When Royal Thunder appeared on the scene a few years ago, there was much hype and early praise for the band. It was a well deserved frenzy of high-profile tours and fests that made them a “buzz band”. You had to stand back and marvel at their music; unafraid to take tried and true elements of rock, blues, and proto-metal and not fall to into the cliches so many others do. Then an interesting thing happened on the way to album number two: coping with being band growing up under a microscope, and the implosion of a relationship within the band. Rather than crumble apart or mail it in for Crooked Doors (Relapse), you have the emotional maelstrom of a finished masterpiece.
Don’t be fooled by the beautifully picked guitars and dolefulness of ‘Time Machine’, the lead track of the album. What ‘Time Machine’ has done by starting with the direct rock approach and almost four-on-the-floor beat is a clever device to lull you in. After the verse, chorus, verse of the first few minutes you are left with transformative middle passage not unlike classic Pink Floyd that doesn’t prepare you for the anguish to come. It’s not about feeling sorry for oneself either. The remainder of the song is a triumph of pained, passionate vocals and wah-soaked guitar leads.
The supremely heavy ‘Forget You’ is more in the style you are accustomed to if you have followed the band from the beginning. Vocalist Mlny Parsonz shows off her range and advanced harmony vocals. She can deliver a bruised, bluesy line with the best of them, including the final refrain of “you better run for your life”. The bands has really learned how to build drama musically to unbearable levels. Guitarists Josh Weaver and Will Fiore weave parts in and out of each other, adding layers upon layers of motifs, adding to the tracks without ever sacrificing the heaviness. ‘Wake Up’ is another track steeped in dynamics and killer performances. Drummer Evan DiPrima is a silent assassin behind the kit. He never over-plays, but has equal moments of bombast and grace. Musically the DNA of this album is similar to the leap in maturity seen by a Mastodon, Baroness or Kylesa over the years, with the members of Royal Thunder knowing just how to transmute their songcraft into something new without ever feeling forced.
There are no throw away songs on this album, and every track rewards with repeated listens. From the dusky vocal lines and neat rhythms on ‘Forgive Me, Karma’, the rough cadences of ‘The Line’, to the classic “Desert Rock” charm of ‘Glow’; each song is an exploration to an inner-space of the bands’ resolute psyche. ‘Ear On The Fool’ is Crooked Doors‘ pièce de résistance. Almost tear rendering, anyone who has ever lost the “love of their life” and lived to tell about it, this track has your name all over it. The track also has the late era-Zeppelin vibe mixed with some of the better guitar interplay of a band like The Eagles down pat.
Closing out the album with the ‘The Bear I’ and ‘The Bear II’, they are less like the prog epic you might have imagined, and more like a funerary march, melting into a torch song. Crooked Doors is the sound of pressure cooking sand into glass and then into diamonds, all with with an alchemy fulled by magic and loss.