Crooked Doors

Royal Thunder

Relapse, 2015

http://royalthunder.bandcamp.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/24/2015

It is tempting, but ultimately wrong, to call Royal Thunder’s second album a “breakup album.” That reductive label not only brings other, more famous breakup albums to the forefront but assumes that the songs are about one romantic relationship. In truth, a breakup means not only leaving a person but leaving a way of life, a state of mind, and perhaps a piece of your past that played a major role.

These themes run ragged through Mlny Parsons’ singing, which is at turns soulful, raw, bluesy and frontal assault rock and roll. Her voice is one of the twin peaks of Royal Thunder, the other being the guitar work of her ex-husband Josh Weaver. Despite the dissolution of the marriage, the pair still finds creative spark in working together, and that tension and emotion infuses this record.

That’s not to say it is a successful record throughout; despite the obvious sincerity and talent, the band’s approach to songwriting is a bit similar throughout, with too many plodding midtempo numbers that blend together with only Parsons’ voice and the occasional guitar flourish from Weaver rising up out of the murk. Although they are lumped in as a metal band and work on a metal record label, there is very little metal about this. It’s sort of prog-arena-hard rock with dashes of blues and soul. The oppressive metal atmosphere is brought on by the slow tempos, which create space and a feeling of slowly marching toward an uncertain, but likely unpleasant, fate.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opener “Time Machine” sets the mood perfectly, with a John Frusciante-inspired guitar lick to open the piece before the strident drums and Parsons’ regret-filled words fill in the space. Weaver turns the clean lick into a guitar haze and abruptly slows the song down in the center for a doom-laden prog-rock section before returning to the ether. “Forget You” is equally good, with one rhythm guitar grinding the song forward while the other plays riffs over top that snake around Parsons. It is on this song that the tough exterior Parsons displays shows signs of cracking, at least in the song’s bridge, and the sum is a bravura performance.

“Floor” tackles religious themes, which is an integral part of Parsons’ backstory; the Cliff’s notes version is that the former addict turned to church to fill the emptiness that drugs had been filling, but the particular non-traditional church she picked had cult overtones and she got the heck out, turning to music instead. But the feelings of that time period remain, feelings that Parsons and Weaver are trying to escape from along with the romantic tension and whatever other issues linger.

“Glow,” on the other hand, mixes both U2-esque arena rock (think “Bullet The Blue Sky”) with a dash of Southern country rock that is wholly fitting for this Georgia band and one of the album’s proud moments. It’s moments like this that show Royal Thunder’s potential, and Crooked Doors is full of them, but not necessarily in a coherent manner. The closing two-parter “The Bear” drops the guitar onslaught for piano and strings; it’s not really successful, but it’s honest.

The band’s visceral attack and emotion make up for the overlong, same-sounding songwriting. As said before Parsons and Weaver have talent to burn, but somehow Crooked Doors just misses the mark as a truly successful album throughout. Trimmed by three songs and given some focus, it would have been killer, but we’ll have to settle for a raw, honest and always-interesting “breakup” album of the best kind.

Rating: B

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