Any band who features their bassist prominently in the mix, especially when their album starts off with a stirring bass line, immediately has my attention. This isn't due to some deep-seated love of bass playing, but rather that, unless your band is named RUSH, most groups don't seem to see the bass as a lead instrument. They tuck it away as a structural piece of the music and, except on rare occasions, don't let it open up and see the spotlight. For a group to give their bass player the freedom to shine tells me that not only do they respect their bassist's ability, but that this band is likely full of musical talent that is just waiting to explode from the seams. One such band is A Sound Of Thunder, and the opening to their new album Time's Arrow confirmed for me what I already knew: This was going to be good.
I first encountered Washington D.C.-based A Sound Of Thunder last year when they opened for Fozzy at the Empire, in Springfield, Va. Never having heard them, I immediately warmed to their traditional heavy metal sound, drawing on inspirations such as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. After buying their most recent release at that time, Out Of The Darkness, and seeing them recently in Baltimore, I picked up their new release with great anticipation.
Time's Arrow begins with “Power Play”, opening to a galloping lick from bassist, Jesse Keen. He's soon joined by the harmonized guitar of Josh Schwartz before the latter bursts into a blistering solo – and we're not even thirty seconds in! Nina Osegueda wastes no time in joining the mix, bringing with her a voice that makes even the most respected vocalists cower in awe of her wail. Chris Haren's percussion is on point, hitting with planned perfection every time. The amount of power surging from this song is immense and just what we need to get in the mood for the rest of the release. Even if the album ended here, I could be happy. But for the benefit of all those listening, it continues. We are greeted with one soon-to-be-classic after another. The lengthy title track follows and takes the listener on a nearly ten-minute journey through science fiction, augmented by catchy riffs and mind-boggling solos. Songs such as “Queen Of Hell” and “I Will Not Break”, already fan favorites from their early internet success, keep the rock flowing as we progress. In fact, the only moment the album slows is during “I'll Walk With You”, the band's zombie apocalypse ballad. That's right, a zombie apocalypse ballad. That's “eat your brains out” good.
I have trouble picking out an absolute favorite here. The catchiness of “Broken Bridge"; the rolling lyrical rhythm of “Wastelands” that will bowl you over before you know it; the blues-rock anomaly of “End of The Road”, which is wonderfully different compared to the rest. There are so many great songs on here, but right now “Wastelands” is winning out for me. Schwartz's solo alone is a worthwhile reason why any might fall in love with this tune. His sense of melody, combined with his fretboard finesse, is notable enough to turn the heads of all three Iron Maiden guitarists. While that sounds like a bold statement, it only takes experiencing a handful of songs to realize it's true. However, the real victory is how well the rhythm section molds with Nina's vocals, which is amazing considering all the nuances that are evoked.
There are a few tracks that didn't hit me as much as others, such as the closer “Reign of The Hawklords.” Not a bad song by any means, but the verses maintain a rather level feeling, with the song only really growing during the chorus before it settles back to that previous, flat state. There was no climactic moment where the song just soared away. I did like the use of the theremin in it – I mean, when's the last time we've heard one of those in a rock song? – but I felt it would have been more powerful if it had been played with a recurring melody in mind. After the energy that was given off during the previous song, “End Of The Road,” this one would have done well to trade places with it as the closer. Another song which fell short for me was “My Disease,” featuring former Iron Maiden vocalist, Blaze Bailey. While it's fantastic that Blaze was willing to contribute to the band for this tune, I honestly don't like Blaze's vocals. That's purely me though. After hearing Keen handle the male vocals during a live show, I would have much preferred to hear how he paired with Nina in a studio version. All in all, small issues in an otherwise fantastic album.
I enjoyed A Sound Of Thunder's previous release, Out Of The Darkness, so much that I worried that this one might seem lacking in comparison. While it was not a re-invention of themselves, it was noticeable more refined in its execution – which is easy to tell when a nearly ten minute song feels like it's shorter than an eight minute song from a previous release. This group of talented musicians are still becoming better at their instruments and better at making each other look even more amazing than they might be on their own. And as the idea of “playing” music would imply, it's all about having fun. Even if you never get to meet them, you can just listen to the music and know they're having a good time. Time's Arrow is like a postcard. By the time we get it, the group has already set their sights on newer, more exciting locations. But for a moment, we're able to see where they've been and feel like we've been there too. I, for one, hope they continue to share.
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