics that stood out on the first album and again they are prevalent here and two tracks worth mentioning are “The Trauma Model” and “La Petite Mort”. “The Trauma Model” has an almost trip hop vibe to the beginning and tells the story of a typical Flint family, the struggle to be brought up with no money, images here of children cuddled up together for warmth absent fathers. It’s a story of repeated patterns where the girls become mothers young and the boys get involved in crime. The absolute stand out track of the album though is “La Petite Mort”. This is a monologue rather than story. It is pure poetry and regardless of the topic you cannot but admire the pace and delivery and passion (simmering anger barely concealed). It evokes such strong imagery and you feel you are watching his life. The pace picks up, the accompanying music pics ups. This is the story of King 801’s Flint. We moved more from his shooting on this album to a more questioning the whole existence of towns like Flint.
Apart from the hardcore overtones and the completely engaging narrative, King 810 have never been afraid to experiment. On the first album we had poems, murder ballads and on this album we have an intriguing mix of styles thrown in amongst the traditional songs. “Black Swan” is a great example, this is a play on a ballet theme and is best described as symphonic metal. Elsewhere we have a great free form Jazz saxophone solo on “Life’s Not Enough” and “Me Ad Maxine” uses a Santana style guitar and piano to great effect.
This is a great second album from King 810, they may not care how you react to it but they are going to have to continue to get used to the fact they do speak to their audience and that audience is on their side. They raise awareness of the problems of places like Flint and that is a good thing. They also write some cracking songs that people wants to go crazy to. They may still be struggling with their new found roles in life but this may be something they need to get used to. This album is dark and its raw but my god will it make you feel something, whether that something is to appreciate what you have, to dance like a MF or to just observe and reflect; this album is the real deal.
la petite mort or a conversation with god is out tomorrow, September 16th. It can be pre-ordered as a [amazon text=Digital download&asin=B01IWUKFR2] or on [amazon text=CD&asin=B01J8YBD7C].