by Don Higgens
– Columnist —
Legendary rock drummer Carmine Appice has played with a number of classic artists and bands over the years. He’s kept the beat for everyone from Rod Stewart and Ozzy Osbourne to Vanilla Fudge and John Syke’s Blue Murder. Back in the early ‘80s, he formed his own Hard Rock and Metal band King Kobra. He assembled a group of talented, yet virtually unknown group of musicians, some of which have gone on to other well known, successful rock bands. Along with Appice, the first incarnation of the band consisted of guitarists David Michael-Philips and Mick Sweda, who later played with the Bullet Boys. The double-axe-attack serves the band well and is reminiscent of other great dual guitarist teams like K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton of Judas Priest, Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy and so many others. Helping Carmine on the bottom end of things was Johnny Rod on bass who went on to join W.A.S.P. And finally, fronting the band was the amazing vocalist Mark Free. Mark has also gained fame by singing with the bands Signal and Unruly Child. He is probably most famous these days for having undergone a sex change to become Marcie Free in the 1990s. He provided his vocal skills to the first two King Kobra albums. These days Marcie still records with Unruly Child and King Kobra is fronted by vocalist Paul Shortino who sang with Rough Cutt and Quiet Riot.
King Kobra has produced several high-quality Rock albums but never achieved the mainstream success as perhaps they deserved. They had good songwriting and excellent musicianship so no problems there. They even had a song on the Iron Eagle movie soundtrack from 1986. Maybe it could come down to luck, promotion or the proper video. For those who were lucky enough to discover this band, they’ve been treated to a number of solid albums and surprisingly they have even released two albums recently: King Kobra in 2011 and King Kobra II in 2013.
The album that kicked it off for King Kobra back in 1985 was Ready to Strike. Stylistically this album fits in well with many of the other Hard Rock and Metal albums released that same year. Dokken’s classic Under Lock and Key, Motley Crue’s Theater of Pain and Kix’s Midnight Dynamite were all released that year. One distinct difference between King Kobra’s debut album and the other albums of the day – was that the drums were very much up front in the mix on Ready to Strike. Of course, since this was Appice’s band and he was the only member who was well known, it only makes sense. There is some great drumming on this album which makes it fun and different to listen to, especially for those who appreciate some top-notch Rock and Roll percussion.
Ready to Strike starts off in fine fashion with the title track which is a strong opener and a good introduction to what the album is all about. It starts off with a cool instrumental lead for about a minute and then it morphs into an up-tempo rocker that is both heavy, with a crunching guitar rhythm, and yet melodic at the same time. Musically the sound is somewhat similar to Y&T but with Mark’s vocals, King Kobra stand firmly on their own feet (or perhaps on their own scales). The opener is one of the best songs on the album and really allows all members to equally showcase their talents. The next track, “Hunger”, starts off with a guttural scream and once again delivers a high energy rocker that really showcases the dual guitar attack that shines throughout the album. The vocal delivery is much more sinister on this second track which is a nice contrast to the previous song. Mark Free really shines on this song singing with passion and conviction. This is another standout track. On the first two songs, it seems like Appice really lets the lesser known members get in the spotlight. Then on the third song, “Shadow Rider,” the drums jump out of the speakers like a thoroughbred jumping out of the starting gate. The drums lead off the song and then throughout the track, the listener is treated to interesting fills and flairs by the veteran Appice while the rest of the band turn out another satisfying mid-tempo rocker.
The middle of the album starts with “Shake Up.” This is an anthemic rocker that you can sing along with and would have been a decent choice as a radio single as it is very accessible. This is another track where the drum playing really stands out but also has great guitar playing with a particularly cool solo in the middle. This song could have been a hit. “Attention” comes up next and the song certainly grabs the listener’s attention. A few well-placed chords reminiscent of “Eye of the Tiger” begin the track and then Mark screams “Let’s Go!” This is the most up-tempo song on the album and really gets the blood pumping. Appice attacks his drums (and especially the bell of his ride cymbal) like a man possessed. The instrumental section ¾ of the way through is worth the price of admission alone. “Breakin’ Out” keeps the energy high. It starts out sounding like a machine gun with a riff that sounds like it might have been borrowed by Motley Crew for “Kickstart My Heart” a few years later. This is a standout track and another one where the double guitar attack works wonderfully well. One of the most interesting songs is up next, titled “Tough Guys.” It starts out with a fast drum roll intro but immediately slows down to sound like a ballad, keyboard included. Then it kicks it back up a notch to become a satisfying mid-tempo rocker with a sing-along chorus. The track gets better with each listen and is one of the best songs being offered.
The back end of the album starts with the slowest track of the ten. “Dancing with Desire” has got a cool, bluesy vibe where we get to hear the acoustic and electric guitars complimenting each other while the vocals sound like they were recorded at the bottom of an empty pool. It’s a distinct change from the rest of the album but it adds diversity which makes the whole album more interesting. Another strong rocker comes up next, “Second Thoughts”. All band members have fully engaged in this song once again. The harmony vocals chant the chorus: “Having second thoughts about you”. Luckily by this time, rock fans are NOT having second thoughts about this album. The album closes with “Piece of the Rock”. This is a good track to end on because it’s a good summarization of the entire album. It starts with a cool, instrumental guitar intro then heads into a hook-laden chorus featuring Free’s strong vocals. The drums are characteristically aggressive and the song contains another great guitar solo. All in all, this is another strong song from a strong album.
The bottom line is that Ready to Strike is a well-crafted debut album from a hard rocking band that probably should have been bigger than they were. However if you didn’t discover this fine album and talented group the first time around, don’t make the same mistake and add this album to your collection. Sure, every good hard rock and Metal fan have great albums by hugely successful bands like Maiden, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Kiss, and Ratt in their collection but not everyone has King Kobra. Impress your friends and be someone who does.
Genre: Glam Metal, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock
Mark Free – vocals
David Michael-Philips – guitar
Mick Sweda – guitar
Johnny Rod – bass
Carmine Appice – drums
01. Ready to Strike
03. Shadow Rider
04. Shake Up
06. Breakin’ Out
07. Tough Guys
08. Second Thoughts
09. Rainbow Bridge
10. Piece of the Rock
Label: Rock Candy Records, Capitol Records
Hardrock Haven rating: (8.9 / 10)