Live Review – A Sound Of Thunder – Empire 3/30/12

What? More “A Sound Of Thunder” coverage? Yes, and why not? They are a Northern Virginia outfit – you did notice the title of this blog-site, right? Anyway, hot on the heels of the “Out Of The Darkness” album review, came the album release show on Saturday 30th March, at Empire in Springfield, VA, which still happens to be one of my favorite places to see a band perform. So, stripped of the polish of the studio environment. could ASoT deliver the goods and live up to the very high bar set by the album?

A “CD Release Party” is often a defining moment for any band attempting to elevate themselves above the “local band” tag. No matter how popular an act might be in the local 50-100 mile radius from ‘home’ losing that ‘local’ label is just as much an attitude, as it is a tangible performance thing.  So are ASoT there yet? Read on…

For one reason or another I didn’t get a chance to hear a full set from any of the support acts, so my apologies to those bands. I am sure our paths will cross, but for now I’ll keep my opinions under wraps until I can do you full justice. I will say initially I was a little concerned that the turn out was a little thin, but then again I have seen Empire (a.k.a. Jaxx) with many fewer people for bands with allegedly much bigger names. However, by the time A Sound Of Thunder took the stage the audience had filled in and I would describe it as an enthusiastic throng – enough to get a vibe going.

Without any pretentiousness the band themselves sound-checked their own equipment – so no roadies taking on those duties just yet; that will come with time. First up was Chris Haren on drums and with hardly more than a couple of snacks per drum, Kevin Gutierrez (producer of the album and very occasional live sound man) was happy things were as they should be. Now that’s a smart move; get the guy who produced your CD to run the soundboard. Obviously a wizard with all things sound related, having Kevin run the desk was one less thing to worry about.

So, next to sound-check we get Jesse Keen who handles both bass and keyboards, so that answered the question I had rattling around in my head regarding who would play the (few) keyboard parts from the record. Jesse also contributes the only backing vocal to the live show, so he got to check both his and the main mic. Finally Josh Schwartz on guitar gave us a wake-up call with a nice loud blast from his Line 6 half-stack and Steinberger ZT3 guitar with a very pretty translucent blue finish. Not a particularly common heavy metal guitar choice, but as we were to discover, a very effective one.

So with a puff or two from the smoke machine, an intro modeled on the theme from The Exorcist, called not surprisingly “Exorcist” (according to the set list in front of me) opened the proceedings and immediately the band is firing on all cylinders. Chris hammering his drum kit into submission, Jesse anchoring the bottom end on the bass and Josh letting rip with some fiery guitar from the very beginning. This short intro lead into a new track called “Queen Of Hell”, destined for the next record I understand. And with this Nina Osegueda strides onto stage and immediately you can sense the confidence and presence that comes with a great front-man or more correctly front-woman in this case. Stamping her authority on the evening, Nina let rip from the very first note and as noted in the album review this is one special voice. Able to scream with the best of them (reminding me of Bruce Dickinson from Maiden on this opening track) but also supremely melodic it was clear we were in for a night with the band going for the kill.

Next up we get one of the obvious crowd pleasers from the CD, “Fight Until The End”, which has a very catchy metal groove to the verse, and one of those annoying hard to forget chorus melodies. It was at this point I noticed that Chris has one of the loudest snare drums on planet earth… that is one cutting loud drum (in a good way). I’m not one to notice drummers too often but Chris was obviously enjoying himself up on the drum riser with his double kick drums proudly displaying the ASoT name across them.

Moving on we got to one of my (current) favorites from the album, ”Night Witch”. Now this has quite a lot of production on the CD, so it was quite a challenge to translate this song to the live set and Josh mentioned after the gig that this took a few months in rehearsal to come together, but boy did it work. With a soft keyboard intro, the song blasts open with what felt like a smack to the head (in a good way you understand). Not an easy song to sing live I’m guessing, but Nina did the song proud. At the end it seems Nina felt the need to whip the band into shape with a leather belt, with both Jesse and Josh being on the receiving end – lucky for Chris he was safe behind his kit.

“The Day I Die” was the first of the longer tracks from the CD and it worked extremely well. It’s not easy to hold an audiences attention for an 8-minute epic, but with the help of Kevin on the desk adding nice touches echo and reverb this just worked perfectly. As the track ran it’s course Josh Schwartz took the (metaphorical) spotlight and treated us to a little over 2 minute guitar solo that was very tasteful and entertaining at the same time. Note to other guitarists reading this – it’s not at all about how many notes you can fit into the shortest time or how fast you can get from one end of the neck to the other. Technique is fine, but you have to be <musical> with it and Josh managed to do exactly that. I particularly liked the way he was able to both tease and educate us as to his roots with snatches of Accept, Maiden and Dio riffage cleverly interwoven into the solo. Nice!

The solo led into the title track from the CD, “Out Of The Darkness” and I had wondered whether John Gallagher (Raven) might make an appearance to recreate the lead vocal duet with Nina as on the CD, but it was not to be. Apparently John was otherwise engaged, and on reflection this was probably no bad thing since tonight was A Sound Of Thunder’s night to be in the spotlight. “Calate Alhambra” is another of the long songs from the CD, but this worked exceptionally well live, with it’s catchy main verse riff and some great vocal histronics from Nina.

Ok, confession time – I’m not a huge fan of drum solos… and next up we have, yep, a drum solo. Chris did a fine job and filled the 2-minute segment – technically I’m not qualified to comment. Would I have missed the solo had it not happened? Probably not, but give the man a break – it’s fun to have a thrash now and then. I did wonder why we didn’t get a bass solo…! Jesse is a somewhat quiet figure on stage and I would encourage him to open up to the audience, but that will likely come with more time. I did notice he is a great bass player and filled in underneath the guitar solos with some nice playing.

The rest of the night closed out the remaining tracks from the CD, with the exception of “This Too Shall Pass” which is basically an orchestrated number requiring at a minimum a string section, and I think this track is well left alone to remain out of the live set. I will comment that “Kill That Bitch” is great fun live and allows Nina a chance to get the audience singing “Kill her!, killer her!” which I can see a little downstream from here becoming something the band can have a lot of fun with.

The final song on the official set list was the bands namesake “A Sound Of Thunder” and this was greeted at the end with enthusiastic applause and yells for “one more song” , which led to the unscheduled addition of “Blood Vomit” with a pacey double-kick driven chorus which closed the night with a suitably heavy blast from the previous CD release “Metal Renaissance”.

After the show the band hung out and chatted with anyone and everyone, signed setlists, CD covers and all that good stuff, so doing all the right things that fans want. I was particularly pleased to see the band had patches for sale, so that will be an addition to my next denim which is in the planning stage right now. So the night drew to a close.

So, constructive criticism? Sure, this is a ‘young’ band, so it would be impossible for everything to be perfect, right? If there were one overarching thing I would say it was confidence – there’s still a hint of nervousness about the collective whole, which doesn’t need to be there at all. Individually that’s not really applicable, and Nina in particular is certainly in command of the whole thing, but taken as a bigger entity the band is not entirely cohesive. This is a hard thing to write down, but when a band is fully integrated it’s something like driving a perfectly balanced sports car; every specific aspect works in harmony with the bigger picture. ASoT are at the point where all the components are as needed, but we’re still tuning the suspension, adjusting the engine and figuring out the perfect tire pressures. Time and experience are the solution, more than attempting to force a specific change.

So did ASoT convince me they are moving up the ladder and heading for big-time ready (whatever that means…)?  Certainly! When I first saw ASoT it was supporting Accept just about 1 year ago and I was mildly interested. But a lot of work has gone on since then, both live, with many gigs, and in the studio, and all of this has been to the greater good.  The previous time I saw ASoT was perhaps 4 or so weeks back in a small pub in front of perhaps 30 people and they impressed me then despite the small PA and cramped stage area. It was clear things had advanced a whole lot, from that show alone, but this current show, with the benefit of a headline status and access to all the stage, plus the sharp ear of Kevin on the mixing desk, proved that ASoT are a match live to their latest CD, and indeed ready for bigger things. With another 8 dates lined up over the next few weeks anyone that catches a show will be in for a good time.

My score for this show: 8/10

For details of upcoming ASoT shows see: http://www.asoundofthunderband.com/

P.S. Amazon CD reviews have been 5/5 – nice! Currently CD is sold out on Amazon – wow! More coming soon.

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