Royal Thunder & Pallbearer at Beat Kitchen

Courtesy of John Mourlas Photography

Courtesy of John Mourlas Photography

This would have been the third show in Chicago this year for the hard working Royal Thunder from Atlanta, GA, except that Josh Coleman was hospitalized after throwing up blood (so metal) while on the road, and they had to miss their show at Double Door. It was worth the wait to see them for the first time since their triumphantly awesome debut album, CVI. They started the show with a whisper on “Sleeping Witch,” the song from their self-titled EP (2009) that was so good they re-recorded it for the album.  

Most people focus on Mlny Parsonz’ vocals, which are no doubt amazing, reaching a wide range between whispers and roars while staying on point with the melodies, just like when vocalists roamed the earth as rock gods in the seventies and did not play second fiddle to anyone. But her bass playing should also be noted. The tones she achieved were incredible to the extent that my friend Collin Jordan (former bass player who mastered Royal Thunder’s album) had no idea how she achieved them. She served as an anchor between the twin guitar attack from the two Josh’s (Weaver and Coleman) who stood on either side of her like large, hairy pillars, bending like tall redwood trees in a storm. Drummer Lee Smith was very precise and looked like he’d be able to keep up with the most challenging prog metal if needed. Royal Thunder seem simple on the surface, but they sneak in a lot of interesting details that emerge on close listening.

Parsons nailed the angry energy of “Whispering World,” while “Drown” gives me a sense of what Kurt Cobain might have attempted had he gotten deep into doom and psych. I can’t imagine he would have done better than Mlny’s stately minor chord melody which launches into some fiery rock explosions for close to 9 minutes. “No Good” was a more succinct burst of power, “Minus” a gentle breather for just a couple minutes, while “Black Water Vision” delves into psychedelia. They close the show with my favorite, “Blue,” which was also given a more trippy, psychedelic treatment than on the album. Even though much of the full room was there to see Pallbearer, the entire audience was transfixed.

Pallbearer released what would have been the heaviest doom album of the year if it weren’t for Conan’s Monnos. Nevertheless, Sorrow And Extinction is an accomplished debut that will no doubt be noted on end of year lists. The Arkansas natives backed up the promise of the album with a superbly heavy show, their long songs moving at the pace of a groggy prehistoric lizard, huge enough to crush anything in its path. When his voice is not overwhelmed with the layers of sound, guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell reveals a surprisingly clean tenor fairly unique among modern doom bands except for the mournful, almost post-rock sounds of 40 Watt Sun. This is not the kind of performance where you hang on every riff and crescendo, but rather stand back and let it wash over you like a volcano ash bath.

I’ve been to shows at the Beat Kitchen for the past 20 years, and this by far was the best sounding. The venue has done a lot to get a great sound, particularly for heavy rock and metal, including the YOB show I missed the previous Wednesday which was by all accounts amazing. Along with Reggie’s Rock Club, Bottom Lounge and Ultra Lounge, it’s become part of a nice little niche of great heavy music venues.

More photos by John Mourlas.

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