Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors (Relapse)

Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors (Relapse, 2015)Since discovering their first EP in 2010, it seems things moved very quickly for Royal Thunder. One moment they were an intriguing, promising band, then they came out with their epic full-length debut CVI (2012), and I saw them live, and saw them again, and again. When some bands can’t be bothered to even tour once *coughChristianMistress*, Royal Thunder are a prime example of why touring is important. Every performance illuminated why they deserved to be one of my favorite bands of the decade, adding layers of meaning and understanding of their intense, transfixing hard rock. Starting out as an instrumental sludge/doom band influenced by fellow Atlanta, GA mates Zoroaster (guitarist Will Fiore has since joined the band),  vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsons helped both expand their universe while also focusing their style. Elements of blues, prog, psych, doom, folk, even grunge can be found in their DNA, but they’re all blended so gracefully, often gorgeously, that they have sounded fully formed from the beginning.

It took three years to come out with their follow-up, and it was well worth the wait. Crooked Doors boils down their sound to a new level of focused intensity, while also progressing. They do not evolve as startlingly as Baroness did with their last double album that explored roots in indie rock, but “Time Machine,” this time the longest track at 7:21, evokes some of the dark melancholy of The Afghan Whigs. Mlny is a total badass, with a powerful voice and some amazing bass tones. However like the Whigs’s Rick McCollum, the secret weapon, the musical engine driving the band is guitarist Josh Weaver. His guitar lines evoke just as much heart smashing soul as Mlny’s vocals. “Forget You” is anchored by the doomiest riffs on the album, but lift it skyward with angelic Fleetwood Mac harmonies dragging Black Sabbath screaming from the void. “The Line” is a particularly explosive highlight with multiple parts that somehow evoke both punishing Jesus Lizard style drumming and Mars Volta prog. “Forgive Me, Karma,” is subtly intricate, maintaining a simmering tension, while “Ear On The Fool” increases the heat with it thunderous crescendo.

“One Day” puts the spotlight on Mlny and she shines like a supernova. It feels like she’s unleashing pent-up frustration and passion in a sustained burst, like she’s simultaneously purging and celebrating. This kind of catharsis seems like what Billy Corgan might have been aiming for back in the 90s, but this is so, so much more successful, and just might displace “Blue” as my favorite Royal Thunder song. The album winds down with some atmospheric, folky strings (“The Bear I”) and piano (“The Bear II”) for a truly haunting, beautiful coda. Holy shit! I’ve listened to this album a dozen times and it surprises me every time with new images and emotions. That is some excellent rock ‘n’ roll bang for your buck. | Buy

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