Despite odd-hat toting bassist extraordinaire Jeff Ament claiming that prog metal pioneers King’s X ‘invented grunge’, a listen back to the band’s fabled debut album Out of the Silent Planet – featured in full here in this rather splendid new box set from HNE Recordings – actually reveals a band far more classic in feel and sound than that awful ‘g’ word might suggest…

Viewed with some suspicion by the average metal fan at the time – accusations of the band’s Christian beliefs were an excuse for the less open-minded in the metal community to give the band a wide berth – magazines like Kerrang! were down with the band from the get-go; It’s easy to see why as tracks like What Is This? fill the ears, all classy funk-rock chops and soulful, intense vocals thanks to Doug Pinnick, surely one of the most underrated vocalists in hard rock history.

Indeed, far from sounding like a precursor to grunge, much of Out of The Silent Planet finds itself rooted in the pomp and prog rock of names like Rush and particularly Kansas – the titanic Sometimes, with it’s allusions to ‘a new Jerusalem’, could have sat easily on 1980’s Audio Visions, for instance – which was unfortunately not a sound the wider rock record community was looking for in 1988, especially from new bands. Despite featuring radio-ready nuggets like Shot Of Love the album failed to make the waves many predicted it would.

Being on the metal label Megaforce probably didn’t help the band either, and for touring duties the band were funnelled into support slots with incompatible bands time and again; Still, the band’s vision remained unaltered, and 1989’s Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, considered by many to be the band’s high water mark, reflects this. Moving on from the debut but refining and improving on what made that record so wonderful, GGTN again featured fabulous earworms – Summerland, for instance – whilst seeing the band stretch out to create sumptuous proto-prog metal like opening track Out of The Silent Planet, with it’s glorious harmony vocalisation reminiscent of Crosby Stills and Nash, or the strutting, tight as a duck’s arse funk metal of Over My Head.

Looking back, it’s hard to understand why bands like Living Colour and even the Dan Reed Network prospered playing this sort of music whilst King’s X remained comparatively static; Maybe Pinnick, guitarist Ty Tabor and drummer Jerry Gaskill didn’t quite have the look a marketing department could work with – because listening back to GGTN today you sure as hell know it wasn’t the music that was the problem… and Gretchen… remains a landmark prog metal masterpiece to this day.

1990’s Faith Hope Love was the band’s last for Megaforce, and proved to be something of a breakthrough commercially – so much so that parent company Atlantic took over for subsequent releases; Opening track We Are Finding Who We Are, with it’s deliriously magnificent harmony vocals recalled American greats Grand Funk Railroad and Kansas (again), whilst the Beatles-y hit single It’s Love took the band to new heights on American radio, but it was the utterly mesmeric I’ll Never Get Tired Of You that proved just how, when firing on all six as they do here, King’s X were almost untouchable in the production of finely-crafted, intensely emotional hard rock. Goosbump-inducing even at thirty one years’ remove, this is the sound of a band at the absolute top of their game.

The band’s self-titled 1992 Atlantic debut once again failed to move the mountains that many were now predicting; And, although the band now had a guaranteed and loyal following, the units just weren’t shifting in the desired fashion. In retrospect, and listening to the album in close quarters with it’s siblings, King’s X just fails to live up to expectations.

1994 rolled around, and with it a new album from Pinnick, Tabor and Gaskill. The planets of the wider musical world now seemed to have aligned fully for the band, who did their part by delivering a truly wonderful record in the shape of Dogman, which seemed to carry all the credentials necessary to succeed in an environment hungry for the dark, soulful intensity of tracks like Pinnick favourite Black The Sky or Flies and Blue Skies. Grunge by now was the dominating force in rock music, and, if Ament’s feeling was right, surely now was King’s X’s time… But  no.

Despite critical acclaim and a welcoming from the band’s fanbase, who appreciated the heavier feel of the album as being closer to the band they knew from the live arena, the album stalled at number eighty eight on the Billboard Charts, and it felt like the moment had gone, a least in terms of the band hauling themselves to the next level. Their final album for Atlantic, 1996’s Ear Candy, fared slightly worse chart wise but once again, a listen with fresh ears finds a band struggling against pressure from all sides turning in some gorgeous performances, particularly on opening one-two The Train and (Thinking and Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do and the warm, comforting Mississippi Moon.

So there you have it; one band, six albums and some of the most wonderful music ever committed to wax collected into one handy compendium. If you’re a long term fan, there isn’t a great deal here in terms of unreleased material to tempt the dollars from your wallet, but if you’re new to the band, or you’ve only heard the odd track on the radio here and there, I can’t think of a better starting point on your King’s X journey, because this is absolutely essential listening, from start to finish.

In The New Age releases on April 28th.