© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Music Review: Radkey's 'Dark Black Makeup'


Dark Black Makeup (Little Man Records)

Glenn Danzig, the rock veteran often characterized as the Evil Elvis, performed in Kansas City last month. The New Jersey native founded the influential horror-punk band the Misfits in the 1970s, but Danzig ceased being cool years ago. Radkey shamelessly recreates Danzig’s sound, but there’s little about this band from St. Joseph that isn’t extremely cool.

“We are three brothers on a quest to help save the world from false rock,” proclaims the band's Twitter bio. The Radke brothers — vocalist and guitarist Dee, bassist Isaiah, and drummer Solomon — boast a rebellious attitude and youthful exuberance that make Radkey one of the most buzzworthy bands in hard rock. Their bracing debut album, Dark Black Makeup, earns that lofty status.

Radkey's raw rock is entirely without pretense, and every moment on Dark Black Makeup rings true. The trio has refused to capitulate to the gentler sounds that dominate contemporary modern rock, and have made no concessions to fit in with the polished bluster aired by hard-rock radio stations.

Instead, Dark Black Makeup adheres to a blunt approach that evokes the stark simplicity of the Ramones as well as the Misfits’ surly combination of punk and metal. The album’s most effective songs are perfectly realized expressions of excruciating teen angst and incoherent rage.

The record's title song opens with a thunderous joke: “Kids these days, they want it all,” Dee sings, referring to Radkey’s age and ambition. The song’s hulking power, sinewy melody and angry lyrics indicate that the young men in Radkey have a fighting chance of attaining their lofty goal.

They're off to a strong start. Appearances at major overseas festivals and the British television program “Later… with Jools Holland” garnered an avid following in Europe, and Dark Black Makeup was recorded in England. Ross Martin, a producer best known for his work with the British bands Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys, gave it a rough sound that reflects Radkey’s powerhouse performances.

A few tracks, notably “Feel” and “Parade It,” possesses the grittiness of an inspired rehearsal; the latter feels like rote “delicious rock noise” — a phrase on the back of Isaiah’s bass that he flashes at audiences to elicit roars of approval.

Dark Black Makeup’s best song is dominated by a nonsense chorus: The urgent shouts of “na-na-na” on “Le Song” are just as profound as any of the album’s lyrics. And the guitar riffs and bass line of “Love Spills” are more meaningful than the silly words of the otherwise stellar track.

But Radkey's brash attack doesn’t entirely redeem the lesser material from a trio whose songwriting skills aren't fully developed.

The two-minute tantrum “Glore” isn’t a proper song as much as it is a loving tribute to metallic thrash. The boorish “Sank” and the pun-titled “Song of Solomon” are downcast odes to teen delinquency.

The juvenalia suits Radkey. With a median age of 20, however, Radkey is no longer a youthful novelty. And the most explosive aspects of Dark Black Makeup indicate Radkey is capable of growing up without losing its cool.

KCUR contributor Bill Brownlee blogs about Kansas City's jazz scene at plasticsax.com.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.