KXM – Circle of Dolls (Album Review)

Triumviral rockers KXM are set to return to the musical landscape with Circle of Dolls, due out on September 13th through Rat Pak Records.

Three short years have passed since the band released their sophomore effort, Scatterbrain, which itself was nearly three years to the day from their eponymous debut in March 2014; all three have been produced by Chris “The Wizard” Collier for release through Rat Pak.

For those looking for more history on the origins of the band made up of Bassist/Vocalist Dug Pinnick (King’s X), Guitarist George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), and Drummer Ray Luzier (Korn), the trio first discussed a collaboration during a birthday party for Luzier’s son. Roughly a year later, KXM was in the books and the three had successfully marked the beginning of a fruitful musical journey. When the time came to adopt a name, the band adopted letters from their day jobs—K from Korn, X from King’s X, and M from Lynch Mob. 

Which leads us to present day where Circle of Dolls finds the band truly finding their stride, forging their unique sound into a dense bulwark that builds upon the molds of the two prior records. What began as a simple side project (about the umpteenth for Pinnick) has turned into a brute tour-de-force. Each member sounds louder, stronger, and more collaborative here, and the album sounds punchier than their two previous efforts. Pinnick is still front and center, but his two compatriots sound just as loud and weighty this time around; somehow, everyone sounds louder and stronger, Pinnick included, yet the registers have equalized to place everyone on the same footing. “A Day Without Me” is a good example of this fresh approach, as the instrumentation takes a successful stab at standing alongside, rather than behind, the distinct vocals of Pinnick. Additionally, Lynch still finds time for a crushing solo. 

News of the album’s release was accompanied by a video for opener, and first single, “War of Words.” The two previous albums featured plenty of instances of Lynch wandering off to perform guitar alchemy, but the solos on Circle of Dolls have reached a new level and, when taken, sound a step or two above their backing movements. “War of Words” is the immediate example, with the guitar solo by Lynch halfway through coming as easy and effortless; the solo even survives the video edit. 

The loopy pace of “Lightning” harkens back to some early Dug solo work, particularly his Poundhound days, but the latter half of the track’s six minutes swerve and veer out into King’s X vocal harmonies, near-Eastern guitar work throughout some of the verses, a dampened guitar solo, followed later by a stern, crunchy solo. 

In a sea of riches, “Wide Awake” could be the best track on the album; the calm, somnifacient opening chords pull the listener into a comfortable frame of mind, only to circle back with strong chorus. Even the muffled start of the solo from Lynch is a red herring, as a louder, denser solo immediately follows. “Cold Sweats” offers a dense, jaunty trip, replete with sweeping crescendos and goofy vocals. 

Two quick, dueling solos take command of “Big As the Sun,” following a thick, punchy bass progression opens and carries the tune; the languid Slavic progressions used here again demonstrate the varied and unique sounds these three can imbue. Luzier takes his turn in the spotlight for “Vessel of Destruction,” though, in typical fashion for his work with KXM, his progressions are somewhat subdued and hidden behind the furniture. No doubt he still maintains some of the awe of a young fan playing with two legends of Hard Rock, but “Vessel” proves that he is more then just the progenator of the band. 

This is all while a dark, slithering tale emerges within “Shadow Lover;” Pinnick sounds especially cryptic, both in timbre and content, and the instrumentation digs in to set a dark, somber mood. This is all before the closer, “The Border,” finds its opening taking a dank swerve into psychedelic territory.

Overall, KXM have successfully placed the ‘power’ back into ‘power trio,’ and Circle of Dolls finds them still fresh, comfortable, and creative, after three albums, several day jobs and tours, and well-deserved rest when possible. With a series of strong tracks and catch hooks, Cryptic Rock gives this album 4 out of 5 stars.

Purchase Circle of Dolls:

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