Sunday, April 2, 2017

Album Review: Royal Thunder - Wick

Each decade, or era, depending on how you want to divide time, has its own sound. Whether it was glam in the 80s, or grunge in the 90s, certain sounds gain traction and become what other bands chase after. In this current time, one of those sounds is the sludgy, dingy form of rock that Mastodon and Baroness have brought into the mainstream. Just under that surface, you have loads of other bands who are using the same palate to create their music, including Royal Thunder. While I never got around to giving their previous albums a full review, I was intrigued enough to see if they could turn the template into something both unique and invigorating. With their third album now upon us, the time seems right to dive in and see if they have grown into something special.

The main thing that sets Royal Thunder apart from the other bands that are playing this swampy kind of rock is that they have a more obvious influence from blues and folk music. They aren't approaching their songwriting from the perspective of metal fans who want to add grit to make their music sound ugly, their grit is a more organic outgrowth of the dark emotions that often permeate their influences. Organic is a key word. Any style of music can work, but they always work better when you can hear the artist isn't trying to put on a show.

The other thing that sets Royal Thunder apart is that they aren't just a band of tattooed, bearded non-hipster hipsters. Singer Mlny Parsonz gives Roayal Thunder a different sound to everyone else in their genre, as her voice has a feminine edge that brings a delicate touch even to the moments when she's screaming her lungs out. Her presence keeps the music from ever veering too far down the path of being angry for the sake of being angry, and losing the musicality that someone not in the frame of mind to punch through a brick wall needs.

Listening to the single, "April Showers", there's a heavy Danzig vibe, if you took away the metallic crunch. It's a dirty blues song with a rock edge, and Mlny roars through the verses before the momentary release of melody. It's also interesting that there are nearly no chords throughout the song, as the guitars instead stick to playing picked arpeggios and blues runs, which gives the bass ample space to stand out and drive the heft of the track.

The best aspect of Royal Thunder is the vibe their music gives off. They have a laid-back aggression that is a simmering heat, and plays well against the usual approach of hitting the listener in the face with an iron skillet. The restraint makes the moments with the guitars amp things up that much stronger. It also keeps the record from tiring you out before the fifty-plus minutes has come to its conclusion.

When they combine that with their better melodies, like they do on "Tied" and "We Slipped", the songs they write are fantastic. It's classic rock that sounds classic in the way I always maintain Graveyard is the lone band that understands. These songs can compete with Graveyard, which is a high compliment.

Sure, they don't hit that mark all the time. Royal Thunder is a band that sounds like there's a half-empty bottle of Jack rattling around on their amps while they play, which doesn't lend itself to the kind of melodic approach I tend to prefer. Still, it's a bit frustrating to listen to a few of these songs, waiting for the big moment to come, only to find that it doesn't materialize. It's a function of the style, which is not one I have ever been prone to loving, but I wouldn't be honest if I didn't mention it.

So what is "Wick"? Well, it's the kind of album that I want to love. They have the sound, and the ability to make some great, dirty classic rock. They're very close to being where I think they need to get, but could still use a voice to push them one step further. That being said, Royal Thunder know what they're doing, and they are capable of great things. "Wick" is a very fine album, and while it won't get the accolades Mastodon will, it's the more interesting listening experience. "Wick" is a thumbs up, with hope that its roots grow deeper with more time.

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