After much technical difficulty, The Metal Observer is proud to bring you seven of September’s best.
Something stirs in the shadows.
Quietly working away at old school prefix-free heavy metal since 2008, Washington’s A Sound of Thunder have steadily been rising in popularity and further sharpening their talents in the looming shadow of bigger name bands. Their earlier efforts showed them gradually sharpening an interesting formula that mixes the Uriah Heep/Rainbow/Deep Purple sort of highly melodic crunching half-metal with the more energetic, sky-shooting tendencies of the NWOBHM and other early pioneering movements they inspired, topped off with a soaring vocal performance and fluid delivery akin to the power metal of today. Come 2014 and they dove into the realms of the occult and the mystical with the excellent The Lesser Key of Solomon, which while a little inconsistent showcased them at their most solid.
Already having gained considerable traction on Kickstarter, A Sound of Thunder now bring the main course. Not only is Tales from the Deadside both an enthralling story regardless of whether or not one is familiar with the Shadowman series of comics, it’s their strongest yet and a diverse journey through metal’s past with the brightest minds thrusting honed blades towards the future, bleeding a vibrant new life into supposedly “dated” sounds. In practically every way, the band has upgraded from the very tracklisting and production down to the particulars of composition and the enviable vocals of Nina Osgueda. They might not have the same established reputation as Portrait, RAM, Steelwing, Visigoth, Zuul, Trial, Sinister Realm, or Enforcer but it’s high time they join them and conquer as they do.
So what makes A Sound of Thunder’s sound work so well? As shown earlier they sit in the middle of a Bermuda triangle between the classic era of traditional metal, its present day form, and the strange time when it was slowly evolving from the primal murk of hard rock. This manifests in diverse songwriting with elements both up to date and ancient sharing the stage equally. The smooth single string speed picking runs and staccato gallops of later bands isn’t common but the bluesier side of the genre, missing in action throughout the realms of metal save for doom, pops up frequently in many of the leads and rhythms that update almost 70′s Judas Priest style riffs with the melodic upgrades of later power and trad metal acts. The band however avoids the jammier raise-your-lighter approach in exchange for vigorous force, with Nina Osgueda’s powerful banshee tone and smooth timbre leading the way over meaty riffs that manage to groove without falling into assembly line fistpump patterns or bro-core bounce-thud segments. There are moments that outright venture into doom metal territory but the band focus less on an oppressive, ambient sense of density associated with is as much as a spirited and energetic delivery, choosing narrative direction over swamping mood.
The opener, “Children of the Dark” captures this interesting balance well. After the spoken word piece that sets the scene, a death-kneel riff lumbers in. Then Nina’s voice dances with an alternating set of carefully paused lead riffs, breaking off into loose airier chords to match surges in her power or matching her snaking, serpentine lines with those same crushing riffs from earlier. “Deadside” confidently swaggers in like Pentagram’s “Be Forewarned” with suggestive, curious clean notes before a massive Sabbath-esque riff descends like the shadow of a massive winged predator. It throws a nice switch-up with the fast pentatonic riff that starts off a small chase-scene fast break with an awesomely rollicking riff before an aggressive solo cuts like an intercepting attack helicopter to seal the deal. On that note, the semi speed metal number “Tower of Souls” kicks up the tempo for a sinister King Diamond-esque attack, building up tension with a streamlined quick picked riff caped off with carefully timed downstrokes against a desperate yet charismatic vocal performance, featuring her most relentless and shrieking vocal lines on the album, throwing in demonic gang-screams and careful synth notes to accentuate the frenetic mood.
Weirdo “Punk Mambo” blasts out of nowhere with Nina sounding like a one woman circus act portraying at least four different characters all the while the rest of the band goes hog-wild with the fastest, loosest playing on the album… and a saxophone solo? It works, somehow! The album ends on an ominous note with the one two punch of “Tremble” and then “End Times”, the former being a ruthless imperial march of Rainbow/Dio-esque stomping chords while the latter combines that with the grim grandeur of epic doom like Sweden’s Candlemass and Sorcerer. Mounting momentum with each successive riff like building blocks of pure damnation and dread, it hints at a prog element we may hear in successive albums as it rises from the catacombic depths, over a perilous bridge where the singing reaches a fever pitch, before being caught in a whipping tornado of fretboard pyrotechnics, the prelude to one last heroic cavalry charge. Don’t think this story ends on a happy note; as the narration illustrates Jack’s acts of the unspeakable, the same dirge-chords from earlier return and drag the listener back to the same hungering hells he’d seen just a few minutes earlier. It’s by far their strongest moment and hopefully indicative of future epic length tracks why will produce.
Seven years have paid off well with not only A Sound of Thunder’s current artistic peak but an incredibly well realized sound. Any fervent worshiper of metal’s gods, both of the past and of pre-history, will recognize and love much of what is presented. However like the elite of the revival metal movements across all the genres, A Sound of Thunder does not worship but reinterprets and rearms time-honed weaponry for the titanic wars of the future. While there are more bands reimagining the idea of “old school” than many would have one believe, it’s not often you get one band like A Sound of Thunder that doesn’t just explore a lost golden age but also the forces that preceded it. If there’s a shortcoming here it’s that I would’ve wanted more fast, aggressive tracks as they do metal at those tempos as well as the best of them. I’d also like to hear them explore the more progressive metal elements they hint at with the final track, which offer a lot of versatility in terms of songwriting. However these are at best minor scratches on the armour of supremacy which A Sound of Thunder wears with pride. Regardless of whether or not you are familiar with or completely alien to classic metal both old and new, A Sound of Thunder will find something to suit your tastes one way or the other.
This ain’t your daddy’s aging,
hard rock legacy album.
Golgotha might just be the most W.A.S.P. of W.A.S.P. records. While it sticks to the same essential formula as the band’s last two albums—the solid-if-forgettable Babylon (2009) and the phenomenal Dominator (2007)—there’s an eclecticism about Golgotha that suggests it as the rightful culmination of W.A.S.P.’s near-three-and-a-half-decade-long career.
There’s something to be found on Golgotha that should appeal to fans of any of the band’s many incarnations (except maybe the weird stint they spent trying out an industrial vibe, on 1997’s Kill Fuck Die). The high-octane opener “Scream” draws from the same template as “Mercy” and “Crazy” (the opening tracks from their last two albums), while the following “Last Runaway” and “Shotgun” hark back to the hard-rockin’ days of Inside The Electric Circus (1986) and The Last Command (1987). In fact, probably the only real fault to be found about Golgotha is that these two songs loose a lot of the initial energy set up by its scorching opener, and come off a touch “dad rock”-ish—especially the “sha-na-nah” of the former—not that either of the two tracks are really all that bad, in-and-of-themselves, and are, in fact, far from it.
Elsewhere, thing stay firmly on track. “Miss You” is a token ballad, in the style of “Take Me Up” and “Hallowed Ground,” but it’s a masterful one, and the closing, title-track sounds like it was ripped straight from 1992’s conceptual masterpiece, The Crimson Idol, complete with a ripping, David Gilmoure-esque solo from guitarist Doug Blair. It’s moments like this and the epic “Slaves Of The New World Order” that set Golgotha apart from its more straight-forward predecessors and recall the band’s golden era(s). Mike Dupke’s bombastic performance persistently invoke the thundering Headless Children (1989), while the rest of band indulge the darker, anthemic direction that served them so well on Dominator and 2002’s Dying For The World, particularly on tracks like “Fallen Under” and “Eye Of My Maker.”
Blackie Lawless: Lock up your daughters.
There are those legacy acts that log-ago lost sight of the soul and spirit that drove them in the first place (looking at you Kiss!). Those creatively stagnate acts might be happy to perpetually coast upon the nostalgia of bygone eras, but W.A.S.P. simply aren’t one of those bands. He might have come to resemble the Crypt Keeper, and replaced his zest for lethal codpieces and pyrotechnics with a melodramatic, new-found Christianity, but Blackie Lawless sounds as good here as he ever has—not to mention his outstanding production work—and Golgotha damn sure has the songs to back him up. Sure, Golgotha is more of the same, but only in the best way possible.
Back with a new line-up and plenty of pent up aggression
Abigail Williams has bit of a history. Having undergone a line-up change with nearly every release, the band has also had a few varying sounds from record to record. While some have called the band “trend-hoppers” at times, there have been some consistent elements to the overall approach of the band due to member Ken Sorceron being the only one there from the start back in 2004. With yet another new line-up, (featuring members and ex-members of Lord Mantis, Nachtmystium, Cobalt, Indian and Wolvhammer among others) the refreshed group is releasing the fourth album in the Abigail Williams discography, The Accuser with their long time label Candlelight.
If one thing is for sure, Abigail Williams sound plenty pissed-off on the new release, and have a good job of perhaps silencing those that would cry “bandwagon” toward the band. The Accuser has a good dose of the atmospheric ambience that has been found on prior releases, but there is still a lot of aggression and intensity to back it all up. From the opening seconds of the record, the drums are fully in your face and the guitars are fast and chaotic. Once the sheik of Ken comes in, it is clear Abigail Williams is not messing around. Despite some of the members other bands, the sound is quite bright, but fits very well next to the vocals. For the majority of the album the potency is turned up, with a few tracks, such as “The Cold Lines” and the closer, “Nuummite” do manage to slow things down bit and add in bit more of the ambience and even noise that would not be out of place on some of the other Will Lindsay based projects.
The longer tracks on The Accuser slow things down a bit more at times as well, bringing in some doom influence, but never allowing the tracks to lose any real sense of pacing or flow from the rest of the record. The still have their part in the whole and do a good job of allowing the album to breathe a bit but still being fully within the scope of what Abigail is doing on this new release. Combined with a really good production job that manages to capture everything and allow certain aspects of the sound take over when needed, its a recipe for success.
While maybe not as “expansive” as the prior release, Becoming, The Accuser acts as a great follow up. Combining all the elements that has made Abigail Williams enjoyable in the past but adding in a few new nuances and some refreshed intensity due the incredible line-up, this stands as possibly the best release in the band’s career, and certainly one worthy of multiple spins.
After much technical difficulty, The Metal Observer is proud to bring you seven of September’s best.
August has been the strongest month for metal in 2015 yet; here’s a few of the best.
Retro Spotlight: Nigen-Isu – Shurabayashi (2003)
Juicy jams from the month of July.
Members of the TMO crew nominate their favorite albums from the first half of 2015.
A month low on bigger releases finds the force strong in many smaller ones.
It’s not every day that a Francophile vampire from Japan with an unhealthy obsession with roses decides to put on a concert in the United States…
Live at Beyond the Stars in Glendale, California on June 4, 2015.