Royal Thunder

Crooked Doors

Written by: AP on 11/05/2015 21:08:21

It was with some bravour Atlanta, GA's Royal Thunder wrote themselves among my musical acquaintances two years ago, on a European stint supporting their hometown kinsmen in Baroness. There was to them a special quality, an altogether fixating allure that spellbound the audience and left their presence on the fabric of rock impossible to ignore. Yet curiously, repeated spins of the quartet's début album from 2012, "CVI", were insufficient to unlock that same grandeur for me on record, as if some crucial element was missing, or some existing feature was repulsing my fascination. Listening to this second outing "Crooked Doors" however, the truth of it begins to dawn: the heavy influence of Atlanta's signature sludge sound has been toned down in exchange for timeless, heavy classic rock, blues and pop sensibilities that enable Royal Thunder to unfold in full glory at last.

One needs not go searching deep for revelations: the stunning opener "Time Machine" establishes itself as one of the finest tunes released this year, balancing perfectly a longing tone, the understated progressive touches of lead guitarist Josh Weaver's song carpentry, the scintillating dynamics between passages in turns low key and majestic, and the spectacular singing of the band's bass-wielding frontwoman, Mlny Parsonz. Her affected delivery of the song's signature line "I'm looking for a time machine, but I cannot go back and change one single thing. It's staying all in tact, and I'm looking for a way to feel. 'Cause I don't feel a thing, and it haunts me in this life when you want me to pretend." is nothing shy of unforgettable, nor is the humbling power with which she roars the words "I'm not a stranger to your black streak. I see through, you're my enemy. I oughta know, I wanna know you better than that!" amidst crashing cymbals and a beautifully felt solo by Weaver near the end. It's the sort of track that'll have you concluding, "Well, might as well leave it here, because there's no way the band could possibly top that demonstration of prowess", and lusting for more.

But while the piece remains without a doubt the pinnacle, there is plenty of magic sewn into the next 52 minutes as well, whether it be the chilling crescendo of "Wake Up", in which Parsonz croons over a stylish xylophone arrangement, or the elegantly shifting movements between quiet brilliance and nigh operatic grandeur heard in "The Line", a track reminiscent of the more radical, long-winding aspects of Led Zeppelin's repertoire. The laid back grunge and desert rock touches to the slow burning "Glow", let alone its soulfully sung chorus of "Breaking me down, I know they can feel it. Breaking me down, they know all our secrets. Breaking me down, I know that they know what we are", aren't an unsafe bet either, when scouring the record for moments worthy of distinction; and earlier on the doom'n'blues of "Floor" will already have done its share in distributing shivers down your spine.

Common to all of the material that comprises "Crooked Doors" is the enveloping nature, and outstanding quality of Parsonz' singing, which provides the respite in the rare cases when Weaver, rhythm guitarist Will Fiore, drummer Evan Diprima and indeed Parsonz herself on the bass guitar, lapse into some less inspired musical ideas and rhythmic stagnation particularly at the rear end of the album. At times booming with strength, at times quivering with fragility, Parsonz' voice sounds comfortable at either extreme, and she possesses a seamless skill for adapting her singing to the prevalent mood at any given moment. She is, for all intents and purposes, the complete vocalist, a fearsome asset for Royal Thunder. But for the vast majority of the running length, keen ears will be no less awestruck by Weaver's flair for penning exquisite, and boundlessly textured heavy rock arrangements, and the four musicians' sublime proficiency in bringing those ideas to life.

Indeed, "Crooked Doors" constitutes one of those rare cases in which gorgeous artwork, dazzling technical ability, and the subtle ingenuity of the songs (written to be memorable, yet never to shun depth in favour of flirting with mainstream appeal) combine to form a red chord; an album which resonates in the listener's memory, tempting and beckoning for another spin.

Download: Time Machine, Floor, The Line, Glow, Ear on the Fool
For the fans of: Baroness, Led Zeppelin, Mount Salem, Mud Walk
Listen: Facebook

Release date 07.04.2015
Relapse Records

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