Washington DC’s post-apologetic metal horde, A Sound of Thunder is a transparent enigma. With each album the band releases one knows exactly what to expect without knowing what to expect. Confused? On September 9, A Sound of Thunder will releases its fourth full length studio effort, The Lesser Key of Solomon. What fans can bank on are the band’s deft performances and stunning consistency: Guitarist Josh Schwartz will devise no end of twisted, spiraling fretwork and intriguing riffs, while the battery of drummer Chris Haren and bassist Jesse Keen will create a dynamic rhythmic foundation to backstop and propel each song. The titanium tendrils that envelope and elevate every track can be found in the stellar vocal prowess of Nina Osegueda whose powerful delivery and knack for emotive nuance set a standard few can singers can hope to achieve. Even producer Kevin “131” Gutierrez (While Heaven Wept, Raven, Shinedown), who has helmed A Sound of Thunder’s previous two efforts will once again help the band realize its crisp, melodic and heavy signature. The enigma of A Sound of Thunder can be found in the band’s ability to evolve with each record, staying true to its unique style while aspiring to new heights, or in the case of The Lesser Key of Solomon, dark caverns. The quartet continues to stymie critics and metal elitists who cannot handle an artist not readily labeled by genre and sub genre.
The Lesser Key of Solomon takes A Sound of Thunder into the deeper recesses of the group’s sound, balancing ethereal with eerie and angst with poignant buoyancy. Now, four albums into their still young career, the members of A Sound of Thunder have immortalized some of their most inspired performances to date. Those expecting a repeat of 2012’s Out of the Darkness album or 2013’s Queen of Hell EP and Time’s Arrow record, will have to re-adjust expectations. In fact, save for the aforementioned consistency of performance, the only thing one should bring into any A Sound of Thunder album is an open mind for where the latest journey will transport them.
The new album encapsulates all the trademark elements of A Sound of Thunder record, but this time the band dips deeper into the dim realms of its sound while also pushing into progressive and more expansive territory. Unlike previous efforts, the band kept The Lesser Key of Solomon to themselves, with no outside guest vocal cameos as they did with Blaze Bayley, John Gallagher and Veronica Freeman in the past. This is 100% thunder and 100% Osegueda as she once again offers up new vocal dimensions throughout the album’s 10 tracks. The only exception is a piano cameo on the album’s climatic closer, “House of Bones”. More on that later.
The album opening instrumental, “Nexus of Realities” sets an ominous tone and would work well as a precursor to the band’s live performances. “Udoroth” follows with a driving, anthemic headbang worthy, fist-shaker. Thick riffs and a spiraling chorus combine with Osegueda’s mammoth vocal attack for a beast of an opening volley. The bridge finds Nina channeling her inner King Diamond, as she does notably on this record. “Fortuneteller” opens with a rolling crusher of a guitar line from Schwartz. Osegueda’s layered vocals add depth and atmosphere to this rocker.
The album’s next two songs link together in a darkly tangled ghost story. “The Boy Who Could Fly” recalls something of “I’ll Walk with You” from Time’s Arrow. An acoustic intro paves the way for Nina’s haunting and desolate delivery. Sorrow permeates the balladesque song, and Josh’s solo hits just the right note. This takes the listener into the eerie intro for the near 10-minute saga, “Elijah” which continues the tale of the boy who could fly. The song begins in a manner which recalls the Welcome to My Nightmare era of Alice Cooper; the band’s modern day equivalent to Cooper’s “Steven” from “Years Ago”. “Elijah” is a sonic leviathan, twisting and turning with discordant unease. And Nina Osecanyouscream delivers with resplendent brutality. The entire band conjures up inspired epicness on this one.
As fantastically realized as the first half of the record is, the second half of The Lesser Key of Solomon is arguably even better. A Sound of Thunder taps its Dio vein on “Master of Pain”, offering up its own brand of aphotic ecstasy. Schwartz’s guitar solo taps into the 70’s influence that resonates throughout the band’s catalog. Such influence can be found in the Hammond B3 atmospherics on the eight-minute-plus, “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb”: The guitar and vocal lines sway in mesmerizing ascendancy, showcasing one of the album’s gems. The dancing bells add a spirited to touch to the latter third of the song and Schwartz delivers some of his best solo work here.
“Black Secrets” is a tasty little track with a bluesy feel to its intro. This is one of the album’s most melodic pieces and could easily be a single in a world that still cared about singles. The record’s final two tracks cover the last 15 minutes of the album and make for a decadently superb finale. “One Empty Grave” finds Osegueda putting her throat through the paces from beautiful and melodically hypnotic, to bombastic, sing-songy, and of course pulverizing and powerful. The masterpiece of the album though may very well be “House of Bones” which begins with the album’s lone cameo from highly regarded pianist Loston Harris. He gives the intro a very jazzy yet spooky N’awlins feel that bassist Keen picks up with a deftly delivered floating groove. It all sets the mood for the swingy vibe that leads to Osegueda’s commanding voice. “House of Bones” is the album’s most intriguing track and the least like the other nine before it, from my perspective.
The Lesser Key of Solomon is an album that bears repeated listens to truly appreciate the depth and dimensions A Sound of Thunder achieves. Every performance delivers without exception, and the band has once again raised the bar for its own future efforts. While The Lesser Key of Solomon likely won’t end up on the popular critic’s choice year-end lists, it is a most worthy entrant as one of the better metal releases of 2014. In short, A Sound of Thunder have created another masterpiece with The Lesser Key of Solomon, so stick that in your sub genre and smoke it.