It’s easy to see why people don’t like King 810. Looking past the chest-beating posturing and the fact that their nu-metal sound can be incredibly base, almost the entire repertoire of the band glorifies the horrifically violent living conditions experienced in their hometown of Flint, Michigan which understandably rubs people the wrong way. Then again, it’s also easy to see why people do like them. There’s a grit and genuine edge to their music (no matter how much of a caricature frontman David Gunn can sometimes seem), and it sets them apart from the waves of needlessly safe modern metal. And if nothing else, they spark debate pretty much with the mention of their name – few bands have such a disparity between the extremes of love and absolute hatred as King 810.
Their sophomore album La Petite Mort Or A Conversation With God is unlikely to convert the non-believers either, as it’s pretty much a continuation of what their debut Memoirs Of A Murderer had to offer, namely more grisly stories of hardship in Flint set to their tried-and-tested musical range of Slipknot-esque nu-metal and a creaking, Nick Cave-style macabre. But on this one it feels as though there’s even more to put people off, an album that wallows deeper in its own ugliness than ever before. If Memoirs Of A Murderer portrayed King 810 as roughnecks not to be messed with, La Petite Mort… sees them become playground bullies, bigging themselves up by almost comical degrees to do nothing but taunt those not on their side. But to be perfectly honest, that’s why this album works. Yes, it’s thuggish and sometimes in incredibly bad taste, but there’s a real urban darkness to King 810 that at the very least makes them compelling, regardless of opinions on the music itself. It’s the equivalent of telling a story from the villain’s point of view – mostly, there’s always something more interesting afoot.
And in this particular story, our anti-hero is David Gunn, regaling more tales of murder and poverty on Flint’s mean streets in his smoker’s rasp that’s bound to get detractors in a tizzy once again. But again, that’s the whole point. This is hardly a character who wants to be liked, but rather one designed to be portrayed as some kind of king of the ghetto, a survivor with a veritable canyon on his shoulder that couldn’t care less whether people like him or not. And from opener Heavy Lies The Crown‘s gambit of “I’m back home motherfucker, give me my guns and my throne”, which is followed up on the very next track Alpha & Omega with Gunn branding himself as “Christ crucified on the T”, it feels as though the latter may be more prevalent.
But here’s where the biggest misconceptions about King 810 is dispelled, that they’re nothing more than a bunch of gun-toting meatheads with no concern beyond who their next victim will be. And yes, while the vast majority of La Petite Mort…‘s lyrics deal with this kind of violence in graphic detail (the eight-minute-long freeform poetry of the title track is a particularly pertinent example), it’s framed in a way to suggest survival, and to paint Gunn as the saviour trying to survive by any means necessary. In this light, it becomes an album that’s exponentially more nuanced than a casual glimpse would suggest – Gunn is painted as metal’s Judge Dredd on the likes of Give My People Back and Vendettas, especially the latter where he promises the entire city of Flint that their condition won’t go ignored by the wider world. I Ain’t Goin’ Back Again is probably the best example of this, a display of the gang mentality that has made King 810 infamous, but the many deeper layers that enclose the true beating heart of the band go ignored.
And that’s not even touching on the actual music, probably the most layered, nuanced part about the album. Compared to their debut, La Petite Mort… pares back the band’s more metallic fare in favour of grinding, eerie atmospheres that only serve to amp up the grimness. So while the likes of War Time and The Trauma Model fill the crushing, low-end metal quota, the stripped-back, broodier material is far more interesting. The plucked strings on Black Swan are hands down the most menacing thing throughout the hour runtime, while the spasmodic saxophone line on Life’s Not Enough is left-of-centre even for this band, and the lounge-jazz of Me & Maxine is a surprisingly perfect fit for Gunn’s gravelly snarl.
All of this compiled together makes for an album that will, in no way, get the sort of appreciation it deserves purely because of surface-level content. Rather, La Petite Mort… is a deep, insightful case study of true disenfranchisement in a way that easily weeds out anyone unwilling to meticulously dissect it. Because, in that respect, King 810 are in a league of their own when it comes to full bodies of work – not only is La Petite Mort… one of the most fascinating albums to hit heavy music this year, but it transcends its lazy metal tag into something truly brilliant.
For fans of: Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Nine Inch Nails
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘La Petite Mort Or A Conversation With God’ by King 810 is out now on Roadrunner Records.