Posted by: Necci – Jun 07, 2012
Royal Thunder are an Atlanta-based quartet whose sound is most easily described as stoner rock. There is definitely some room for diversity within that genre--it's nowhere near as rigidly defined and formulaic as, say, d-beat--but nonetheless, with bands who play some variety of the stoner rock sound becoming more and more common over the past few years, it's much harder for a band who fits anywhere beneath that particular genre umbrella to distinguish themselves. In spite of this reality, though, Royal Thunder have created an album in CVI that doesn't sound all that much like anything else out there. To dismiss them due to the proliferation of other bands playing in a similar style to theirs, to lump them in with the rest of the trendy kids trying to cash in on a currently-popular sound, would be doing both them and oneself a disservice. Indeed, regardless of how many other stoner rock albums you've heard this year, if you don't get the Royal Thunder album, you'll be missing out, bigtime.
The most obvious distinguishing characteristic of Royal Thunder's sound is singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz's powerful voice. I wouldn't say she sings in an entirely unique manner--her forceful, melodic tones are at times full of the soulful blues power of Janis Joplin, while at other times she's got the high, clear post-prog wail of many early 80s metal singers down pat. "No Good," one of the shortest and most uptempo tunes here, is a great example of the former, and indeed, seems to deviate almost entirely from the stoner rock template in favor of evoking early-70s proto-punk boogie bands like Cactus or The Faces. However, it's the latter vocal sound that dominates this album, which makes sense in light of the many stretched-out epics that dominate CVI's track listing (7 of its 10 songs are over 6 minutes long). While tracks like "Parsonz Curse" and "Sleeping Witch" summon up memories of prime-era Saint Vitus and Black Sabbath, "Blue" is more of a Led Zeppelin-style mythological prog exploration. "Drown" is somewhere inbetween these two sounds, beginning with echoing guitar lines set over a sparse, ambient soundscape before completely reversing the dynamic on the heavy, powerful choruses. On all of these tunes, Parsonz sings with power and confidence, knowing when to restrain herself for the good of the song, but absolutely able to hit whatever vocal crescendo the song requires once things get going. At moments like this, the singers I think to compare her to are almost all men--Bruce Dickinson, Queensryche's Geoff Tate, maybe Rob Halford--but considering that, as a woman, her natural register is much closer to the notes she's hitting, her vocals are missing the slight strain that often comes through when men attempt similar vocal feats.
As I've already mentioned, there's quite a significant variance between the sounds of the different songs on CVI. This is to the credit of not just Mlny Parsonz but the whole band. It's almost as if they understand that a full album's worth of songs like "Parsonz Groove" and "Sleeping Witch" would result in dismissals from some quarters, and therefore they've been scrupulous about pushing their musical boundaries and keeping things interesting, even (perhaps especially) if doing so makes it harder to pigeonhole them. In fairness, there may not have been anywhere near this much conscious thought behind the songwriting decisions made in the creation of this album. Regardless, the results can't be argued with. "Shake And Shift," which is over nine and a half minutes long, finds room to encapsulate multiple musical moods and genres, from the heavy-rocking choruses to the more psychedelic sounding middle section of the song, in which lead guitarist Josh Weaver lays down a beautiful solo that adds melodic dimensions and carries the song to its powerful conclusion. The last half of this track is one of the best parts of this entire album, an emotionally-centered tour de force that ends up miles away from stoner metal by the 7:45 mark, only to slam back into the powerful chorus one last time in a mood shift that comes out of nowhere and couldn't be more perfect.
These more complex musical moments sneak up on the listener at first--after playing CVI once, it's doubtful that the average person would fully absorb the many different styles and sounds at work within the album. However, as the songs become more familiar, the uniqueness of the different musical combinations created herein becomes more obvious, and Royal Thunder's greatness becomes truly apparent. Mlny Parsonz's voice, the primary element that will draw listeners in, becomes merely the most readily apparent positive quality of Royal Thunder's multi-leveled excellence. With CVI, they've solved the problem of distinguishing themselves in an overcrowded genre, drawing from many different aspects of the styles that influenced them without hewing too closely to any particular one, and always showing willingness to take a creative risk and challenge themselves. Royal Thunder have a lot to offer to fans of all varieties of heavy music, so don't sleep on this one.
Royal Thunder will be performing at Strange Matter on Sunday, June 10, with Valient Thorr, Holy Grail, and The Kickass. Doors open at 10 PM. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. You can order tickets online by clicking HERE.
By Andrew Necci