KINGS of HONG KONG -Rat Bikes and Wild Guitars From Mars.
Release year: 2023 Record label: Trash Wax Review date:18/06/2023
‘Rat Bikes and Wild Guitars From Mars’ is the 4th installation from Kings of Hong Kong. The Kings have frankensteined their own brand and sound, blending classic psychobilly with garage and trash, which you can often hear them proclaiming as not just psychobilly but ‘Rock ‘N’ Rolla!’.
The Kings of Hong Kong are bringing their raucous, sinister, spooky album out of the West Midlands in the UK, based around Birmingham and the Black Country. Despite being linchpins of the Birmingham Rockin’ scene, their name draws inspiration from lands afar, leeching the spirit out of Chinese thrillers. This inspiration extends far beyond the name, with the sound, image, lyrics and overall presentation heavily inspired by horror and thriller movies.
When quizzed, the band themselves say they have a wide range of inspirations between them, and this is totally apparent in ‘Rat Bikes and Wild Guitars From Mars’. They cite The Stingrays, The Meteors and The Cramps as some of their strongest influences.
This bubbling tar pit of influences come across strongly in the fantastic album sleeve artwork by King Rat Artwork (@kingratartwork on Instagram), featuring reptilian monsters, jungle highways and shrunken heads.
Kings of Hong Kong are a robber mask disguised band of outlaws comprising Chris Martin providing vocals and rhythm guitar, Greg Ikin on drums, Mik Garvey on the upright double bass and Marcel Thé on lead guitar. Greg, Mik and Marcel all add backing vocals to the poisonous potion that is Kings of Hong Kong.
‘Rat Bikes and Wild Guitars From Mars’ is the 4th release from the Kings, recorded and mastered by Chris Wilson at Stourbridge Studios. Released on vinyl through Trash Wax and now available on all streaming platforms. Previously set loose as 2 releases, with each side of the vinyl being on separate CDs, which can be illusively snagged from the Kings themselves at a show if you’re lucky!
The album was written during the pandemic, and recorded in 2 sessions, the Kings of Hong Kong see themselves as a close knit band of brothers and have been in their current line up since 2016.
This LP boasts 16 original self penned tracks, each manifesting the multifaceted beast that makes up Kings of Hong Kong. Writing credits go to Chris Martin for the lyrics and Martin/Thé for the overall music.
Track By Track Review: Track 1: Intro With shades of Vincent Price over a carnival merry go road, with surf guitar and spaghetti western swing, the intro sets a cinematic start. The intro track set the theme of old horror and thriller movies from the start, with an ominous sign posted to the direction of the rest of the album. Kings of Hong Kong introduce you to their lexicon of the macabre with the first uttering of ‘Rock ‘n’ Rolla’, and the setting of the scene of rat bikes, other worlds and savage entities.
Track 2: Bikes, Beers and Wild guitars Bike, Beers and Wild Guitars should be the strap line of the album, with all three running heavily through the album, like a filthy rider request or band mantra. The track opens with a cacophony of bike rumbling and roars, it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to understand why they were invited to bring their wild guitars to gig at Mutts Motorcycles in Birmingham. With pacey, punchy drums and a heavy dash of Punk attitude, this track clearly sets intentions that this album doesn’t tow the lines of convention when it comes to genre. With wild screams, distorted vocals and sour crunchy guitar licks, my last wondering thought is what the currency exchange rate for 1 soul in exchange for a ‘bucket of meat treats’ is. Give it a listen, and you’ll see what I mean.
Track 3: Deep Dark Dirty Water ‘Deep Dark Dirty Water’ starts with the sound I can only presume is a can of beer popping, if we’ve still got the mantra of track 2 in mind. When interviewed, ‘Deep Dark Dirty Water’ was highlighted as one of the band members favourite tracks on the album. It has a brighter and more classically rockabilly sound that the first track, still with the menacing over tones. When Chris growls ‘Yeahh Marcel!’ as he hits the frantic guitar solo, you feel inclined to join in.
Track 4: Severed Limb ‘Severed limb’ represents a segway from the get-go, almost having a 60s garage psych vibe akin to The Sonics. With the drums focussed mostly on the toms, Chris’ lyrics sounding like the recipe for a hex from a witch doctor, despite the grotesque theming, there’s a hip-swinging stroller rhythm to this song. With a liberal dash of voodoo stylings this is one of my personal favourite tracks on the album.
Track 5: Kung Fu Twist Continuing the cinematic theme, this song ‘Kung Fu Twist’ opens with a gong, and a ‘Hi-yah!’ as if Bruce Lee had entered the room. There is a tongue in cheek playfulness to this song, even as the toe tapping riff hits. Wondering which of the Kings is going to make a tutorial for their version of the Monster Mash dance routine for this song!? Jokes aside, this is a fun respite from the creepy and supernatural.
Track 6: Pump Action I really like the way the shotgun at the start of this track blends with the kick in of the drums. The Kings are back to their menacing ways on ‘Pump Action’, with a heavier, fuzzier sound to the prior track. This track is really driven by Mik’s bass, and it gives the song a real urgency, despite being one of the slower tracks on the album.
Track 7: Midnight surfer ‘Midnight Surfer’ builds from a slow start but quickly gets to speed. This song tells the tale of The Midnight Surfer, otherwise known as ‘Chopper’ from the Judge Dredd stories. The story tells the tale of an outlaw evading the authorities in a futuristic setting. I particularly like the ghouly, ghostly choral backing vocals, which remind me of a multi-platform computer game.
Track 8: The Vulture ‘The Vulture’ is another interesting side step from the Kings of Hong Kong, with a slower pace. There is a spooky eerie doo wop tone to this song which I personally love. Conjuring an image of a looming bird of prey waiting to pick the bones of carcasses, in a prehistoric world, where man is prey, living in a primitive Beckrock-esque Flintstones world. There’s more of a garage sound to this track; it’s nice to hear this side of Kings of Hong Kong alongside the pacey psychobilly heavier tracks. Their very own Cave-Man Waltz.
Track 9: Ten Tonnes of Terror With ‘Ten Tonnes of Terror’ we return to the central themes of the album, with a circle back to the sounds of engines. This is the first and only instrumental track on the album, and the lead guitar from Marcel really shines through on this track particularly. I really like the way the song drives forward, despite being instrumental, the racing motor sounds create a lot of energy and variation within the song.
Track 10: Ashtray of Love ‘Ashtray of Love’ clearly demonstrates their Cramps inspiration. A grim love song, where love is the sludge in the bottom of a week old ashtray after its rained, stormy seas and slums, rather than fluffy teddies and heart shaped chocolate. I’m sure the Queens of Hong Kong know this is the Kings way of showing their affection. It’s a cool song, that gels well together, and has a weirdly familiar sound; I think that’s due to the very Cramps-esque sound.
Track 11: Rivers of Doom The track opens with feminine sounds chanting, reminiscent of eastern snake charmers or a voodoo priestess, mustering magic. It then kicks in with some heavy bassy drums, followed by a catchy eastern sounding twang of a guitar lick. The vocals kick in with spooky tales of eastern promises and being dragged down the ‘river of doom’. There’s an off-beat feel to this song, which lends itself well to the tale of inevitable doom. Special mention to the Snake charmer guitar solo on this track, really clever way of weaving the story in through the instrumental.
Track 12: Dead Man ‘Dead Man’ comes squarely back to the rock ‘n’ roll psychobilly sound. Its punchy and punctuating, with some distinctly punk notes such as the call and response sections with Chris’ main vocal and the backing vocals. There’s another great high fuzz, high tremolo guitar solo on this track. This is another of my favourites on the album.
Track 13: Cannibal ‘Cannibal’ is another deep plunge into a more Garage punk sound. Particularly of note is the spelling section of the chorus, I can imagine this to browse a rabble if your lucky enough to catch the Kings live. I enjoy the descending riff on this song, that’s underpinned by the rock-solid bass.
Track 14: Raygun An obnoxious air raid siren opens this song, which while abrasive suits the song completely. This song reminds me of the Space Western Comics, where Western and science-fiction stories collide, with character like Spurs Jackson and his Space Vigilantes. Another example from this album where the backing vocals really add to Chris’ chillingly threatening vocals, telling the story more fully. Musically, this track definitely leans on the western influences, particularly in the breakdown, but with the classically psychobilly sound in the rest of the song.
Track 15: Bullet proof bomb ‘Bullet Proof Bomb’ sounds like a villain origin story. There’s a different guitar sound on this song which is refreshing to the ear; It sounds almost muted until the guitar solo. There’s a stutter to the song, making it sound jittery, like if static was more tonal. I really like this song; it wraps up a lot of the different sounds and genres that have been covered by the album as a whole.
16: Outro /Summary The outro transports you to a tropical paradise, with bird song and waves, but then reminds you of the journey of destruction this album has taken you through, leaving a totally bastardised planet, beautiful scenes obliterated by ten tones of terror and wild guitars. With a post-apocalyptic feeling, some may say a world post Kings of Hong Kong is a terror, some may say it’s a dream, I’ll leave that to you!
If you’ve not listened to Kings of Hong Kong before, or seen them live, this is a great album to get suckered in by the giant venomous man eating squid. If you are a purist, it may not be for you, but if you like to blur the lines of genre, fun stories of the macabre, catchy tunes, crank this up loud and enjoy the Rock N Rolla!
You tube: https://youtu.be/Y4pRlrDF6WY Reviewed by: Hayley James