Release Date: May 22, 2012
Record label: Relapse Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal, Doom Metal, Stoner Metal, Sludge Metal
With their debut full-length, Atlanta rock quadrangle Royal Thunder deliver on the unlikely promise offered by their self-titled 2010 EP: deep Sabbathian grooves with a distinct Southern twang fronted by a female vocalist-bassist with a killer banshee wail. On CVI, frontwoman Mlny Parsonz leads her bandmates through a thick rock hurricane that spins soaring melodies and searing heaviness in almost every direction. From the anthemic riff-ride of “No Good” and the moody, Earth-esque atmosphere of “Sleeping Witch” to the climactic nine-and-half-minute centerpiece “Blue,” Royal Thunder display a soulful sonic acumen that’s as dynamic as it is compelling.
Come the inevitable tussle for a spot on the 2012 end of year metal lists, you can expect to find Atlanta, Georgia’s Royal Thunder riding high. The band’s self-titled debut EP, rereleased by label Relapse in 2010, was a stormy Southern romp that simmered with potential. However, its first full-length, CVI, shows an astonishing progression in songwriting.
For a while there (well, most of the '90s and part of the 2000s), alternative rock and heavy metal were like oil and water: genres diametrically opposed both musically and philosophically, even though the four major Seattle bands that helped usher in the "modern rock" era to begin with were all somehow indebted to heavy bands in overt (Alice in Chains, Soundgarden) or subliminal fashion (Nirvana, Pearl Jam). Ironic, huh? Thankfully, Atlanta's Royal Thunder represents a new generation of bands -- and the fertile Georgia music scene, in particular -- capable of looking beyond those prejudices, and finding new ways to mix and match both styles, along with numerous musical antecedents and later developments, into curious new aural shapes. As a result, the quartet's debut full-length, CVI (literally the Roman numerals for 106, which apparently has cryptic importance to the group), frequently sounds like some ungodly jam session between Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Hüsker Dü! Especially when powerful statements such as "Parsonz Curse," "Whispering World," and "Blue" see singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz wailing like an SST-period Chris Cornell, while her complicit bandmates, Josh Weaver (lead guitar), Josh Coleman (rhythm guitar), and Lee Smith (drums) bash away on an endless sequence of hard/soft contrasts.
It's damn near impossible to escape the endless hackneyed tropes about moonshine and Dixie for any Southern band that dares to so much as hint at the blues or that lapses into fuzzy, bow-legged rock'n'roll. Writers love to romanticize Mississippi mud and Georgia moonlight almost as much as they dig name-dropping whitewashed rednecks like Skynyrd and Duane Allman: If your singer's got a twang, or the bassist grew up South of the Mason-Dixon, your fate's been sealed. You can't blame us, though; there is something mystical about the South, something wild and eerie and alluring that outsiders can only hope to taste.
Mlny Parsonz suffered stage fright before becoming the lead vocalist and bass player of Royal Thunder. “When I sang or played music, I didn’t want anyone to stare at me,” she said. So she sang in a separate room during the band’s first practice. When she opened her pipes for the first time, her bandmates burst into laughter.
Atlanta, GA's Royal Thunder are nothing if not ambitious on their Relapse debut. Over the course of this sprawling double album, the group showcase slower, moody, doom-tinged classic rock (yup, see "Sleeping Witch"), good, crisp rockers ("Minus") and tons of progressive, '70s styled, noodly arena rock. But, man, here's the rub: those soaring vocals, overtly long song lengths and arrangements that occasionally make you want to jab something in your eye? They're all skirting way too close to Mars Volta territory for comfort.
Mlny Parsonz' hair-raising howl on 2010 EP Royal Thunder branded itself with "Sleeping Witch." Returning here, that incantation, combined with down-tuned leadoff "Parsonz Curse," cries Heart covering Zeppelin at every spooky psych roar. Banshee control inherent to CPR pounder "No Good" could use a few more thunderous tempos, but beware Parsonz's hex. .