April 17, 2024

King Zebra are essentially a Swiss band, almost all hailing from Zurich with the honourable exception of American frontman by Eric St. Michaels, who used to be in the AOR band China. The band burst onto the music scene with their debut EP in 2019, a sonic voyage marked by the standout track Firewalker which gathered over 2 million streams and firmly established the band in the hearts of rock enthusiasts globally. Their presence soared as they graced renowned festivals like Rock the Ring and Rock of Ages, sharing stages with iconic acts such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Uriah Heep, and Rose Tattoo.

Eric St Michaels – Vocals
Roman Lauer – Lead Guitar
Jerry Napitupulu – Rhythm Guitar
Manu Judge – Bass
Ben Grimm – Drums

In 2020, King Zebra upped sticks to Crehate Studios in Gothenburg, Sweden in order to craft their debut full-length production Survivors, under the skilful hands of producer Oscar Nilsson. The collaboration with ex-Thundermother singer Guernica Mancini on “Wall of Confusion” elevated their sound, resonating with fans and critics alike. The album found a home with Golden Robot Records, paving the way for extensive touring throughout Europe, sharing stages with notable acts like Crash Diet. Now signed to Frontiers Records, King Zebra has just delivered their most assured creation to date, Between The Shadows, again meticulously produced once again by Oscar Nilsson.

Eric St. Michaels’s vocal style is a perfect match for the 80’s AOR that is this band’s signature style. He effortlessly conjures up that decade, combining a throaty gruffness with a melodic pitch that is second to none. Okay, King Zebra aren’t radically reinventing too much, but what they do, they do it pretty well! Sticking with what they know and clearly love, Eric’s smoothly melodic vocals being supported by your classic twin-guitar attack and a decent rock rhythm section. Strong melodies and silky vocal harmonies are the order of the day, as you would expect for the genre.

Ten tracks are showcased here, and you immediately feel as though you’ve heard them all before…and you “sort of” have, it’s like an old pair of slippers! (not quite “Kerrang”, but I do mean that in a nice way!) First up is Starlight, and you’ll see what I mean, clean shimmering harmonies and a punchy, urgent riff sounds straight out of so many 80’s film soundtracks – this really is an homage to the 1980’s, as evidenced by the band’s general demeanour. Think Brian Adams fronting Kansas/Toto/Bon Jovi/Pat Benatar Band etc, you get the idea.

Children of the Night follows, it’s the first single off the album and has had positive air-play for the last month or so. Lots of anthemic chanting in the choruses which beef up the energy stakes and perhaps indicate their target audiences? Wicked is better, nice intro, a “shreddie” of a solo, more power to the vibe, still the trademark, heavily harmonised choruses, it still feels though like it’s aimed at quite a young audience? – hugely radio-friendly stateside, these tracks are all on or slightly sub four minutes, a perfect radio fit…

Dina continues to plough the same furrow, in fact bass, drums and “riff guitar” are pretty much interchangeable on several of the tracks on here – that’s not to say they’re poor, but a tad more light and shade would be to the band’s advantage. In their continued development and career, there’s only so many re-takes you can do with this formula.

Cyanide is a good example of slightly cheesy lyrics – the phrase “College Metal” occurs to me? Decent enough, but I feel like I’ve heard so many of these tracks before, way back in my “yoof”! With You Forever continues the pleasantly melodic thread, you’re exactly feeling threatened or challenged by all this – but when all’s said and done the band are consistently producing quality arena rock and people will enjoy it!

Love Me Tonight is my personal favourite from this song selection, it’s a bit different, more restrained in the verse sections, giving a brief respite from the “one size fits all” riffery elsewhere. Out in the Wild is back to the definitely cheesy lyrics! Restless Revolution is a slightly ironic title in that the music is the same, safe formula eschewed on the preceding nine tracks, revolutionary it ain’t!

This review might upset a few folk, and I don’t mean to trash the band, this is a perfectly acceptable menu of “safe” music, lifted bodily from the 80’s, I found myself pondering the seemingly paradoxical nature of “AOR” being played for an essentially “College” audience? Fair play, as I said before, what this band does, they do it very well, all very proficient musically – I was just hoping for a spark or two of something outside their box? But the production is classy, silky smooth, as is the overall sound – if you’re after a “Summery”, “Amercan” (thank you Mr Bush!) Eighties sound you will definitely love this!