This piece is not about Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, his band of that name has rightly gone down in the annals of music history for the groundbreaking and theatrical tour de force it was. There is another Kingdom Come that achieved a notoriety and, unfairly in my view, were dismissed, discredited and disrespected because of accusations of being clones of Led Zeppelin…as that other band has more recently.
This Kingdom Come was formed around singer/multi-instrumentalist/composer Lenny Wolf, a German musician who had minor success with an album in 1982 called Germany (later rereleased as Lenny Wolf’s Germany), and in a band called Stone Fury who had two well received but unsuccessful albums: Burns Like a Star and Let Them Talk in ’84 and ’86. Following the demise of Stone Fury, Wolf was asked by his record label to form a new band: recruiting lead guitarist Danny Stag, rhythm guitarist Rick Steier, bassist Johnny B. Frank, and drummer James Kottak, Kingdom Come recorded and released their self titled debut in 1988. It sold well, but the critics only seemed to want to lambast the band with those misguided “clone’ attacks.
His vocal style has, undeniably, similarities to Percy Plant but is different enough to quickly dispel any negative thoughts in that direction and, yes, they used a mandolin on one track on their debut album but Zeppelin weren’t the first (or last) to use that versatile instrument.
They have also suffered the ‘one hit wonder’ insult due to the single success (pun intended) of the rather good ‘Get It On’ in 1988. This was my introduction to the band: as I was driving for work around the South West listening to the radio – the cassette player was still digesting a carefully curated compilation tape and so the radio was the only option – having endured the saccharine segment known as ‘Our Tune’ on Simon Bates’ show, I was rewarded when he actually played that single. I was suitably impressed by the heavy rock structure and, on its release, I bought the debut, self titled album.
If you approach Kingdom Come with an open mind and ear, there is so much to enjoy that those Zeppelin comparisons are redundant: their style was heavy rock with less of a blues base and, instrumentally, were nowhere near the Page/Jones/Bonham sound. Their first two albums with the original line up are rock records of the highest order and, to my ear at least, are more than deserving of a re-evaluation and recognition for what they are…high quality rock.
The debut, apart from the single, has power (‘Living Out of Touch’) and power ballads to melt along with (‘What Love Can Be’ or ‘Loving You’) or even the slightly questionable ’17’. The second album, ‘In Your Face’, was equally equipped with superb rock such as Get it On part two…’Do You Like it?’ and the magnificent ‘Highway 6’ and ‘Perfect ‘O’’.
The band splintered just as they were making headway but Lenny kept the name and the third album from 1991 (‘Hands of Time’) continued the mix of heavy rock (‘Should I’) and powerful ballads (‘You’ll Never Know’). They were an excellent live band too: I never caught them in person but still have a cassette bootleg from their British tour that, despite the lousy quality, reveals a rounded, professional and unique rock band.
Continual changes in band members didn’t help their cause and that album saw Lenny playing multiple instruments, as he did on most of the subsequent albums.
The quality didn’t drop however, as he was adept at guitar and bass with various musicians adding drums and keyboards where necessary. The first album after the split was ‘Bad Image’ and, to be honest, it was hard to tell the full band weren’t there, as songs such as ‘Passion Departed’, ‘Little Wild Thing’ and ‘Fake Believer’ sounded like a natural progression. ‘Twilight Cruiser’ followed and with the epic title track and gems like the incendiary ‘Hope is on Fire’, all was well. ‘Master Seven’ came next and was more of the same…try ‘More Restrictions’ or ‘Slow Down’ that could easily have appeared on the debut. The millennium saw the release of ‘Too’…an album that combined the classic ‘Come Sound’ but with a bluesier base…still heavy rock, still full of light and shade and under-appreciated songs such as the acoustic led ballad, ‘You’re My Secret’ or the weighty ‘Tease’. Lenny also revisited three Stone Fury tracks and they turned out improved and heavier: ‘Too Late’, ‘Tease’ and ‘Should Have Told You’ are well worth a listen in either guise.
Two years later and Lenny moved a bit toward the industrial side of metal on ‘Independent’. Songs such as the opener, ‘I Can Feel It’ added grunginess behind his trademark vocals. ‘Mother’ is more like Gary Numan doing metal in a strangely compelling way. Although less immediate than most of the others, it still has some remarkable rock to enjoy. 2004 saw the release of ‘Perpetual’ and the more straightforward rock was back with a vengeance…’ Hang ‘Em High’, ‘Borrowed Time’ and ‘Free Bird’ are excellent examples. There were the slightly weird ‘Watch the Dragonfly’ and ‘Silhouette Paintings’ to get used to, but the epic ballad, ‘Inhaling the Silence’ with obvious Beatles influences, makes it worthwhile.
Lenny’s independence was even more apparent on the 2006 album, ‘Ain’t Crying For the Moon’, as he took on all instruments and did a fascinating take on The Beatles’ song, ‘Across the Universe’ as well as an unnecessary but good reworking of ‘Get It On’. We had to wait until 2009 for the next album: ‘Magnified’ may have too much drum machine, but it still has some great rock…’No Murderer I Kiss’ may be lyrically unfathomable, but it is sheer quality rock. ‘The Machine Inside’ may be a bit Depeche on steroids, but has a lot going for it, and ‘Hey Mama’ may hark back to Get It On, but it all just works. 2011 saw ‘Rendered Waters’ reveal more reworked songs from the debut album, ‘In Your Face’ and ‘Hands of Time’, plus another Stone Fury track, ‘Break Down the Walls’. Each a worthy song but the three new tracks were the reason to buy for Kingdom Come fans…’Blue Trees’, ‘Is It Fair Enough’ and ‘Don’t Remember.’
The final output came in 2013 with ‘Outlier’: apart from the disco intro of ‘Rough Ride Rallye’ which is almost off-putting but does have power chords too, the album is a worthy inclusion and a fitting sign off for a much maligned musician who deserves better.
Okay, most of these releases don’t reach the peak of the first two exceptional albums, but there is a wealth of very high quality rock awaiting discovery across the entire Kingdom Come catalogue. So put aside those preconceptions, forget all of the malicious clone accusations, enjoy the music for what it is…quality rock and, who knows, maybe (belatedly) Lenny Wolf and Kingdom Come will get the recognition they have always deserved.
Lenny effectively retired from the business in 2016 although the Kingdom Come name was revived without him for a 30th anniversary tour in 2018.
Tom Dixon | Now Spinning Magazine