It feels like every discussion of King 810 needs to start with some lengthy discussion about how so much of their music is fuelled by the violence and poverty in their hometown of Flint, Michigan that they’ve had to survive through, a discussion that’s lengthened even further by any endeavours made to defend their use of it. Yes, it’s all blatantly for shock value in the absolute least subtle way possible, made all the more apparant by David Gunn’s bullish, boogeyman-esque demeanour and how unshakably blunt their nu-metal sound can be, but to chastise them too much for it would be missing the point, at least in terms of how this writing is presented. These are real stories delivered with the numb, dead-eyed coldness of a man completely desensitised to the brutality within them, and for all the arguments made of how it’s all played up for the act, it’s a brand of hardened, unflinching emotionality that few have delivered to the same extent. But there’s a limit for all of this, and while King 810 have typically been good at limiting their bruising alpha-male image with deeper instrumental pallets and softer tangents, they’ve already made two rather long albums on the subject, and it’s worth questioning how much more can be achieved with a third. That’s not even taking into account their recent slimming down into a two-piece, or the fact that Suicide King’s early singles have not ventured much further than the base nu-metal well that this band have often been consigned to. Then again, early impressions have never done King 810 justice in the past, and Suicide King could easily enough be heading down the same path as both its predecessors with regards to the final product.
But, like everything involving King 810, it’s not that straightforward. Instead, Suicide King takes the two distinct sides that the band have displayed in the past – both the ultra-violent militia and the paralysed survivors – and smashes them together in the most inelegant way yet. Of course the moments of real depth and insight will go overlooked – they always have with King 810, and considering the vast majority have people have written them off altogether, that’s not going to change – but what’s left almost feels like a band running out the clock, playing to the worst, most criticisable impulses that, on more occasion than one, gives the impression that they’re starting to run out of ideas.
And yes, that means it’s very necessary to put David Gunn right at the front of the conversation, especially because of the need to analyse how the presentation of his character has shifted between albums, mostly for the worse. Here, he continues with his persona of the gravel-throated underdog living in an active warzone, but where that came bundled with personal demons and nuance of his situation on previous releases, Suicide King feels disappointingly one-dimensional by comparison, living down to the reductive negative misconceptions of a cold-blooded killer on .45 and What’s Gotten Into Me, toting his guns for sport rather survival. It all feels boiled down just as much on tracks like Heartbeats and Braveheart, operating as yet another glimpse of Flint that’s already been done to a higher standard before. There’s definitely a certain primal thrill that can be gleaned from it, especially on a track like Bang Guns in which Gunn’s delivery paints him as a much more malevolent, cunning character than previously, but it’s simplified to the point of base hollowness most of the time, stripped of any sort of deeper intent and left to wallow in violent over-egging that, without any significant thought or deeper impetus behind it, gets really stale really quickly.
At least on an instrumental front they’re about as reliable as ever. Incorporating more hip-hop elements into tracks like Bang Guns and A Million Dollars do bring about some level of freshness as Gunn’s typically lumbering whisper can actually pick up some nimbleness to a decent degree, but even with their most base, full-force nu-metal, there’s a grime and blood-soaked blackness that makes even a repetitive riff-and-crash formula hit with consistent force. Of course though, King 810 are at their best, as always, when deviating from nu-metal into something more tactile and chronically menacing, and while these moments are less prevalent on Suicide King (something that was always going to come as a casualty with a shorter runtime), when they do appear, they really are as good as always. The standout is Black Rifle, which sees Gunn dip back into gravelly, Tom Waits-esque murder-balladry for the sort of sorrowful, understated intensity that he really does excel at, but with the commentary on Flint’s water crisis on Wade In The Water and the haunting closer Sing Me To Sleep, it’s only more proof that versatility and depth isn’t a commodity that’s running low.
Taken as a whole though, Suicide King really does seem like a band veering away from what made them so great in the first, for no other reason than to adhere to the stereotypes unwittingly thrust upon them. It definitely could be worse, and the core appeal of King 810 remains intact, but so much of what ran alongside that has been cast aside to no one’s benefit. If this is proof of anything, it’s that King 810 fare much better with longer, more elaborate releases like their previous two albums, not only giving them the space to deepen the explorations of a setting that is still totally unique to them, but also indulge in their more experimental impulses that can only make it even better. Right now, they seem to be unnecessarily cutting back on both of those things, and while it hasn’t hit a true nadir yet, that’s only the next logical space to land on.
For fans of: Slipknot, Korn, Upon A Burning Body
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Suicide King’ by King 810 is out now.