Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Album Review: Thunderstone - Apocalypse Again

During the height of the power metal boom about a decade ago, Thunderstone was one of the bands that looked poised to ride that wave to a long and fruitful career. They wrote pretty good songs, they had a good sound, and they possessed a singer who was a step above many of the inferior bands on the scene. Everything should have been working out for them, but things didn't go according to plan. Their popularity waned, and when Pasi Rantanen left the band, they changed course and made an album that made many wonder if the band had lost their minds in addition to their way. Six years later, Pasi is back with the band, and with him comes hope that Thunderstone might be able to recapture a bit of the glory days.

We kick things off with "Veterans Of The Apocalypse", which finds itself in a time warm, going back to that period when power metal was seemingly everywhere. Pasi sounds as good as ever, and the chorus hits with the necessary hook. I would nitpick a bit and say that the transitions from verse to chorus and back are rougher than they should be, but as long as the song is strong, it's not a big issue. I understand why it was picked to open the album, with the lyrics fitting the theme, but "The Path" would have been a better choice. It's a far superior song, with both a heavier atmosphere, and a bigger hook that recalls the very best songs Thunderstone wrote back when. It's an excellent track, and it raises expectations for what this album can be.

That heavier, modern edge continues to run through the tracks. "Fire And Ice" is about as heavy as Thunderstone should be, while "Through The Pain" takes things a bit too far. The main riff of the song is a slightly grinding, bending series of notes that is heavy, yes, but it isn't really pleasant to listen to at all. Worse, it leads into a fantastic chorus that doesn't play on that darker, heavier vibe at all. They're two very distinct ideas that probably should have been turned into two songs, letting each part serve a more cohesive whole. But you could put anything around that chorus and it would be a good song.

We also get an odd bit of sequencing, where several songs in a row have structures where we get a verse of just bass and drums after the initial guitar riff. It's a common enough way of injecting some dynamics into a metal song, but to put several of those songs one after the next draws attention to it. I would have preferred spreading them out a bit more.

The second half of the album is different, and takes a few chances. There's "Higher", with it's roaring Hammond organ, which feel like the entire song was quickly written around. It sounds lovely, but the song itself is easily the weakest on the album. Then we get "Days Of Our Lives", which tacks on over a minute of dramatic keyboards as an intro to a standard metal song for some reason. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it harkens back to the first track, and how it isn't the smoothest of compositions. And then we close the album with the nearly eight minute "Barren Land", which throws everything we've heard so far into the blender, coming up with a mix that doesn't really satisfy. It doesn't sound epic enough to be epic, and the band uses that trope as an excuse to skimp on the hooks. It's an underwhelming was to finish the record.

What "Apocalypse Again" does well is remind people that Thunderstone isn't dead and gone. With Pasi back in the fold, they're a much better band. There are a few tracks here that are phenomenal, and the album does a fine job of serving as their comeback. Hopefully, it will be used as a way of getting the kinks out, and the band can hit their home run next time around.

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