If you buy one album out this week, make it…
Royal Thunder: Crooked Doors
She grew from strict Roman Catholic roots, fell into drugs, dabbled in satanism and joined a Christian cult. Finally she drove off with her guitarist friend to form a rock band, and never looked back. Mlny Parsonz’s life alone makes compelling reading. All of which the Royal Thunder vocalist seems to summon in the darkly urgent curves and depths of Crooked Doors.
In terms of establishing themselves as ‘ones to watch’, the Atlanta rockers have already covered some ground. 2012’s CVI was a strong debut, though its domineering, woozy weight (spread across king-sized songs) tended to triumph over sharper edges – sometimes smothering Parsonz’s voice a little in the process. Not so with Crooked Doors, which irons out such kinks to lean, mean effect. While maintaining hints of doom and Led Zeppelin-infused psychedelia.
To a point, Royal Thunder feed into a similar heavy, brooding channel as fellow Atlantans Mastodon. Certainly that kind of weight is felt in tracks like Forget You, offset by brighter guitar flourishes and tastes of early Black Sabbath. Broadly speaking it’s an excellent addition to the nostalgic, yet convincingly ‘new’, rock that’s emerged from fresher faces in the last couple of years. Crobot cut some mean QOTSA-meets-Clutch chops; Kill It Kid modernise the oldest of old-school blues; Purson echo psychedelic rock of the late 60s/early 70s; and now Crooked Doors takes ingredients from several cooking pots, stirred up with Royal Thunder's own guts and hoodoo.
Time Machine paints an enigmatic, grunge-tinted opening picture, morphing into a pounding killer of a rock’n’roll chorus – as deep and bewitching as it is gratifying. Parsonz’s larynx-grabbing, flatteringly androgynous voice makes a perfect match for Josh Weaver’s guitar dynamics – which swerve between intoxicated grunge and collar-grabbing hard rock. Superb in the tantalising, primal likes of Glow; shorter, sharper songs than those of CVI.
Still, in all this fat-trimming, they haven’t exactly gone down the two-minute punk route either. Only a couple of tracks clock in at under five minutes. Numbers like Forgive Me, Karma are chock-full of mystique. And one of the album’s biggest earworms is a sprawling, beautifully layered ballad. Said earworm, One Day, is stunning. Pretty, delicate opening harmonies turn into a masterfully gut-wrenching chorus, and disorientated heartache in the bridge nods to Led Zep at their most moving.
A flash of pained cries, strains of strings and gentle keys in The Bear parts I-II, and they quietly disappear. An album that really rocks, and leaves a little mystery? Yeah, we'll take that.