Could the next big hard-rock band hail from sedate Hagerstown? Kix, a young Maryland panhandle quintet, is thinking along those lines, and it's already taken the first step: A debut album, "Kix" (Atlantic SD19037), is on the same label that's currently holding down five of the top 10 spots in the album charts with Foreigner, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Nicks, AC/DC and Genesis.

"Atlantic is hot right now, the hottest they've ever been, which may be bad timing for us," says bassist and songwriter Donnie Purnell. "So much attention is being paid to those bands that we can't help but be a little ignored. But, hey, we're definitely in good rock 'n' roll company."

Like most hard-rock bands, Kix cut its teeth on covers of AC/DC, the Stones and Led Zeppelin (another Atlantic act) before sneaking original material into their sets. "If the songs are strong enough, rock 'n' roll crowds will open up; they get tired of the same 20 songs," Purnell says.

After two years on the bar circuit, Kix sent a tape to West Coast producer Kim Fowley, who shopped them to several labels. Earlier this year, Kix was invited to a New York audition by Atlantic president Doug Morris. "There were only six people in the rehearsal hall. We did our original songs and performed just like there was a regular crowd out there . . . pretty strange. After three songs, Morris walked out with our manager. We thought he was going to tell us to get lost, but he went out and said he thought we were ready."

The album features Steve Whiteman's piercing high vocals, the twin guitars of Ronnie Youkins and Brian Forsythe and Purnell's solid commercial instinct for hard-rock hooks. It was produced by Tom Allom. "We wanted somebody who knew how to get a pretty heavy live sound out of the studio; we knew his track record from Judas Priest, Pat Travers and Def Leppard." After touring with Cheap Trick and Triumph and headlining a few midwestern dates, the band received its first major showcase last week at the Bayou, selling out two shows.