A Sound of Thunder - Time's arrow 4/5

Reviewed: 8-1-13


1. Power play
2. Time’s arrow
3. I will not break
4. Broken bridge
5. Queen of hell
6. Let’s start a fire
7. I’ll walk with you
8. My disease
9. Wastelands
10. End of the road
11. Reign of the Hawklords

Although the heavy metal art form is vibrant and flourishing in 2013, one pattern I’ve noticed is how many newer bands (and more than a few older ones, for that matter) can be neatly categorized in a cozy little stylistic compartment from whose boundaries they rarely if ever stray. From a reviewer’s standpoint, this is most convenient because we can write in shorthand with descriptions like “Band X worships at the altar of Running Wild” or “Band Y is retro thrash” or “Iron Maiden cloneage is the name of the game for Band Z”. It’s very simple, very concise. And from a fan’s standpoint, there’s a certain comfort level in knowing that if you love Running Wild, then you should check out Band X because you’re almost certain to dig them too. The trouble with that arrangement, of course, is that everything can become a little too safe, a little too cookie-cutter, a little too formulaic and, errrmmm, predictable.

All of the above is exactly why A Sound of Thunder is such a breath of fresh air. The D.C.-area quartet turned heads with their impressive ‘Out of the darkness’ CD in 2011, and now they’re back with the cryptically titled ‘Time’s arrow’, complete with deranged cover art from the mad-scientist-run-amok school. While ‘Time’s arrow’ is instantly recognizable as the work of the same band that created ‘Out of the darkness’ (and is certain to find favor amidst fans of the latter), A Sound of Thunder have grown in the interim and are now spreading their wings more than they ever did before. Sure, the band’s foundation remains squarely in the areas of traditional heavy metal and melodic power metal, but A Sound of Thunder are much more adventuresome than that staid description might suggest. Indeed, ‘Time’s arrow’ finds the band exploring and indulging their fascination with 70s heavy metal, progressive textures, extended song forms (6 tunes clock in at longer than 6 minutes, with the title track approaching 10 minutes), eerie/spacey sound effects, quirky arrangements, a Blaze Bayley duet, a wide variety of riffs and melodies, and even an homage to psychedelic rockers Hawkwind (in the form of “Reign of the Hawklords”). Through it all, the performances are top-notch, with singer Nina Osegueda belting out the lead vocals in an attitude-laden manner that is tough as nails yet sultry and seductive, guitarist Josh Schwartz drawing from a varied and interesting palette of guitar styles and sounds, and the rhythm section of bassist Jesse Keen and drummer Chris Haren holding the songs together while adding a generous dollop of flair and panache.

Put it all together, and ‘Time’s arrow’ is a 64-minute journey that never gets boring or threatens to wear out its welcome. Of course, all that creativity and uniqueness would matter little if the songs weren’t up to par, but A Sound of Thunder have once again excelled in that department. As usual, the faster, heavier, exhilarating tracks like “Power play” and “Queen of hell” grab my attention from the get-go, but the more I listen, the more I find myself ensnared by songs like the Tony Iommi-ish stomper “My disease”, the irrepressible lurching anthem “I will not break” (key lyric: “I won’t be silent/But I might be violent”), the rocker “Wastelands” (with a main riff that sounds like something Vivian Campbell might have played in the early Dio days, before a bizarre interlude in the middle throws everyone for a loop), the Whitesnake/Deep Purple bluesy groove of “End of the road,” or the twisted semi-ballad “I’ll walk with you”. A Sound of Thunder are gleefully throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the listener, like the mad scientists depicted on the cover art and band photos. The amazing thing is that it all works because the songs are well written, the performances are top-notch, and everything fits comfortably under the umbrella of A Sound of Thunder, so there is no lack of cohesion or identity.

The hell of it is that A Sound of Thunder’s uniqueness and subtlety are double-edged swords. We live in a society marked by vanishingly short attention spans, information overload, and a million distractions assaulting our senses from every direction every minute. ‘Time’s arrow’ is not a CD that you can digest in 45-second sound clips on Youtube, nor is it one that you can play mindlessly in the background while you’re paying bills or watching a ballgame. You have to pay attention because there’s a lot going on in this CD, and these songs weren’t constructed in rote, paint-by-number fashion. To those who are willing to invest the time and effort, though, ‘Time’s arrow’ is a thunderous gem that will continue to inspire and entertain long after the clones and narrowly compartmentalized followers and also-rans have been forgotten.




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