Friday, 14 July 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Royal Thunder - "Wick"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 07/04/2017
Label: Spinefarm Records

 

“Wick” is often an exercise in balancing the spare and the expansive; the pop rock chops with the proggy bona fides.  In a world where modern rock radio wasn’t total garbage, “We Slipped” would be a bona fide hit, providing one of the strongest refrains Royal Thunder has written to date.


“Wick” CD//DD//LP track listing

1. Burning Tree
2. April Showers
3. Tied
4. We Slipped
5. The Sinking Chair
6. Plans
7. Anchor
8. Wick
9. Push
10. Turnaround
11. The Well
12. We Never Fell Asleep

The Review

Royal Thunder has the best and most repeated story in rock since the heyday of Fleetwood Mac: marriage, addiction, cult, recovery, divorce, escaping said cult.  With lesser bands, the hype would outshine the music; thankfully, Royal Thunder may finally be outrunning their strange back story with their first album for Spinefarm Records and their third full-length overall: “Wick”.  From the first note, “Burning Tree” evokes the psychedelic hard rock of mid-career Led Zeppelin or, more recently, alternative metal godfathers like Jane’s Addiction and Soundgarden.  The open-tuned, chiming riffs provide grounding for Mlny’s multitracked, spook and exhilarating vocals.  April Showers”, with its sinister, pounding builds and cathartic choruses highlights the Fleetwood Mac comparisons, though Parsonz usually has a bit more heft to her vocals than Stevie Nicks.  Tied” starts in a similar Eastern groove before breaking into a proto-metal swing that Royal Thunder could stand to lean into a bit more.  I imagine with the space of a live setting these Bill Ward indebted moments blossom into full on heavy psych freakouts.  But “Wick” is often an exercise in balancing the spare and the expansive; the pop rock chops with the proggy bona fides.  In a world where modern rock radio wasn’t total garbage, “We Slipped” would be a bona fide hit, providing one of the strongest refrains Royal Thunder has written to date.

Like their previous output for Relapse Records, Mlny’s vocals are the main attraction throughout, and the spare balladry of “Plans” highlights her undeniable talents: she can be unbearably anguished and tuneful at once.  The Janis Joplin comparisons are merited, especially when the soulful roots shine through the grungier elements.  And while Royal Thunder may insist that they’ve excised their cult nightmares on their previous albums, lyrics like “There goes my mind and all my time / you pushed me away” feel as distinctly apt when referring to either spiritual or romantic ruptures.  Which isn’t to say its all rootsy Americana: the title track is distinctly menacing, “Push” begins as a gently swinging rocker that gains steam and shifts enough to border on psychedelic prog rock, and “Turnaround” is another radio-ready cut with Latin guitar flourishes.

The final two tracks feel like mission statements for this newest phase of Royal Thunder.  The Well” shifts between spacey verses and balladic refrains, plus some of the most impressive feats of Parsonz’s multi-octave range.  The layering effect creates a sort of virtual church chorus that lingers on a repeated phrase: “Too bad/ It breaks my heart Maybe we should say it’s over”.  Album closer, “We Never Fell Asleep” acts as a perfect distillation of the album as a whole, opening with those familiar, sitar-like chords before settling into grooving, tribal drum patterns.  When it all feels a little predictable, the synths kick in for a shift into a massive outro.  Finally, all the instruments drop out for an cappella gospel closing.  These explorations into the unknown, grounded by devotional placidity, suggest that Parsonz (and Weaver, for that matter) are managing some kind of musical solution to their metaphysical crises.  Uprooted from their community, their religion, and their romantic partnership, they create their own ritualized music that doesn’t rely on charismatic chicanery but painful honesty.  While some critics have derided the “vocal processing” of the newer Royal Thunder output, the expansiveness is kind of the point here: if Parsonz can’t be part of an actual choir, she’ll create her own virtual ensemble line by line.  This blurring of the personal and the profound is without a doubt what elevates Royal Thunder, while the soul meets Soundgarden style of their frontwoman is the perfect aural metaphor for their lyrical obsessions.  One can hope that with each burst of rock catharsis, Royal Thunder continues to experiment while remaining grounded in ethereal introspection.

Wick” is available now




Band info: facebook

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