Hair metal!1 Is there a more maligned subgenre? Given the way it warped the general public’s image of metal, and for how long, it’s hard to imagine one. But for sheer, raw fun, it can be very, very hard to beat, especially on the rare occasion one finds it executed well. But what does “well” mean in this context? Is it even really possible for that word to apply to hair metal? Enter German quintet Kissin’ Dynamite, a group hell-bent on both trying to prove that it is and on having a fucking ball doing so for five albums straight. Their culminated efforts to date give us a sixth in Ecstasy. What’s the verdict? Are these hairsprayed troubadours all set to flame out, or is this a torch worth carrying for a while?
Ecstasy is cut from similar cloth to most glam metal: poppy, earworm-y riffs (but not too poppy in this case), big stomping choruses to be belted at full volume, and lyrics -just- brainless enough to make the listener self-conscious when they catch themselves singing along. But those are all genre hallmarks; what, specifically, do Kissin’ Dynamite have to offer? First, actual metal. This is a hair band in the vein of Whitesnake or Mötley Crüe2 – that is, a band playing metal with a pop aesthetic, rather than the inverse a la Poison. The dueling riff-craft of axemen Jim Müller and Ande Braun is particularly strong on opener “I’ve Got The Fire,” “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” “Superhuman,” and the delightfully homoerotic “Waging War.” Further, “Ecstasy” boasts needling riffs worthy of AC/DC’s Angus Young, again showing their influences, while “Breaking the Silence” boasts the biggest, stompiest chorus on the whole record. And almost every track boasts hooky, slinky basslines courtesy of Steffan Haile, with particular standouts on “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” and especially “Waging War.”
There are a few dud tracks, of course, and with these Germans playing shameless glam throwback, I, of course, mean the ballads. While pitch-perfect in their imitation of the most reviled part of this genre, power ballad “Still Around” and ballad-ballad “Heart of Stone” are near-execrable in the final result, with the former almost saved by a hysterical slate of lyrics, and the latter almost saved by its shameless horndoggedness. Almost. As to the more traditional tracks, “Placebo” mostly fails to engage or hook the listener, while “Ecstacy,” despite strong riffing, suffers from the inclusion of Exit Eden’s Anna Brunner. While her performance is perfectly competent, her smoky alto fails to contrast with prettyboy vocalist Johannes Braun’s gruff high baritone, leaving the vocal portion of the track somewhat muddled.
Speaking of that prettyboy, Braun’s vocal work is a major contributor, along with the solid guitar and bass work, to this album working even where it really shouldn’t. Conviction is important for any vocalist, but for a genre as shameless as hair metal, it becomes absolutely critical, and Braun just sells it in a way that bands like Steel Panther are too self-aware to accomplish. From lesser vocal chords, tracks like “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” “Breaking the Silence,” or “Waging War” would faceplant, but Braun is dedicated and talented enough to make it work. It helps that, despite as squashed a master as expected for a modern record, Ecstasy sounds fantastic, with a bass- and guitar-forward mix3 that keeps them just below the vocals, while keeping Andreas Schnitzer’s functional drumming from ever feeling buried.
Ultimately, this is a shameless hair metal record, and as such any score I could give higher than about a 1.0 will be divisive at best4. But Kissin’ Dynamite are a band that definitively know what they’re about: heavy metal and fun. I would be lying to both myself and you, the readers, if I said this record wasn’t worth a spin or dozen.