Vices album cover from Kick Axe

Turn off the Radio: Kick Axe – Vices

Kick Axe released the classic metal triumph, Vices (Pasha) in 1984 and every metal fan should own a copy.

Many may remember this ‘80s Saskatchewan heavy metal group by Rock The World. The album, released in 1986, is their only album readily available through iTunes and Amazon. An odd artifact for the band’s preservation, it was a last hoorah before their label Pasha dropped the group from their roster.

It would seem more logical if Kick Axe’s Welcome To the Club was dominant for being radio  friendly. It made a notch in the 1985 Billboard Top 200. Despite their heavy metal anthemic roots re-determined on Rock The World shortly before the band’s collapse, Welcome To the Club was the peak of their career. Not only that, but the success landed them on the soundtrack of Transformers: The Movie (1986) under the moniker Spectre General.

Spectre General – Hunger (Transformers The Movie)

The album that defines this band for several reasons is Vices. 2014 will see its return as a 30th anniversary re-issue.

Rightfully so, Vices was not just the band’s debut but it also moved past the early years of development before George Criston became the voice of Kick Axe. The build up to this started out with Victor Langdon—brother of drummer Gary Langdon—on bass and vocals. Relocating to Vancouver, this led guitarist Larry Gillstrom’s brother Brian Gillstrom to step in and take over vocal duties. He was quickly replaced for Charles McNary who brought them a spot on a Playboy compilation album and got them their first taste of national attention.

When Criston joined the group, they were readying their debut. The current lineup, at the time, became as follows: George Criston (lead vocals), Larry Gillstrom (lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals), Raymond Harvey (lead and rhythm guitars, backing voclas), Victor Langen (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Brian Gillstrom (drums, backing vocals).

Kick Axe – Heavy Metal Shuffle Live

What Vices gave us was the heavy metal anthem, “Heavy Metal Shuffle.” What we get from Kick Axe is full throttle spunk that fires up with some drum trickery and sparks by Criston’s wailing war cry. The hip grinding that ensues is pure ‘80s rock thrusting. The band wastes no time to prove they are the heavy metal soldiers you want them to be. And the heavy artillery? Those Kick Axe righteous guitar solos that roar.

Kick Axe – On the Road To Rock Music Video

The title track is an oddball song. There is a presence of a disconnect between the music and vocals as Criston does everything in his emotional power to stand above the rest. Part of it is the production, the other is the varying levels everyone stands on. It’s Criston’s vocal drum solo; an exemplary of bravado in his voice that drives this song through.

The video is even more bizarre. A guy buys drugs but then turns into an animated enigma being sucked up into a vagina and floating around in a womb with a bunch of pills. There is an asshole that acts like a chameleon sucking up pills like flies. The dude morphs into sperm. When he returns to human form, an obvious anti-drug song, it shows various facts on the harmful effects of meth as people are escaping from a house that has just exploded into fire. Looking back, while the United States was focused on combating marijuana, cocaine and heroin usage, the song was very progressive for its time

Kick Axe – Vices Music Video

“Stay On Top” serves two purposes. Overall, it’s a typical Kick Axe song that pretty much follows suite of “Heavy Metal Shuffle” and explores the level of positivity that “Vices” was a level of warning. Both appear at the end of the song. One, it leads in to what could (and probably was live) a massive drum solo. Two, instead of going that direction, the song dissipates into their rock ballad. “Dreaming Of You” blends more Led Zeppelin folk into the song than most hair band love crooners. But that quickly changes as they follow the Dokken structure of love balladry and the chorus rocks almost as hard as their hard rockers.

One thing to note is that as a bonus track that appeared only on the cassette release was a cover of Humble Pie’s “30 Days In The Hole.” Less English rock-tinged and more respective to the traditional definition of a cover, Kick Axe puts their own big beat flare, but they don’t go overboard with it as the rest of the album can profess. The song ended up on the soundtrack the movie “Up The Creek.”

Kick Axe – Dreamin’ About You

“On the Road To Rock” shares the same sentiments as Judas Priest. The band builds the same drive as “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” “Alive & Kickin’” is a little more psychedelic and expressive for the band adding vocal effects. “All The Right Moves” proves to us that we have just experienced a fluid yet tightly bonded album with “Just Passing Through” being the icing on the cake. But the icing makes up of glorious harmonies that stretch out into the cosmos. The finale may not be altogether necessary beyond the simple message that this album is a moment in time and they knew that. Little did they know that their moment is really embedded in three more albums of the ‘80s. Vices gives us a snapshot of the time. It is a high point of Canadian metal and an album worthy of immortality.

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