(Empire Records 2018)
As many of you are undoubtedly aware, legendary Belgian traditional metal act Ostrogoth (who brought you such stone-cold classics as Ecstasy and Danger and the Full Moon’s Eyes EP in the early 1980s) regrettably split in two last year. Drummer Mario Pauwels and singer Josey Hindrix recruited new musicians and have soldiered on under the Ostrogoth banner. But what of guitarists Dario Frodo and Tom Tee and bassist Stripe? Thankfully, those three musicians remained united and formed a new act under the moniker Thorium. To fill in the missing pieces, Thorium recruited powerhouse Dutch singer David Marcelis (whom some may recognize from Lord Volture and Black Knight) and classically trained drummer Louis Van Der Linden. The band’s self-titled debut album is due on October 5, 2018 via Empire Records, and your friends at True Metal Lives were graced with the opportunity for an advance preview.
Let’s make one thing crystal clear from the start: Thorium have neither aspiration nor intent to be a pale Ostrogoth clone. (The lads are a rather cheeky bunch, though, evidencing considerable chutzpah in titling the lead track on the album “Ostrogoth,” and even using the phrase “ecstasy and danger” in the song “Powder and Arms.” And did I hear a gang chant of “too hot” (also an Ostrogoth album title) in “Return to the Clouds” and the phrase “lords of thunder” (an Ostrogoth song title) in the final track? Can’t wait to study a lyric sheet, because I am certain there are more “easter eggs” hidden within, haha.) While old-school, 80s heavy metal is unabashedly a substantial weapon in their arsenal, Thorium work from a much broader sonic palette. They profess to be influenced by everything from the NWOBHM to power metal to Bay Area thrash to progressive metal and U.S. metal, and to have placed no boundaries on their songwriting. I couldn’t agree more. The eight songs (plus intro) featured on Thorium pull from a diverse set of influences, which causes the album to feel highly dynamic and never remotely stale or repetitive. Want a ripping speed number? Check out the thrashy, magnificent, aviation-themed “Return to the Clouds” or the aforementioned Priest-on-amphetamines “Ostrogoth.” Fancy a brilliant uptempo, singalong, galloping melodic metal anthem a la late 1980s Riot meets classic Maiden? The glorious twin-guitar fuelled “Godspeed” fits the bill. What about a Running Wild-infused swashbuckler complete with nautical battle themes and well-placed “whooahh oohhs”? I give you “Powder and Arms” (which even features the none-too-subtle lyric “running wild and free on the high seas”). Need something a bit more adventuresome from a compositional standpoint? Sink your teeth into the 15-minute closer “Four by Number, Four by Fate” which somehow encompasses everything from balls-out speed metal to gentle acoustic passages amidst myriad twists and turns, all without ever losing its identity as a complete, unified song. Steve Harris take note: this is how you pen a sprawling epic tune in 2018 without a single second of boredom or redundancy.
The remarkable thing is that, notwithstanding the somewhat fluid stylistic parameters, Thorium as a whole feels like a cohesive piece of work. What all the songs have in common are memorable hooks, killer melodies, emphasis on catchiness, and an obvious love of (and painstaking respect for) classic heavy metal in all of its forms and incarnations. Guitarists Frodo and Tee put on a clinic of stellar playing and demonstrate both superb chemistry and an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what parts to play to elevate each song to its maximum potential. Then there’s vocalist Marcelis … holy crap, this guy delivers a world-class performance. I can’t help thinking of Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin throughout as I listen to Marcelis sing. Although there are certainly differences in their voices, they possess a similar range, timbre, and that magical x-factor, the emotional quality that eludes so many technically gifted singers. Actually, overall, Jag Panzer is probably a reasonable comparison for Thorium. Both bands cover a lot of sonic territory without straying too far outside the classic metal blueprint, although to be sure Thorium emphasizes more speed and aggression than Mark Briody’s outfit does, and eschews keyboards pretty much altogether.
This is important: I’ve been privileged to have the album assaulting my earholes for a couple of weeks already, so I’m not making some kind of snap judgment here in some silly, pointless race to be “first” on the Internet. Screw that. I have spent a great deal of time with Thorium in an honest effort to digest the material fully so that I can offer a meaningful evaluation. Upon doing so, my considered judgment is that the album is fantastic, a triumph that should appeal to everyone from the patch-jacketed uber-kvlt true metal defenders to younger modern power metal enthusiasts to even (gasp) the shirt-tucking ProgPower USA crowd. Basically, if you yearn for classy, well-crafted melodic heavy metal songs with a penchant for memorability, excellent musicianship and world-class vocals, then Thorium cries out for your immediate investigation. Thorium are the real deal. Only the most close-minded metalheads (you know, the ones who demand that it sound just like Ostrogoth circa “Paris by Night” or “Queen of Desire”) should have any conceivable ground for disappointment. It’s simply a timeless sound executed at an unbelievably high level. I foresee no scenario in which Thorium does not make my top 10 list (and probably top 5) of 2018. Congratulations, lads. I can’t wait to see you on stage somewhere soon.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~