A Sound of Thunder – It Was Metal
Label: Mad Neptune
Release Date: June 15, 2018
Another year, another fantastic new album from Washington D.C. metal quartet, A Sound of Thunder. At this point I could almost copy and paste my past reviews with some minor revisions, but the band’s sixth original studio effort, to quote Men in Black and Weeds, this is “some next level shit.”
I gauge the strength of a record by how much time it spends in rotation in my car, and it has been on replay since I received it. The band, led by the dominating vocal force of Nina Osegueda, has consistently crafted one solid effort after another since its 2011 debut, Metal Renaissance. With each passing album, Out of The Darkness (2012), Time’s Arrow (2013), The Lesser Key of Solomon (2014), and Tales From the Deadside (2015), the band has managed to push itself into new territory without straying from its signature sound. This is aided by the consistency of the band’s talent, which also includes fret wizard Josh Schwartz, bassist/keyboardist Jesse Keen, and drummer Chris Haren. Even the band’s EPs; 2012’s Queen of Hell, 2015’s Tales From the B-Side (aka Pleasure Slave), and 2017’s Second Lives, add texture and dimension to the band’s soundscape. Their style eludes sub-genre typecasting. Something that drives radio and industry exec nuts but keeps fans dedicated and eager to see and hear what comes next. In this case, next is arguably the band’s most well-rounded album–at once straight-forward yet devilishly diverse and dramatic.
The opening volley comes in the form of “Phantom Flight.” The track opens with a spacey vibe that recalls something of Schwartz’s Hawkwind influence, before turning into a frenzied chugger. The verses have a traditional riff-heavy feel. Osegueda’s howling vocals rage into the fray, and for good measure she is joined by the equally powerful lungs of Accept frontman Mark Tornillo. The duo make for a formidable sonic assault. There is so much at play in this opening track, between the stunning fretwork of Schwartz, and the winding musical journey, from beauty to beast. It’s a stunning way to start.
The band pre-released the second track, “Lifebringer” a few months back. The song is a blend of classic and power metal blended with A Sound of Thunder‘s unique signature. Swirling guitars meld with a Maiden-esque rhythmic gallop on the verses. There is more of that 70s spaciness at play here as well. Some nicely progressive elements. And did I mention the incredible guitar work that Schwartz brings to bear on this record? He even manages to drop some theremin into the mix. Two songs in and I think this may be my favorite ASoT album to date.
Next up is the more dense and weighty feel of “Atlacatl.” Keen’s rolling bass and Haren’s drum work set something of an Egyptian sense to the affair, although Atlacatl is the reputed name of a mythical ruler of Cuzcatlá in what is now El Salvador (where Nina’s father happens to be from). Pounding skins and chanting set the backdrop for Osegueda’s powerful attack. She gets downright aggressive on this one.
The mood then turns bluesy for the instrumental track, “The Crossroads Deal,” which serves as the lead in to the raucous title cut. “It Was Metal” is a fist-pumping rager. The riff has a vintage Blackmore feel to it. The bass rumbles and thumps as Osegueda and Schwartz cut loose. This is an arena anthem in waiting. Keen is a beast on this track.
Set dead center in the album is the nine-minute-plus epic, “Obsidian & Gold (Desdinova Returns).” It is perhaps the only track that cuts away from the rapid, straight ahead, metal onslaught. There is a moodier tempo to this one, and legendary Rainbow keyboardist Tony Carey adds his own indelible touches to the track. Just over 7 minutes in, the band hits the nitros for a high octane jam to close it out.
An Alice Cooper-like eeriness begins “Second Lives,” which kicks into a bouncy and propulsive rocker. This is followed by the unexpected hit, “Els Segadors (The Reapers)” which the band released last year in support of Catalonia’s fight for independence. A Sound of Thunder recorded their metalized rendition of the country’s national anthem in honor of Nina’s mother, however, it took on a life of its own when the nation moved to declare its full autonomy from Spain.
“Tomyris” sets to metal the tale of the mighty ruler of the Massagetea who lived near the Caspian Sea. She is known by legend for killing and decapitating her Persian foe, Cyrus the Great who had captured her son Spargapises in battle in 530 B.C. Osegueda’s thundering voice reverberates with a visceral ferocity. The song features another catchy, sing-along chorus and a fabulous jam down the stretch that recalls Yes, Deep Purple, and Uriah Heep.
The album’s final stretch continues the trend of riff-centric memorable tracks with “Charles II” has something of a Judas Priest undercurrent to it, and “Fortress of the Future Race.” which returns to that spacey feel that opened the record. Schwartz hails this track as “a sequel of sorts to the title track” from Time’s Arrow.
The amazing Dusan Markovic (Powerwolf, Graveshadow, Death Dealer) once again handled the amazing artwork. After completing a full scale comic for Tales From the Deadside, the band upped the anti for It Was Metal, by creating a companion graphic novel. It features original comic stories by top comic talent from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Valiant Entertainment.
As they have done with every album, the group also crowdfunded the entire process through Kickstarter, with fans responding so supportively they became the highest grossing metal act in Kickstarter history. A Sound of Thunder also returned to Assembly Line Studios and noted producer Kevin ‘131’ Gutierrez (Shinedown, Believer, Raven) to helm the record.
As a fan of straight ahead, hammer down, riff-driven catchy rock and roll with amazing vocals, it is not surprising I find this to be A Sound of Thunder‘s most engaging record. As Schwartz offered, the timing felt right to make a traditional metal record after back to back albums that pushed into darker territories: “We honestly were in the mood to write and record a record like this for ourselves, but we kinda figured it would be the right time to do one like this for the fans too.”
It Was Metal is nearly an hour long, yet feels like it flies by in hail of harmony, wailing vocals, and addictive riffs. Despite the wealth of melody and energetic feel of the record, A Sound of Thunder did not short change the listener on substance or depth. Every track feels like a mini-masterpiece unto itself. Each spin through the album reveals more details and invites another journey through. Every individual performance is on point, and while they all shine on their own, it is in the collective that they ascend to something greater. While the band may not see it as such, It Was Metal is A Sound of Thunder‘s seminal work to date. That is significant praise considering how highly I regard their previous works.
It Was Metal is available for pre-order now at all digital music outlets. CD, vinyl, and paperback book formats are available for exclusive pre-order at the band’s website, www.asoundofthunderband.com.