A Sound Of Thunder – Time’s Arrow – Album Review

Regular readers here on NoVAMetalReview will know very well that A Sound Of Thunder (ASoT) are a local favorite of mine and good friends to boot, but before I get to the “meat’n’potatoes” of the review I’m going to remind myself that the point of this blog was to be true to the music and, as a result, provide something of a service to those who bother to spend their time to read what I have to say. In other words, I will always say it like I see it, honesty above all. Uh oh!, you might think, where is all this heading? Don’t panic, this is just as much a reminder to me, as it might or might not be anything more sinister… read on!

ASoT_TA_Cover

Firstly, I must say a big thank you to ASoT for honoring me with the privilege of providing me with an advance copy of the album, since it is often true that the first few reviews to hit the screen can set the scene for many that follow. Bearing that in mind, I decided that taking my time with this was the right thing to do, but I did scribble some notes to catch my initial impressions following the second or third play through. I have used these to compare against now I have lived with the record for a few days.

So let’s set the scene here a little, “Time’s Arrow” is the third full length album release from ASoT and in the grand scheme of things, especially for a relatively young band, follows pretty closely on the heels of the previous release, “Out Of The Darkness”, from 2012. In fact ASoT also managed to slip in an EP between these two, released in early 2013, which served as something of a sampler for “Time’s Arrow”, featuring “Queen Of Hell” as the EP title track, which also appears as the fifth track on the album. Check out my review of “Queen Of Hell” here: https://novametalreview.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/a-sound-of-thunder-queen-of-hell-ep/

In order to deliver a quality product, and like many other unsigned bands these days, ASoT ran a Kickstarter campaign to partly fund the record, which raised a little over $9.5K, which is a good amount for a relatively new band, and perhaps a pretty accurate reflection of how good “Out Of The Darkness” was. Without satisfied and hungry fans, raising such an amount of cash would have been a challenge. But notice, I said “partly fund”, so you can be sure ASoT have invested a significant chunk of their own money into the record, which I think is a strong incentive to keep everything honest, with a level of effort at or beyond 100%. When you think about it, spending other people’s money is easy – your own, less so…

One thing that did stay the same from “Out Of The Darkness” was the studio and producer, with a repeat performance from Kevin ‘131’ Gutierrez (While Heaven Wept, Shinedown) at the control console. This was a smart move in my opinion and one reason for the success of “Out Of The Darkness” was the crisp production, with I think an emphasis on ‘production’ being important. Today it is relatively easy to get your hands on recording equipment that in the past would have been the realm of $Million studios perhaps as recently as 10 years ago – now the same quality of equipment can be bought for under $10K or so with a bit of care – but that does not diminish the skill necessary to bring the best out of the equipment and more importantly get the best performance and composition for any particular song and artist. In my opinion ASoT and Kevin are very much “in tune” and as a result there are some nice production touches to the 11 tracks presented here. Leaving this topic for now, we’ll return to this briefly a little later.

So, enough scene setting, let’s get to the point here. “Time’s Arrow”, has a run time of an hour and 5 minutes, and a track count of 11 songs, so the average track runtime works out to just about 6 minutes, which is just about the same as “Out Of The Darkness”, so you can safely assume no great leap or change in approach has occurred. Overall running through the record in order everything seems to flow quite nicely, but I do wonder why the title track isn’t the opening track? In these days of iTunes and playlists it is very easy to re-order things and simply swapping the opener with “Time’s Arrow”, which appears second in the running order, seems to work just fine to me. However, the album opens with a slick track called “Power Play” which leaps out of your speakers (or ear buds…) with a pretty attention grabbing bass and drum riff, which is then joined by guitar in harmony. After a nifty, if brief, lead-off solo, Nina Osegueda’s now familiarly exceptional vocals kick in and we’re off and running. Do look out for the “Thunder Choir” who make their first appearance in the chorus of this song. The choir is made up of about twenty ASoT fans, many of them who contributed a certain amount to the Kickstarter fund campaign, who were invited to a recording studio for an afternoon of fun with Kevin Gutierrez and the band. The result of all this is massive chanted backing vocals in several of the songs, to great effect.

Second up we get the title track, “Time’s Arrow”, which is an opus! Clocking in at whisper under 10 minutes can ASoT pull this off? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” and to be honest it seems effortless. This is no mean feat by any standard, since the attention span of most folks these days seems to just about match that of a Goldfish… This song tells a story written by drummer Chris Haren and was originally produced as a demo by guitarist Schwartz as far back as 2008. The box set edition of the CD includes an expanded version of the song lyrics as a short story which I think is pretty darn cool. One thing I think we can safely say is ASoT songs are a far cry from the song-factory mill that churns out so much of the ‘radio rock’ bogging down the radio-waves these days. Despite its length, “Time’s Arrow” never feels the 9 minutes and 50 seconds that the track runs, and it has a darned catchy chorus that I have caught myself humming. A good sign indeed.

“I Will Not Break” up next is the first ‘single’ release from the album (released April 8th) and is a potential anthem for anyone and all that are in the need of a dose of self-empowerment.  ASoT have always delivered lyrics with a twist and any band who is able to weave in the word “wrath” (a sorely underused emotion…) as in “You are not worthy to feel all of my wrath” gets automatic high praise from me at least, and the line “I won’t the silent, but I might be vi-o-lent” in the context here is a winner. This is one of the short tracks on the record and at 3.57 might even count as radio friendly.

At this point we’re off and running, and I’m not going to dissect each individual track, since (a) this will become a short-story in it’s own right and (b) I don’t want to spoil all the fun. However there are few comments on specific tracks that I refuse to leave unsaid. “Queen Of Hell” pops up as the fifth track and it is like coming across an old friend (at least for those of us who bought the EP) and hearing it again only serves to remind me how damn GREAT this track is. A modern anthem for all that love classic metal; if this track doesn’t become entrenched in everyone’s top 10 tracks for 2013 it will be a travesty. From the moment the Thunder Choir kick in with the chant “Hail, Queen of Hell”, followed by Nina’s skull-scalping opening scream, this song begs you to crank the volume and play it again, only louder.

Rather surprisingly one of my favorite tracks after many repeated plays of the album is the much slower paced “I’ll Walk With You” which allows Nina a chance to back off and showcase her awesome dynamic range, taking us almost from a whisper in the verse, to an emotion wrought chorus. I believe this song is take on “The Walking Dead”, so it’s a sort of twisted zombified love song. I particularly like the way the song drops to an almost dead-stop around the 4 minute mark and then takes off with a really nice guitar solo from Josh.

ASoT have now established what I will declare to be a tradition, that of pitting Nina against some of the best established metal vocalists, and, while on “Out Of The Darkness” we are treated to a duel between John Gallagher of Raven, here Nina is given a workout with none other then ex-Iron Maiden singer Blaze Bayley on “My Disease”. It’s no surprise that Nina more than holds her own and if there ever was a need to reaffirm just how powerful her voice is, this answers that question emphatically in the positive. A feature of this track is a very deftly executed bass solo from Jesse Keen, which I believe is a first in the ASoT catalog.

So far I have avoided comparing any of the songs to this or that established band, simply because I really don’t think I hear that applying – I would hope this is taken as a massive complement, because I truly feel that ASoT have carved their own sound. Clearly there are influences, but they are classic influences and in the main I would say draw to the root and are not hanging on the coat tails of other bands that have already “done that”. So despite the band mentioning Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Purple and others as influences, they deftly avoid the trap of replicating anything that I can point to as derivative. Well played. Now, having said that, “End Of The Road” is as near a 12-bar blues standard as I think ASoT can ever get, and in this case I don’t think it at all unfair to compare it to something that Deep Purple or Whitesnake might have recorded, since both bands themselves draw hard on the blues. I particularly like the way the middle-eight breaks into an up-paced section that takes us to one of the most free-flowing solos that Josh Schwartz rips off his fret board.

A quick mention for “Wastelands” (track 10), which features a wonderful break-down section in the middle, that really stretches into jazz territory, and then builds with some nice solid bass lines from Jesse. As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but feel excited about this whole album. There’s an awful lot of really good stuff to go round.

The final track is an out and out homage to Hawkwind, and if you miss the hint in the music itself, the song title might do it for you – “Reign Of The Hawklords”. I have to be honest, this song has a very, very catchy opening riff and I keep finding it creeping into my head. The lyrics are a clever mix of Hawkwind song titles, and add this to the use of a Theremin which is a rather odd instrument that generates tones in response to hand movements around a couple of antennas, and the result is a modernized 70’s sounding track. Hard to explain, but great to listen to.

A couple of closing notes. One thing this record did for me, more than “Out Of The Darkness” did, is establish that Josh Schwartz is a guitarist of significant note and in particular he has his own recognizable ‘sound’. For me this is one of the most complementary things a guitarist can be anointed with, particularly with so many ‘rock radio’ players out there sounding like they all bought the same amp/effects unit. Throughout the entire length of this record Josh stamps his sound with authority over each and every song, and that is one of the key reasons that ASoT are carving such a recognizable sound.

Of course Nina Osegueda is another of those reasons, and “Time’s Arrow” allows her to reach beyond the confines of “Out Of The Darkness” and continue to deliver vocal acrobatics with such compelling ease. Now it would be wholly unfair to skip a further mention of Jesse Keen on bass, and as already noted this album provides more than a few feature spots for the bass to lead things, but underlying each and every song is some nice work. Finally Chris Haren on drums just powers all this along and makes it seem effortless – which probably means he’s working incredibly hard. It’s tricky to really feature the drums in a metal band, but there are some really nice touches throughout this album, and I really like the snare drum sound Kevin captured. It has a punch and snap to it that leaps out of the mix.

So are there any negatives? In my review of “Out Of The Darkness” I questioned the direction the band was taking – progressive or heavy metal – but this time around that seems to be an entire non-issue. If I really try hard, the only thing that did bug me initially, and still does to a much lesser extent, is the overall mix is a little low-end light – I found myself reaching for the bass control on the car stereo. Using controls from my guitar processor, I would have preferred a little more “growl” and a shade less “crunch” which would probably lend a warmer, punchy overall feel, but I am really splitting hairs here.

So, last comment aside, this is an exceptionally great record, but what is astounding to me is the fact that after doing all the hard work, paying for the recording (with a great studio and producer), with finished masters in hand, ASoT could not find a record label that was prepared to release this… at least at anything beyond a joke deal. What? What the hell has happened to the music industry? The comment received back was in essence “I personally love the record, but from a label perspective it doesn’t fit…” Huh? I assume that every band out there now has to fit into one of the neat little niche slots that guarantee the label a certain revenue or you’re out of luck. Anyway, ASoT has taken the bold (but perhaps only option) of forming their own label, Mad Neptune Records and the album will be released in the USA on June 4th, with the ‘rest of the World’ getting the record one day earlier on June 3th.

So to close, I just reminded myself to re-read my opening paragraph. Yes, ASoT are friends of mine and I am honored to say that. Yes, they are local favorites on mine and I am lucky that they are based in the Northern VA area – it means I get to see them a lot. But, without any bias whatsoever, this is a truly great record, one that is high on entertainment, powerful and through and through metal. I listen to a lot of metal and try to cast my net far and wide, but in this case A Sound Of Thunder have produced the first MUST HAVE album of the year for 2013. There isn’t one weak song here, the playing is exceptional and the vocals hit it every time – buy it. My score 9.5/10

You can pre-order the album through the band’s own web-store right here: http://asoundofthunder.bigcartel.com/category/cds

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One Response to “A Sound Of Thunder – Time’s Arrow – Album Review”

  1. That’s some review, and I can wholeheartedly agree with pretty much everything you said there 🙂

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