The Northern Virginia/DC/MD area band A Sound of Thunder has a new album out called The Lesser Key of Solomon. On Friday, November 21, they open for the legendary Manilla Road at The Circuit in Essex, along with Iron Man, Witch Hazel and Maximum Oversatan. Tickets to the show can be purchased here.
I thought I would give the record a spin and see what it was all about.
I must preface this review by reminding my dear readers, who probably already know, that I listen to very little modern metal or music with with clean vocals. I listen to a ton of black metal and death metal, along with some hardcore, grindcore and punk. Giving a legitimate evaluation of a record like this is an extreme challenge for me. But it’s not like I haven’t heard this sort of music before.
The first time I saw A Sound of Thunder was at The Sidebar in Baltimore, and I didn’t like them. The Sidebar can have good or bad sound depending on who is running the board. In that case, Nina Osegueda’s got lost under the guitars. You couldn’t hear her at all. Also, the stage at The Sidebar is small and there’s not much room for the performers to engage the audience unless they move onto the floor. Lastly, Nina was wearing her signature steampunk-style goggles pushed back on her hair. I wanted to rip them off. I didn’t understand why she was wearing them, but I wanted them to go away.
The second time I saw ASOT was at Empire in Springfield, Virginia with Ashes of Ares. In this case, I thought they sounded pretty good. What was the difference? It was probably the venue. Empire has a better sound system and a better stage. I could hear Nina’s vocals more clearly and the guitars better. She played a Theremin, which was very cool. I was standing far enough away from the stage that I didn’t have to focus on those goggle pushing her hair back or the fact that she apparently broke a heel that night. Overall, the group went from meh to OK.
That said, I still am not a huge fan of this style of metal. But if one is to review music at all, one must grasp an understanding of the difference between a band of lousy musicians and a band that can actually play their instruments, but who perform a style of music that is not your favorite. A Sound of Thunder falls into this latter category for me.
Now, let’s talk about the album. A Lesser Key of Solomon, named for a spell book, was funded with a Kickstarter. They raised more than $23,000 to fund this record (greater than two times what they needed), Depending on the backer’s level of support, the band handed out perks that included everything from an early bird digital download of the new record to a choice of a song covered. The financial vote of confidence that ASOT received for this project from their fans gives evidence of their popularity.
The production quality in A Lesser Key of Solomon is solid. It’s really a joy to listen to and sounds great in my car stereo and at home. I have to mention this because when listening to so much black metal, one gets used to the virtue of shitty production and learns to like it, nay expect it. This album is clean, possibly too clean.
The album starts off with the strange 2-minute intro “Nexus of Realities” with the vocalists reading sequential numbers. Not sure what is going on in this trippy track, but when they get to the number 23 it launches into some epic riffs and plows straight into the next song “Udoroth”. This track features powerful vocals and familiar heavy metal guitar chord progressions. Nina’s vocals soar to eardrum piercing heights and the melody is catchy in that radio-metal friendly sort of way. Why is this song not on the radio?
“Fortuneteller” is a song about a … wait for it…a fortuneteller booth. The lyrics are not anything overly creative (“the crystal ball has spoken, all your dreams are broken”) but the vocals really got to me. I found myself wanting to sing along. And oh man, I love bassist Jesse Keen’s keyboards! There is a lot of old-school proggy Brit rock in this song. At times Josh Schwartz’s guitar riffs trick me into thinking I am listening to an Iron Maiden song. The only thing I didn’t care for here was the abrupt ending. Even so, it is a memorable song that made me want to replay it.
The next song, “The Boy Who Could Fly,” also struck an emo nerve with me, which made me want to hit replay. The moody acoustic guitar at the beginning reminds me of Opeth but then turns into this lush, swirling tale of lost love. I think Nina’s voice sounds lovely here because she is not straining to reach those high notes. Riff-wise, the song has a 80s power metal vibe to it. I could see an audience filled with lit lighters. Ugh, I think there’s something in my eye. Again, why are these songs not on the radio?
I get the feeling that “Elijah” is supposed to be the album’s “hit.”. There are parts of this song that possess almost King Diamond-like melodies and vocal styling. It wants to be scary and creepy. It’s not bad, but I think it meanders on for far too long and loses focus. The vocal harmonies remind me of a Christian group I used to listen to middle school: The Second Chapter of Acts. (Hey, go look up their song Rejoice right now because it will blow your mind, and then remind me that I listen to satanic black metal all the time now.) I find no fault in the superb guitar work on this track because it is really well executed.
“Master of Pain” doesn’t really move me much. At first, Chris Haren’s drumming makes me think this song is going to take off into a real rock anthem. But then it kind of develops into Lita Ford song. For some people that would be a good thing, but for me it was not. Lyric-wise, it’s a bit cliché.
“Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb,” however, steers the band back to epic storytelling mode. For the most part, Nina’s voice floats over the melody, and the lyrical content is poetic. When she is most aggressive, her vocals seem a bit strained. But musically, you can hear the influence of Deep Purple and Iron Maiden. The chorus is memorable, and the guitar solo midway rambles somewhere between wanting to sound like David Gilmour and Jerry Garcia. Overall, this is one of the albums standouts, but probably goes on a bit too long with too many thematic changes.
Speaking of Jerry Garcia, the beginning of “Black Secrets” could have been the main riff of a Grateful Dead song. Very quickly though, the band reverts to 80s style chugga-chugga rock and roll and an almost southern groove sound. With a few tweaks, this could be a country song.
The album takes a weird dystopian turn with “One Empty Grave.” I think this song might be about the Civil War battle at Devil’s Den. Or maybe it isn’t. But until Nina starts hitting those high notes, this song almost sounds like a completely different band. I liked the soaring guitar solo a lot.
The last song on the album “House of Bones” begins with some creepy, jazzy piano and reversed vocal sampling. Then it unfolds into this 70s bluesy rock and roll essay. Clocking in at just shy of nine minutes, the song should feel long but it doesn’t. It deftly showcases the band’s best songwriting skills. It’s not like A Sound of Thunder is doing anything new or groundbreaking with this tune or even on this album, but what they are doing, they are doing well.
In the end, great music stands the test of time. I am not sure if The Lesser Key of Solomon will still sound relevant in 10 years. But at this moment, A Sound of Thunder has crafted an album of hard-hitting rock and metal that will appeal to many people. One or two of these songs could make it onto mainstream rock radio, which for many musicians is a desirable goal. And I believe they have attained the rare achievement of sounding distinctive enough to allow the mention of influences but not the naming of direct comparisons. It is quite possible that A Sound of Thunder’s magnum opus lies ahead. Let’s hope so.
Check out a song from the album below.