(Mad Neptune Records, 2018)
One could call A Sound of Thunder anything if not prolific. Since releasing their debut ep in 2009, the hard-working Washington D.C.-based traditional, melodic-metal quartet has put out six full-length albums, a covers album, as well as a plethora of EPs and singles. Coinciding with this impressive quantity of output, the band has continually upped the ante in terms of promotion, utilizing spectacular graphic artists and guest musicians, all while pushing themselves to their musical limits. All these accomplishments have come full circle on the aptly-titled It Was Metal – which may be ASoT's most stylistically balanced, consistent, and entertaining album to date.
As with all long-running bands, fans will always have their distinct preferences as regards to favorite albums and stylistic trends of a band's discography. Like some fellow longtime ASoT fans, I prefer the catchier riffs, anthem-like choruses, and more concise arrangements of their now-iconic Out of the Darkness (2011) and Time's Arrow (2013) albums. Josh Schwartz, guitarist/songwriter/riffmeister extraordinaire, led the band towards a more progressive and conceptual direction for 2014’s The Lesser Key of Solomon and 2015’s even more ambitious Tales from the Deadside. Many welcomed the subtle changes, and ASoT's riff-based and song-oriented approach never really wavered; on Deadside in particular, Schwartz unleashed a few of his delicious Dio-esque riffs on tracks such as “Can't Go Back” and “Tremble.” On It Was Metal, ASoT have hammered the proverbial anvil of heavy metal sweet spots to perfection.
So, what sort of music can the heretofore initiated expect to hear on It Was Metal? ASoT play a distinct brand of old-school metal that is nearly impossible to categorize; that latter fact is a huge selling point in an oversaturated market overflowing with thousands of cookie cutters of the hundreds of copycats of the few dozen original legends. Although they are often misleadingly dubbed “power metal,” ASoT amalgamate the catchy, driving riffs and anthem-like choruses of the best ‘80s U.S. melodic bands (Dio, Armored Saint, Lizzy Borden, Omen, etc.), and more progressive ‘70s elements reminiscent of Deep Purple, Rush, Uriah Heep, and B.O.C. Add the impressive, high-range vocals of Nina Osegueda – alongside the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Jesse Keen and drummer Chris Haren – and one has some invigorating and entertaining METAL. One of the band's top selling points – their catchy and incisive riffs – are on prime display here. Schwartz has one hell of a knack for writing riffs that are simultaneously rhythmically aggressive and intriguing, but also melodic with unusual chord voicings.
Standard-bearing riffs and powerful vocal melodies take center stage on the driving opener, “Phantom Flight;” an invigorating tune that also features the gravel-throated talents of Accept's Mark Tornillo. The fantastic “Lifebringer” resembles their classic “Time’s Arrow” title track with its infectious, galloping main riff and brisk tempo. This song also showcases progressive lead-guitar touches and spooky theremin work via Osegueda. A more complex and dynamic arrangement, “Atlacatl” recalls ASoT's two previous releases without sacrificing one iota of metallic power. Unsurprisingly, the title track is this album's centerpiece; recalling the best melodic metal anthems of Priest, Maiden, and Manowar, the lyrics regale us with this genre's storued history, from the Stravinsky riot, to the blues man's “Crossroads Deal,” to the birth of rock and roll. Riveting stuff. Other highlights include the rousing anthem to Catalan pride and independence, “Els Segadors,” and the pummeling, palm-muted guitar power of the Schwartz on “Charles II.”
Now, for a few constructive criticisms. With 11 tracks clocking in at just over 58 minutes, It Was Metal does demand a degree of dedication and endurance that could deter more casual fans. Vocally, Osegueda showcases her multiple-octave range and powerful tone convincingly throughout. She tends to sing at the upper end of her range frequently, but she is at her best when she takes full advantage of her lower and middle registers; perfect examples of this can be heard on the elaborate and dynamic, “Obsidian and Gold (Desdinova Returns,)” as well as on the intro to “Second Lives.” Perhaps she could utilize her (awesome) ear-piercing high notes more as an occasional spice to help prevent listener fatigue. That said, her – as well as the rest of ASoT's performance – is phenomenal, and longtime fans and newbies alike will find plenty to love here on It Was Metal.
After all, to parody quote David Allan Coe, “If that ain't metal, I'll kiss your ass.”
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot
--Tracklisting: 1.) Phantom Flight 2.) Lifebringer 3.)Atlacatl 4.) The Crossroads Deal 5.) It Was Metal 6.) Obsidian & Gold (Desdinova Returns) 7.) Second Lives 8. Els Segadors 9.) Tomyris 10.) Charles II 11.) Fortress of the Future Race