I'm usually massively impressed by at least one track by a band who are completely new to me on any edition of the Raised on Rock radio show, so when its DJ, Chris Franklin, raves to me about a particular band, suggesting that it's up there as a discovery with Shadow Weaver and Blind Golem, favourites of both of us, then I'm going to listen. And he raved to me about Kruk, a Polish hard rock band who sing in English on this album, so here it is on my virtual turntable. And yes, he's right, as usual.
Neither of us had heard of Kruk before, though they've been around for a while, albeit not as long as their sound suggests. Given that their sound is rooted in early seventies British hard rock, bands such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Led Zeppelin, with some flavour from the early eighties too, it wouldn't have surprised me to discover that they've been rocking Poland for decades. However, they formed as recently in 2001, with half a dozen studio albums and one live album to their credit before this one, which arrives seven years after their prior studio release, 2014's Before.
All the music was written by guitarist Piotr Brzychcy and vocalist Wojtek Cugowski, who gets a credit along with Kruk on the cover. That's probably because I don't believe he's a member of Kruk, instead leading the Polish rock band Bracia and what looks like a family band, Cugowscy. However, even if he's here as a sort of guest, he's integral to this release, as both a songwriter and as a vocalist, high in the mix because this is a vocal album as much as it's a guitar album. He also wrote all the lyrics.
Rat Race is at once a decent opener and an unrepresentative one. It's short and to the point at three and a half minutes, which is atypical. Only the closer at nearly five comes close, as the others range up from six to almost eleven. This one feels like the inevitable early seventies single that had to be short to get airplay, kicking in with an upbeat Deep Purple riff and Uriah Heep keyboards. It's perky and it's accessible and it's apparently easy, something that doesn't test a band that likes to be tested. It's still a good song, one that would be popular at gigs, but it doesn't stretch them.
Hungry for Revenge is deeper. It's one of those six minute songs, which means that it gets to breathe, with an atmospheric intro of eighties keyboards and woah vocalising, a more patient build and a neat instrumental section in the middle of the song, with a decent solo for Brzychcy. Cugowski reminds of David Coverdale here, but how he might have sounded had he chosen to join Uriah Heep after leaving Deep Purple instead of forming Whitesnake. It's another good song, but one with more substance.
And, talking of substance, then Kruk throw us headlong into Prayer of the Unbeliever (Mother Mary), which is a magnificent piece of music. Cugowski still croons like Coverdale, but he's not with Heep any more. This is Coverdale singing for Led Zeppelin and, as the song evolves, Diamond Head. Anyone who dug the longer songs on the recent Greta van Fleet, like The Weight of Dreams, will adore this album, because that's the length where Kruk play and they do it more often than the boys from Michigan.
It's perhaps most obvious here, because this song grows impressively, the Zeppelin groove giving way to Brian Tatler-esque riffs and invention. The second half is mostly instrumental, beginning with what initially feels like a Mark Knopfler solo, even it moves into Robin Trower territory. There's a tasty solo from Michał Kuryś on the keyboards too before the vocals come back in to wrap things up. Crucially, all of it works. It's Kruk's take not just on Achilles Last Stand but The Coffin Train too. It's a glorious epic.
And, quite frankly, I could stop right there. If you're not convinced that you need to buy this already, it isn't likely that I could say anything else to get you to that point. However, there's a lot more here. I'd suggest that none of these songs repeat the same approach, though there are common factors. Kruk are more commercial on Made of Stone, though it kicks in with a visceral riff, and The Invisible Enemy, which often carries a Magnum vibe. To Those in Power is the other ten minute epic and it's a bouncier one than Prayer of the Unbeliever. Be There (If You Want To) is a tasty shift down to wrap things up.
I'd say that, like the Blind Golem, which also ventured heavily into Uriah Heep territory, the first half is the superior one but the second isn't far behind. There isn't a duff track here and there aren't any average ones either. Every song is worth your attention and some of them are truly glorious. I'd also say that Chris is absolutely right, as always, to rave about this one. Like the Shadow Weaver and Blind Golem releases, I'm going with an 8/10 but may well up that to a 9/10 later as I really need to go back and do for the former at least. If more songs stood out like Prayer of the Unbeliever, I'd have gone 9/10 right out of the gate but it is a step above everything else here, with only To Those in Power coming close to matching it.
And I'm now eager to dive into the back catalogue of Kruk. Their debut in 2006 was a covers album in collaboration with Grzegorz Kupczyk, and it featured, shock horror, a set of classics from Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and especially Deep Purple, who were featured five times. They decided to go original for their second album, Before He'll Kill You in 2009, and apparently never looked back. Not being up on the Polish hard rock scene of the last twenty years, that's exactly what I need to do. Thanks for the rabbit hole, Chris.