King Heavy Metal, the second release from Robert Pollard’s self-described “supergroup” (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 “classic”-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: “Imminent Fall From Grace” and “Weekend Worriers.” The latter is a kind of “A 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. “Imminent Fall From Grace” contains probably the most straightforward, earnest lyrics ever associated with a Pollard record—and 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 “Come Into My Wigshop” to the voice-over montage intro to “Tomfoole Terrific” to the Sabbath-y riff fest (with added insane babbling chorus) of “Ogling 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—as he does on, for instance “Map and Key”—it’s like, “Who 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 “Map 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 “Jargon of Clones,” or the lo-fi balladry of “Too 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.