Over the last few years, A Sound of Thunder have carved a unique path. Eschewing the traditional record model, the prolific Virginia quartet release their albums themselves, relying on wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns to fund each project. Case in point: For this covers album, the band raised more than $32,000 from more than 500 backers, so they have a truly dedicated cult following. A Sound of Thunder hold themselves to inordinately high quality standards. They don’t cut corners. They use a top-notch artist (Dusan Markovic) to paint their album sleeves, and a top-notch producer (Kevin Gutierrez) to handle their sonics. They pay obsessive attention to detail, and greenlight creative merch and marketing ideas that other bands would not dare to attempt.
Against this backdrop of success and individualism, A Sound of Thunder have encountered headwinds from an unlikely source: the underground itself. Maybe it’s because they don’t fit into a cookie-cutter prefabricated mold. Sure, A Sound of Thunder’s sound is rooted in traditional-minded heavy metal, but they don’t fit into any musical trends and main writer / guitarist Josh Schwartz is influenced much more by the Deep Purples and Hawkwinds and Black Sabbaths of the world than whatever the flavor of the week might be. Their lyrics go deep into comic books and storytelling, and they use unconventional instruments at times (most notably, the theremin). Oh, and the band have never released the same album twice. On their last couple of discs, A Sound of Thunder have challenged their listeners with dark, heavy, sometimes progressive epics, rife with lengthy instrumental passages and plenty of twists and turns. Although I have bought and enjoy all their albums, there are moments on each that take me out of my comfort zone as a self-professed narrow-minded old-school metalhead. I respect the hell out of the band for following their own road, but some haven’t been so charitable. The resulting backlash appears to have been a source of angst for the band at times.
In some ways, this covers album – entitled ‘Who Do You Think We Are?’ – is A Sound of Thunder’s rebuttal to their detractors. The lead track and single, the Alice Cooper chestnut “Who Do You Think We Are?” finds vocalist Nina Osegueda defiantly snarling, “we don’t care.” Take that, all you myopic ‘80s metal, patch-jacketed, judgmental, Manilla-Road loving bastards (myself included!). A Sound of Thunder appear to have reached a newfound comfort in their own skin. If they want to cover Tool or Dan Fogelberg or Kansas, then that’s exactly what they’re going to do and if you want to call them posers, well, they don’t care. If the prominent Hammond organ and overtly ’70 stylings in places rankle you, well, you guessed it, they don’t care. A Sound of Thunder are what they are, and this record feels like an honest representation of their influences, the musical primordial stew that serves as inspiration for their original creations. Don’t get me wrong: There’s plenty of classic metal on display here, including tunes from the likes of Dio (“The Last In Line”), Mercyful Fate (“Gypsy”), Manowar (“Pleasure Slave,” but with the lyrical concept reversed so that Osegueda belts out, “man, be my slave”) and overlooked D.C.-area ‘80s heroes Wrathchild America (“Day of the Thunder,” a killer song with the obvious double meaning in the title making it a fitting tune for ASoT to select), the last of those being my favorite tune on the album. Honestly, though, the band sound most comfortable bashing out those musty Black Sabbath (“A National Acrobat,” “Trashed”), Rainbow (“Death Alley Driver”) and Deep Purple (“Space Truckin’”) grooves, with Schwartz audibly reveling in those Iommi and Blackmore guitar parts. To round out the 16-track, 74-minute running time, A Sound of Thunder give us everything from an overt back-masking segment in the untitled track 12 (I used to spin records backward to decipher things like Slayer chanting “join us” at the beginning of “Hell Awaits,” but how the hell do you play a CD backwards?) to a remake of an old ASoT original (“Walls”) from their 2009 debut EP.
Ultimately, ‘Who Do You Think We Are?’ is a varied, dynamic and satisfying listen. Everything is performed at a high level. Osegueda sings with power, range and conviction; Schwartz riffs like his very life depends on it; and the Jesse Keen / Chris Haren rhythm section is as solid as they come. With most of the songs, A Sound of Thunder do not make drastic changes to the source material, but instead deliver the goods pretty much by the book (at least for the songs I was already familiar with). I don’t love everything on here anymore than I’ve loved everything on the last couple of ASoT original records. But I don’t think the band wants someone like me to love everything they do. They refuse to be pigeonholed. They’re going to do it their own way. And ‘Who Do You Think We Are?’ sounds like an experienced band holding a mirror up to themselves for a candid portrayal of who they think they are, and where they come from. It’s a fascinating and worthwhile trip. By the way, as of this writing, barely a month after the covers album saw the light of day, A Sound of Thunder have already completed their next full-length studio album and have begun writing its successor. I wasn’t kidding when I called them prolific. They’re promising the next one will be faster and more straightforward than the last few. Time will tell, and time’s arrow just may change our destiny. For my part, I’m eager to see where The Queen of Hell, Uncle Udoroth and the boys take us next. Wherever it is, things shan’t get boring.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~