King Heavy Metal, the second release from Robert Pollard‰۪s self-described ‰ÛÏsupergroup‰ (tongue practically piercing his cheek with self-deprecating irony), is a hitherto undiscovered species of rainforest songbird capable of changing colors in the ultraviolet and infrared spectrums. At once prog-struck, collagist, technically impressive and melodically complex, King Heavy Metal lives up to and subverts its title over the course of its twelve songs. There‰۪s stuff on here that wouldn‰۪t be out of place on any post-Isolation Drills Guided By Voices album, stuff that wouldn‰۪t be out of place on an alternate-universe mid-‰۪70s Who album, and stuff that‰۪s as lo-fi, booze-addled and sloppy as anything from ‰ÛÏclassic‰-era GBV.
Pollard‰۪s determined to establish Ricked Wicky as more than just another solo or side project: it‰۪s a proper, self-contained group with significant contributions, both instrumental and songwriting, from guitarist Nick Mitchell (long time GBV / Pollard stalwart Kevin March supplies drums). Mitchell sings lead on two songs here, both presumably written by him as well: ‰ÛÏImminent Fall From Grace‰ and ‰ÛÏWeekend Worriers.‰ The latter is a kind of ‰ÛÏA Salty Salute‰ update, with Pollard taking the anthemic first chorus, but Mitchell handling the rest of the vocals. Stranger, but in some ways more interesting, is Mitchell‰۪s other contribution. ‰ÛÏImminent Fall From Grace‰ contains probably the most straightforward, earnest lyrics ever associated with a Pollard record‰ÛÓand yet, bizarrely, the song fits, and fits well, with the sort of no-fucks-given experimentation on display throughout King Heavy Metal.
From the skewed-time-signature stomp (with periodic King Crimson-esque breakdowns) of ‰ÛÏCome Into My Wigshop‰ to the voice-over montage intro to ‰ÛÏTomfoole Terrific‰ to the Sabbath-y riff fest (with added insane babbling chorus) of ‰ÛÏOgling Blarest,‰ the record hops from genre to genre (sometimes within the same song) with the giddy glee of a kid in a record shop. What makes King Heavy Metal different from pastiche-laden past efforts (like, say, I don‰۪t know, Bee Thousand) is the level of technical mastery (high) and recording fidelity (high) and altered consciousness (very high) on display. Though Pollard contributes his own often-underrated guitar heroics, when Mitchell cuts loose with a solo‰ÛÓas he does on, for instance ‰ÛÏMap and Key‰‰ÛÓit‰۪s like, ‰ÛÏWho let Ritchie Blackmore into the studio?‰ The answer is probably Ritchie Blackmore let himself in the studio, because he‰۪s Ritchie Blackmore, and has his own studio, but on ‰ÛÏMap and Key‰ Mitchell‰۪s blistering, melodic runs coil and twist around Pollard‰۪s epically melancholic constructions with impressive brio.
King Heavy Metal is not devoid of signature Pollard moments, like the power pop chug of the album‰۪s opener ‰ÛÏJargon of Clones,‰ or the lo-fi balladry of ‰ÛÏToo Strong for No One to See You,‰ but the emphasis here is on pushing limits. While not the weirdest record in Pollard‰۪s discography, King Heavy Metal is a very rare bird indeed. Just listen.