40 Years Ago: How Krokus’ Slow Climb Influenced ‘Headhunter’
Krokus managed to eke out two gold albums and tour the world as a fearsome opening act and low-level headliner during their brief heyday in the early '80s. Why they never achieved the multi-platinum heights of, say, Scorpions, Quiet Riot or any of the other similarly hard-rocking, hard-partying, somewhat-ridiculous yet feverishly admired bands of the era is a mystery.
Headhunter arrived on April 25, 1983, as Exhibit A in their favor. Filled with loud, distorted guitars, punishing, cannon-shot drums, and the Bon Scott-gargling-battery-acid vocals of singer Marc Storace, Krokus' seventh LP fits in well with other over-the-top commercial metal records of the era and equals or surpasses many of them in terms of quality anthemic songs.
Take "Ready to Burn," which closes Side 1, and starts with a revving engine that segues into a crushing guitar riff. Storace's lyrics are kind of cliché – is he referring to a car or a woman? Oh, it's a car – but he delivers them with such conviction, it's impossible to not crank up the volume and just let it all hit you. And wait – who's that chiming in on the chorus? Judas Priest's Rob Halford.
"We were both working in the same studio," Storace told Creem in 1983. "We were doing 'Ready to Burn,' and Rob was next door working on a live Judas Priest tape for MTV. He heard the track, jumped into the sound booth, and just started singing along."
Listen to Krokus' 'Ready to Burn'
"Eat the Rich" is another fist-in-the-air anthem, this time with income inequality as its central theme, years before it became a common term. Everything is laid out in the chorus, as the song's title is repeated four times, with Storace interjecting, "Life is a bitch" and, more tellingly, "Out of the palace and into the ditch."
"It's a science fiction song – a future vision about social imbalance, about the very rich and the very poor," he told Creem. "You don't have to go to India to see it; just take a look at the people in the Bronx. The song is about taking it away from the rich and giving it back."
Perhaps Krokus' hardscrabble climb in America, from nightclub to arena stages, served as some inspiration.
"Two years before [Headhunter] we had just landed [in the U.S.] from Switzerland and started doing the slog, like every new band," Storace told Sounds Like New. They were "an opening act, playing 30 minutes in every godforsaken hellhole with front-row drunks screaming in our faces with smelly breath, and working our sweaty way up, gig by hard gig, coast to coast, slowly to the top."
Listen to Krokus' 'Eat the Rich'
When it came time to write music for Headhunter, Krokus holed up at their manager's home, in an unlikely location. "We isolated ourselves in the middle of nowhere, out in Arkansas," Storace explained to Rock Music Star, "and there was this big, tin, corrugated iron [structure] – it was like an airplane hangar. We built a stage there, and it was really hot. I wrote most of the lyrics sitting outside on hot rocks, with suntan lotion [on] and a beer – a really nice atmosphere where nothing could disturb you and you could concentrate on the music. It was an amazing time and we had so much energy."
Producer Tom Allom had worked extensively with Judas Priest and helmed Def Leppard's debut. He met with the band, listened to their demos and made suggestions before everyone decamped to Florida for Bee Jay Recording Studios in Orlando. Storace recalls the setup Krokus used to make Headhunter.
"This was done in an old-school way, with an analog desk – a big, long desk – and a Studer tape machine, 32 tracks or whatever," he told Rock Music Star. "And a huge studio behind the glass, where you had the drums set up and all these little compartments with glass, and everyone was like in his own little world. And we'd join through headphones and we went through all the songs."
Watch Krokus' 'Screaming in the Night' Video
Storace claims he nailed the eventual single "Screaming in the Night" on the very first take. "I was at my peak then, you know?" he explained to VWMusic. "I could sing circles [around] my highest note, and my highest notes – I was hitting four octaves on my best day."
One of the early '80s finest power ballads, "Screaming in the Night" is largely remembered today for its over-the-top video – a dystopian fantasy with Storace as the persecuted hero. Director Joe Dea "came up with this concept that reminds one of The Road Warrior movie," Storace told VWMusic. "It's like after [a] holocaust or after the end of the world, or after a big nuclear war. Humankind has to [make] do with whatever's left and you're still fighting evil, as always.
"It was a great concept," he added. "and what was really special to me, was the part where my chains are broken and I put on my Nikes and climb down the ladder into that diner, then go walking over all the guy's breakfasts after seeing see my loved one is alive reading the news on T.V. Crossing dimensions!"
"Screaming in the Night" was one of three Headhunter tracks (along with "Eat the Rich" and a cover of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Stayed Awake All Night") that hit the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The album itself reached No. 25 on the Billboard 200 album chart – the highest position Krokus ever achieved.