This review is overdue, but hopefully it’s worth the wait. I feel like I’ve watched ThunderShield grow up. The band have been a staple in the Atlanta metal scene for a number of years, dating back to their previous incarnation as The Shield circa 2010. Atlanta promoter Hoyt Parris has booked them for his Pathfinder Promotions events frequently, and I’ve probably seen them live at least five times. Their hearts were always in the right place, but in the early days The Shield were a bit uneven as a live band, with their over-the-top Steel Panther-influenced glammed-up attire and the, ummm, instability of certain members. Eventually, the core of The Shield (guitarists Sam Bryans and Chris Holter, plus bassist Austin Dix) wisely opted to wipe the slate clean and start fresh as ThunderShield with a new singer and drummer, and a less flamboyant, more traditional metal image. (To be sure, they still play some of their old The Shield material, including “DragonCycles (Dragons on Motorcycles)” and “Punch the Sun,” so there is some carryover from the old days.) When I last saw ThunderShield live in November 2016, it was unquestionably the finest performance I had ever witnessed from them in any incarnation.
Somewhere along the way, ThunderShield managed to record a full album’s worth of material that they released digitally last summer, with a CD release via Stormspell Records in December 2016. This self-titled affair is an impressive piece of work, particularly considering the band’s humble beginnings. ThunderShield play a form of power metal / traditional metal that doesn’t sound like any one band, although there’s undoubtedly a pronounced Iron Maiden influence running through the proceedings. For what it’s worth, their Facebook page lists artists they like as including Maiden, Priest, Dio, and German acts such as Gamma Ray, Rage, Helloween and Grave Digger. That list gives you a fair appraisal of where ThunderShield are coming from, and all are audible in their music. This is twin-guitar driven, often speedy, pure heavy metal with plenty of power and catchy, anthemic qualities. Vocalist Mikel Hutchings is quite a find, with his charismatic, higher-pitched, slightly nasal delivery that sometimes reminds me of the high end of Mike Scalzi (Slough Feg)’s voice with just a pinch of Hansi Kursch. The 10-song, 52-minute affair is chock full of solid traditional power metal goodness with ripping guitars, pounding rhythms, and songs with a high memorability quotient, thanks in no small part to Hutchings’ stellar performance. Almost the whole record is strong (“Selfish Lover” is perhaps a step down, but still okay); however, the strongest tunes for me are “Done Dirty” (magnificent guitar melodies and compelling arrangements, the most “complete” song on the record), the runaway speed of “Draconia” and the monster-themed “Hammerhead” (superb chorus on this one). There are no production credits in the CD booklet, but ThunderShield did a fine job on what was no doubt a shoestring budget to capture their sound in a manner that allows the songs’ power to shine through. It was interesting that band chose to record “DragonCycles” from the old The Shield days, but omitted “Punch the Sun,” which is easily my favorite song from that era and one they still play live today.
Like any young band who records an album on a DIY basis, this ThunderShield album is not without flaws. For a few songs, the arrangements don’t seem to have been fully developed and they sometimes overstay their welcome. Lyrics descend into dodgy territory sometimes (“Selfish Lover” and the aforementioned “DragonCycles” are the biggest culprits). Backing vocals could have been a lot more convincing. But notwithstanding these minor gripes, ThunderShield is a really fun, entertaining album by a talented band. I’m proud of the guys for what they’ve accomplished and eager to see what happens next. We might not have to wait long. Word has it that ThunderShield are presently recording an EP to be entitled Enchanting the Steel, so keep an eye out for that one in the next few months.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~