A Sound Of Thunder have been a busy band for, well, as long as I’ve known them. It seems as though every time I sit down to review their newest album they have already written half of the next one. And that’s if they’re feeling lazy! But this doesn’t surprise me one bit, for the group is brimming with talent and likes to dabble in a little of everything. Their latest offering is called The Lesser Key of Solomon, which arrived this September, but it is far from a lesser album in this prolific band’s catalogue.
I had heard this release was darker and more story driven compared to their previous albums, which is true to some extent. Within this opus are stories of death and destruction; voodoo, curses, and resurrections; and pleasures of controlling flesh, mind, and soul. Not exactly the stuff from which children’s books are made! It’s not a single story that’s being told, as I originally expected, but rather a handful of stories that all lay within the realm of horror. The lack of a single epic narration was a little disappointing to me, especially when my arm became covered with goosebumps at the sound of the opening track, “Nexus of Reality”, an instrumental reminiscent to the introductory “Anarchy X” of Queensryche’s famous concept album, Operation: Mindcrime. But I got over it, for the songs to follow soothed my ears with their combination of tenderness and vehemence.
You don’t have to be a heavy metal fan to like A Sound Of Thunder, but admittedly it helps. A track like “Udoroth,” which regales us with the tale of the “seventy-third infernal spirit evoked by King Solomon”, is an unrelenting monster bent on sonic supremacy. The other tracks, as dark as they may be, can be hard hitting but lean towards a more dynamic balance of aggression and breathing room, such as “One Empty Grave,” which alternates between multi-string finger-plucked guitar verses and thick distorted riffs. And finally you have the ballads, such as “The Boy Who Could Fly,” though this long distance love story is borne more out of the supernatural than most others you may find. Gentle to the touch, coated with the silky smooth voice of frontwoman, Nina Osegueda, the song resonates with sincerity and emotion. Don’t even get me started on the heart-wrenching guitar solo from Josh Schwartz, who always seems to find the sweet spot on the fretboard.
The Lesser Key of Solomon is another step forward for A Sound Of Thunder. By releasing albums so quickly, they aren’t taking giant strides in style that alienate their fans, but rather allow us to see the changes come gradually. They’re becoming more comfortable and adventurous, bringing more instruments into the fold and incorporating different musical themes into their passion for traditional heavy metal, but they’ll still knock your teeth out. If you’re new to the band, you may want to steer yourself to Time’s Arrow or Out Of The Darkness first, as the subject matter is more diverse, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t come back to this wonderful work of art.
For more on A Sound Of Thunder, visit:
Buy The Lesser Key Of Solomon: iTunes | Amazon | From The Band!
My girlfriend and I made our way down a street from the Inner Harbor of Baltimore into what was becoming a seedier and seedier part of town. Walking past a chain-link fenced off section of the road, we stumbled into a dark establishment. It was narrow in size and decorated with inattention and disrepair. We made our way down the short staircase past bathrooms covered with band stickers and a man-sized hole in the wall, as though someone had drunkenly decided to try and exit through it. We bypassed several chairs whose structural integrity seemed questionable at best and made our way to have a seat at the bar. We marveled at the guitar hung up in the window which had been turned into a makeshift lamp after a light had been clamped to its bridge. We decided we needed a drink. This was The Sidebar, and there we met some of the nicest people in Baltimore.
We had come to see A Sound Of Thunder, but realized that we'd have to sit through several openers before we had a chance to see them. I had my reservations about how pleasant an experience that would be. My luck with opening bands is hit and miss. I've discovered some fantastic acts by sheer chance and been pummeled audibly by others who I could have done without knowing. But the opening act at this event, which was called Metal Quest 2, was not at all disappointing. They were (and are) a group by the name of Burning Shadows, a power metal band from Washington D.C. that quickly caught my attention. The galloping rhythms, dual guitar melodies, and the technical proficiency of the drumming captured my respect and interest. Before long I found myself, fist in air, chanting the melody along with vocalist, Tom Davy, telling the story of mythic warriors wielding swords of legend...or something along those lines. Quite simply, they were a great act and had the entire bar excited to listen.
Following this act was a musical experience of an entirely different flavor. Electronic drums, a keytar, and a recorder were just some of the unique characteristics of Cassandra Syndrome, a symphonic/gothic metal band from Maryland. Commanded by frontwoman Irene Jericho, garbed in a Harley Quinn-esque costume, the audience was provided high-octave operatic stage show. While not my particular cup of tea, I was pleasantly surprised by the guest appearance of Darth Lightyear (Buzz Lightyear's evil cousin), who stepped in to play bass on a song.
While A Sound Of Thunder was the organizer of the event, they were not the headliner for the evening. Regardless, they were up next and they were who I came to watch. Having seen them by mere chance opening for Fozzy earlier in the year, I had been completely impressed by their abilities and songwriting. This evening was no exception. Though they played a short set of only about five songs, they ripped through stunning versions of “I Will Not Break”, “The Day I Die” and “Out Of The Darkness”. Chris Haren's drums shook the walls, Jesse Keen's bass playing bordered on funky, Nina Osegueda's voice shattered the glass, and Josh Schwartz's fire-blazing fretboard antics set alight the audiences' t-shirts. However, this might all have been a delusion from the crappy rum and soda I had drank just before their set. The effects of that drink aside, the band put on a thrilling performance full of energy and power. At one moment, Nina announced that she would need the help of a male singer, to which the bassist, Jesse, quickly announced, “Not it!” This kind of light-hearted humor made the band more endearing, though they hardly needed any comedic relief to win over the bar, as all the attendees were well within their spell. As they finished their set, I knew I had to leave, partially because I had an early morning to follow, but also because I knew their set would be hard to top.
As the other bands, Aries and Dethlehem, went on to play after them, I was pleased to have some time to socialize with the bands I had seen play. I struck up conversations with Tom and David of Burning Shadows, as well as Josh and Chris of A Sound Of Thunder, discussing the music scene. After we'd finished our discussions about Immortal, Emperor, Dream Theater, Thin Lizzy, Queensryche, and several other notable heavyweights, I bid the scene adieu. Aside from the drummer's vehicle being sectioned off by a fire truck for about forty-five minutes, what started out as a seedy and suspicious experience ended up becoming a fantastic evening out on the town.
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Usually when I attend a concert, I'm there to see the headliner and find that I don't care much for the opening acts. Only once before have I gone to a concert and, upon seeing the opening band, thought “I really wish they'd play a few more! The headliner can wait.” I can safely say, after seeing A Sound Of Thunder open for Fozzy last year at Empire in Springfield, VA, I've made that statement to myself twice. With the recent release of their Queen Of Hell EP, as well as their forthcoming full length record, Time's Arrow, I felt it was high time that I wrote a review for their stunning album, Out Of The Darkness.
Unlike a good music lover, I didn't immediately walk over to the merch table after the band left the stage and grab a copy of the album. At the time, I was too interested in saving my stage-side position for when Fozzy came on (you move it, you lose it), though I did take a moment to compliment guitarist, Josh Schwartz, on his playing and talk to him about his pedalboard. Anyway, by the time the show was over, their table was packed up and being moved out, and I hate to bother people about opening things back up due to my tardiness. Then the holiday season hit and I found my funds tied up in gifts for others. But enough excuses! Eventually, I did pick up the album, and it completely floored me. In my recent memory, I have heard no new traditional heavy metal band that has better captured the great sounds of the '80s powerhouse acts, while forging their own unique image. More than once during their set, I found myself thinking, “How very Iron Maiden...you know, minus the three guitarists.” The vocalist, Nina Osegueda, possesses a sonic power and style that would make Bruce Dickinson take notice. One need simply listen to the album's title track to find a clear Maiden influence, while the eight-minute opener “The Day I Die” reminds me of early Black Sabbath. The group relishes in their musical heroes, raising the banner of their metal brethren each time they take the stage.
Much of the material on Out Of The Darkness is lyrically dark and brooding, such as “The Night Witch”, “Murderous Horde” and “A Sound Of Thunder”, which are full of blood, dragons and magic. However, this group is not so easily pigeonholed as to simply write about the mystical. “Calat Alhmabra” is a historical song about Isabella, Queen of Spain, sung beautifully in both English and Spanish. “Fight Until The End” is an empowering rocker that makes me want to take the world by storm. And things get a bit more humorous during “Kill That Bitch”, a tongue-in-cheek love song where a man is urged to kill his current girl to be with another. This is where I really feel that Nina stands apart from other female metal singers. While I've listened to many talented, graceful frontwomen, Nina ranges from the graceful to the guttural. I can hardly imagine another woman singing, “You know I'm the one that you adore. I've got more cojones than that whore!”
If the band's frontwoman and her talents were not enough, A Sound Of Thunder is comprised of three other excellent musicians. The guitarist, Josh Schwartz, is not only an accomplished riffmeister, building them up like Lincoln Logs made from Sequoias, but his solos are technical and fun! While I mentioned the dark and brooding lyrics of many songs, when the solo kicks in, Josh transforms the mood into something spirited and uplifting. The bassist, Jesse Keen, manages to keep the songs firmly planted, laying out a thick foundation for the riffage. He also plays the keyboards, which may make him responsible for the beautiful string arrangement in “This Too Shall Pass”. The percussionist, Chris Haren, not only keeps the bass drum kicking, very well I might add, but contributes lyrics to three of the songs. It's no surprise to me why the album is so good, as each member of this band has contributed so completely to this effort.
Out Of The Darkness is a breath-taking release, and would be by any band. Each song can stand alone, strong in its own right, but combine to make a stunning album that holds your attention from beginning to end. Not only are the songs well done, but the band sounds like they're having fun playing them. I can't help but smile as I listen, captured by the passion and catchiness. I don't think there's anything I can say further. I'm just truly impressed, and I know I won't wait so long once Time's Arrow is released to pick that up.
For more on A Sound Of Thunder:
Buy "Out Of The Darkness": iTunes | Amazon