Atlanta hard rock outfit Royal Thunder have been making waves in the rock and metal blogosphere since their debut 2010 EP. Their sound is an amalgam of all the dadrock essentials: some blues rock, a little prog, a little 90s rock, and even a little classic metal—an odd sound for a band signed to Relapse Records. However, their unique place in the metal world has not yet held them back. Their 2015 album, Crooked Doors, even received some positive attention from NPR and Pitchfork for its potent psychedelic approach to a Rumors-like break-up album. Royal Thunder has established themselves as a worthy act, but can 2017’s WICK continue their legacy?
The first thing to point out about WICK is that it is a much poppier record than Crooked Doors. This is obvious just by glancing at the track times, none of which reach the 6 min mark. The proggier chunks of Royal Thunder are more or less gone on this album. The production is also much louder and thicker, stealing some of Doors’ quieter, more tender moments as well as some of the grit and replacing it with straight-forward cleaner, guitar riffs and big choruses. A more mainstream approach doesn’t always mean a miss but it does pose a risk for a band like Royal Thunder.
Bands that are beloved for their experimental nature that then chose to pivot to the center will certainly lose a portion of their original base but that sort of gamble can pay off if the band replenishes their lost audience with new band-wagoners. In order for this to happen, the pivot album has to be a slam dunk. Metallica fans will understand this. If this pivot album brought the contagious, instant classics like The Black Album did, then Royal Thunder would preparing for their takeover of the hard rock world. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
WICK suffers from a serious case of sameness. The entire emotional spectrum of past Royal Thunder albums is muted in exchange for bland, vaguely hard rock-inspired music that doesn’t really go anywhere. The opener, “Burning Tree”, intrigues the listener with some interesting vocal harmonies at first but the song never builds or follows through on any hooks like a good pop rock record should. The title track wanders to find its voice with half-assed rising drama and a boring solo. “Push” has a clever little riff at the beginning that’s ruined by a misplaced Adele-esque intro. “We Slipped” fades out with aimless attempts at atmosphere. The record is bloated with lots of filler clocking in at 55 minutes, suggesting that Royal Thunder really wanted something to stick.
WICK is not a completely a wash. “Plans” gives vocalist Miny Parsons a clean backdrop to show off her breathtaking voice and some of the longing from Crooked Doors is briefly recaptured while “Anchor” and the title track come close to delivering the big pop hit Royal Thunder is searching for. There’s also some flashes of experimentation in the instrumental choices from the cello on “Push” to the synths and touching choir on the closer, “We Never Fell Asleep”. However, these brief moments of something new aren’t enough to save a mostly tedious attempt at a pop album. Rather than a Black Album, Royal Thunder seems to have made the same move Killswitch Engage did with their 2009 self-titled album: an unfortunate, misstep after a genuine classic. Hopefully, like Killswitch, Royal Thunder uses this slip up to hone their talent and return with another hard-hitting album that’s more to their standard.
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You can check out WICK on Spinefarm Records.