These are curious times for fans of heavy rock music that skirts the fringes of the metal world.
The current scene is dominated by bands that either shamelessly plunder the sounds and aesthetic of the early 70s, or that aim squarely for the arena circuit, with all the crass universality and blank-eyed plodding that such an aspiration generally entails. As a result, Atlanta’s Royal Thunder stand out like a gleaming diamond in an ocean of arse-slurry. Instinctively original and possessed of an exhilarating, soulful power that has seen them regularly (if somewhat erroneously) compared to Led Zeppelin – rumour has it that Jimmy Page is a fan – this mercurial quartet have been steadily building a reputation over the last few years, aided considerably by their status as type-defying oddballs on the much-revered Relapse Records roster.
This looks certain to be the year that Royal Thunder break through to bigger audiences: their new album, Crooked Doors, is a gloriously cohesive and mesmerising affair that loudly proclaims the wondrous chemistry between vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsonz and her bandmates, guitarists Josh Weaver and Will Fiore and drummer Evan Diprima./o:p
But Royal Thunder haven’t reached this point by conforming to the usual rules of the game and, as Mel humbly declares, this incremental march to glory comes from an honest, intuitive place.
“I find it crazy that people compare us to Led Zep,” she laughs. “That’s crazy. No one is like Led Zeppelin! No one is like Zeppelin, no one is like Queen, no one is like the Scorpions… there are just some bands where it’s like, ‘Dude, just don’t!’ You know? Honestly, we don’t know what we’re doing as musicians. We’re not trained or skilled or anything… never have been and never want to be! It’s so organic and it just happens. It comes from the inside out. I feel like a lot of it is Josh and I communicating. I can feel his guitar weeping and processing and it’s always been like that. Our connection is real and I hope that translates to the music.”/o:p
While some ambitious new bands are happy to use underground acclaim as a springboard for more mainstream success, neither Royal Thunder’s music nor their singer’s public statements give any impression that this band are interested in making the compromises necessary to hit the big time. But these are weird times for the underground – the internet has obliterated the notion of mystique within rock’n’roll. Maybe that is why a band like Royal Thunder stand out.
“I kinda feel that the internet spoils the magic sometimes, but there are pros and cons,” Mlny says. “It has definitely given us exposure, but I have no problem being seen as an underground band, because I think that’s a special thing. There are so many great things going on underground and I’ve always been a part of that. To be popular and huge and famous… there’s always a chance that the candle will burn out. I want to be a smaller candle, but the kind that burns forever. I want people to enjoy us for a long time and when I’m dead, some 13-year-old will dig our records out of their parents’ record collection.”
Perhaps the difference between Royal Thunder and most other credible contenders for rock and metal triumph is that Mlny and her comrades do not exhibit any sense that they feel entitled to success, and that the songs on Crooked Doors are a great enough reward for the band’s artistic endeavours.
“I’ve seen a lot of bands and thought, ‘Why aren’t they huge?’ when they’re playing in some little dive bar out in the sticks, but just because you’re great, it doesn’t mean you’re gonna get what you think you deserve,” muses Mlny. “We just do our thing. If good opportunities come our way and we agree with it, we’ll say yes, but if it’s something awful or something we’re against, we won’t do anything just to get ahead.”
In an era where there seems to be ever sharper contrasts between music that strives to forge an emotional bond and music that is content to be just another disposable, plastic product, Royal Thunder are a band to cherish. Such is the idiosyncratic charm of Crooked Doors, with its windswept riffs, overwhelming crescendos and moments of spinetingling vulnerability, that its creators may yet hit the jackpot by simply being nothing like anything else out there.
“We all have a core, something deep within us that we are afraid to express, and my hope is to make music that shakes that up,” Mlny states. “If you talk about that shit, people will realise that we’re all alive and experiencing the same things. If you keep hiding it and faking it, you’re gonna die that way and never get a chance to make things better. I just want to be a soul shaker!”
Five other bands set to unshackle themselves from the underground…
Proof that you can move from the underground and shift your sound while, at the same time, keeping old fans and never facing accusations of compromise, Sólstafir’s stirring, melodious music has landed them in a genre all of their own – and people are paying attention, big time.
Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s this. If Sólstafir’s mazy post-metal leanings and Royal Thunder’s soulful bluesploison aren’t for you, this filthy duo’s knack for groovy black-death ragers is uniting extreme metal elitists and stomper-loving metalheads alike.
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Despite being a relatively veteran name to most Hammer readers, Ireland’s finest nevertheless seem completely hellbent on converting all within reach to their timeless and fast-growing cause. And on top of that, Alan Averill continues to stake his claim as one of the underground’s most respected and fearless voices./o:p