Royal Thunder’s sprawling 2012 opus, CVI, confounded critics and fans alike who struggled to shoehorn the music into some identifiable genre or to fix their sound as an arbitrary point between two well-established bands.
The truth was that while CVI boasted generous doses of metal, doom and classic rock, the heavy-hitting Atlanta quartet had distilled those influences into a potent brew that was as unfamiliar to the taste as it was exhilarating. Swampy riffage gathered into towering choruses, underpinning the arena-sized vocals of Mlny Parsonz./o:p
While their sound was undeniably modern, dark rhythmic undercurrents tended to overpower the brighter dynamics, investing the album with a sense of restraint, as if the band were holding that last bit back. With Crooked Doors, Royal Thunder have shaved off all of the drag, delivering a lean, polished and masterful modern rock showcase.
Time Machine kicks the affair off with a scuffled cadence that quickly takes off into a bare-knuckled belter. Mlny’s audacious vocal performance, gathering into a soulful howl with chest-beating potency, rivals Heart siren Ann Wilson at her brawniest. Bursting with propulsive tempos and meaty hooks, there’s a taut sense of focus and composition that belies the opener’s sprawling seven-minute span.
Lyrically Crooked Doors is gnarled with emotional wreckage stained by implications of violence – deeply emotive themes that play out in spasms of concussive heaviness throughout the first half of the album. This is Southern rock’s quintessential struggle between defiance and acceptance. Sonically, the quartet explore an enthralling array of styles that includes grunge, metal and prog (Ear On The Fool).
On tracks like Floor and The Line, muscular waves of grooving erupt into kaleidoscopic fretboard heroics courtesy of guitarist Josh Weaver, while Forget You rumbles with a droning and dissonant bombast that suggests Royal Thunder are not entirely unfamiliar with Badmotorfinger.
The metallic riffage and serpentine leads of the excellent Forget Me, Karma cede to a soulful pop interlude that sees Royal Thunder’s vision unfurl far beyond the strictures of any single genre. And yet nothing in the album’s first 40 minutes could portend the elegiac balladry of the final two tracks — The Bear I and II — the latter ending Crooked Doors with something of a catharsis in the lyric, ‘Some will rise/Some will fall/ Some will run away/But I will fade and die/ Without you.’ It’s a satisfying conclusion to a raw and darkly emotional voyage.
Too often, bands bite off more than they can chew on the heels of a successful release, as if to prove that the earlier record were not a fluke. Creative ambition is only valuable to the extent that it can be fully realised. Royal Thunder have again synthesised a number of disparate styles into a vital new expression that is wholly their own, and Crooked Doors embodies a fearless desire to transcend the known, unimpeded by limits or convention.
The result is a beautifully-wrought Southern rock masterpiece that is as timeless as the dark hollows of their ancient home./o:p
FINAL VERDICT: 9⁄10
CROOKED DOORS SOUNDS LIKE AN EVOLUTIONARY STEP FOR THE BAND.
“It is, and a lot of the way it sounds on this album comes from struggles as a vocalist. When we were touring Europe, I lost my voice. We tuned down and I found a sweet spot, but I was thinking, ‘Who the hell is this?’ I’m very thankful that it was so challenging. A little bit of pain makes for some beauty, you know?”
WHERE DID THE TITLE COME FROM?
“We were driving around and just saw a pair of crooked doors and we were like, ‘Whoa! Cool album name!’ We’ve always been a family and when shit comes our way, we walk through the crooked doors again but we manage to stay straight. This album’s about the things I’ve been through.”/o:p