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"I Can't Believe It's Not Led Zeppelin!": Revisiting Kingdom Come

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I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

"Kingdom Come" CD cover

"Kingdom Come" CD cover

"Kingdom Come"

Polydor Records, 1988

10 tracks, run time: 47:08

Kingdom Come was one of the most controversial success stories in late '80s hard rock. Their self-titled debut album was an instant hit upon its release in 1988, but as the band gained fame they also suffered a backlash from rock critics and some fans, who berated the German/American five piece for their sonic similarities to the legendary Led Zeppelin. Granted, just about every hair-metal band of the era owed some level of debt to Zeppelin's flashy, bluesy hard rock, but according to these naysayers, Kingdom Come weren't just inspired by Zep, they were flat-out copying them.

I hadn't thought about the band in quite a few years, but when I came across a cheap used copy of their debut CD in a record store a few weeks ago, I decided to risk three bucks and find out how well—or not—Kingdom Come had aged. The album turned out to be a pretty enjoyable listen, in spite of its well-documented derivative nature.

"Get It On"

So Who the Heck Was Kingdom Come, Anyway?

Kingdom Come was formed by German vocalist Lenny Wolf after the breakup of his previous band, Stone Fury, a hard rock/AOR act that had released two unsuccessful albums on the MCA label. Backed by a new lineup of American musicians (guitarists Danny Stag and Rick Steier, drummer James Kottak, and bassist Johnny Frank), Kingdom Come's self titled debut (recorded by future Motley Crue and Metallica mega-producer Bob Rock) hit #12 on the Billboard album charts and achieved Gold Record status in the U.S. (500,000 copies sold) thanks to singles like "Get It On" and the power ballad "What Love Can Be."

Led Zeppelin comparisons dogged Kingdom Come virtually from the moment "Get It On" first hit the air waves. Apparently when some listeners heard Kingdom Come, they made the erroneous assumption that the track came from a reunited Zep...and when it became clear that it was NOT Plant/Page reborn, their claws came out.

The band tried to brush off the accusations of plagiarism, with Lenny Wolf going so far as to claim that he'd "never even heard of Led Zeppelin," which caused much hilarity in the rock press.

I didn't get caught up in the K.C./Zep controversy back in '88. I was eighteen years old at the time and wasn't a particularly big Led Zeppelin fan anyway, though I knew enough about them to recognize the obvious Robert Plant influence in Lenny Wolf's howling voice. I figured since Led Zeppelin was no longer around, there was no harm in these guys picking up their mantle. I even saw Kingdom Come live once when they opened for the iconic "Van Halen's Monsters of Rock" stadium tour in the summer of '88, but honestly I recall very little about their mid-afternoon set. If memory serves, they were met with polite indifference by the crowd, who just wanted them to finish and get out of the way so Metallica could come on.

"What Love Can Be"

The Album

Kingdom Come (the album) turned out to be a pretty fun "retro" listen. The opener "Living Out of Touch" is catchy as hell, with a thumping bass line and some cool guitar trickery from the Stag/Steier tag team. "Pushin' Hard" is a cool, pile-drivin' song with a killer solo. The ballad "What Love Can Do" is probably the first song that I would call a legit "Zeppelin-esque" rip-off; seriously, it sounds like it could've come off of Presence. From there, the remainder of the album is definitely quoting from the Book of Zep, especially on the churning "17" (some great bass work on this one), and the bluesy stomps of "The Shuffle" and "Get It On."

"Now Forever After" and "Hideaway" are middling AOR rockers -- not great, but not terriible -- and the acoustic noodling on the overblown ballad "Loving You" owes so much to "The Battle of Evermore" that I think Lenny might owe Page and Plant some royalties. The album comes to a high energy close with "Shout it Out," which actually reminds me more of High-N Dry era Def Leppard than Zep, for whatever that's worth.

All in all, I'd say that Kingdom Come still holds up a worthy listen for fans of 80s hair metal/melodic rock, even if it's obviously not the most original thing ever to come down the pike. Hell, in this day and age, current retro rockers like Greta van Fleet are consistently praised for their similarities to Led Zeppelin, so it's a mystery to me why poor Kingdom Come got so much flack for it.

Kingdom Come (Lenny Wolf: center)

Kingdom Come (Lenny Wolf: center)

The Aftermath

Kingdom Come got off to a strong start, but their ride didn't last long. Their second album, In Your Face, was released to little fanfare in 1989, and then the band abruptly split up. Lenny Wolf headed back to Europe and assembled a new Kingdom Come lineup, keeping the name alive through the 1990s and into the 2000s with a string of albums recorded with rotating cast of back up players.

Lenny Wolf announced his retirement from the music biz in 2016, but two years later the other four members who'd played on the debut announced that they were reuniting as Kingdom Come, with former Montrose vocalist Keith St. John taking Wolf's place. This new lineup is supposedly working on new material for release some time in 2021.

© 2021 Keith Abt

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