The go-to opening line when talking about Royal Thunder is that they’ve toured with metal bands, but they’re not a metal band. While that’s undeniably a true fact – being based in Georgia ultimately leads to a few big names in metal ending up in the phone book, even if a heavier focus of classic rock is this band’s forte – it feels as though it ignores some of the more in-depth details about Royal Thunder. Take, for example, the fact that frontwoman Mlny Parsonz and guitarist Josh Weaver escaped the indoctrination of a Christian cult, the experience of which was the inspiration for the song Floor from their 2015 album Crooked Doors. While that may be an extreme example, it’s the sort of insularity that’s imbued in Royal Thunder’s music that’s often overlooked.
Third album Wick takes a similar road, yet it takes multiple listens for its effect to really take hold. Initially, it’s easy to see what Royal Thunder want to do – the sort of sweltering, groove-driven hippy-rock that had its main peak during the late ’60s – but it feels like they can’t grasp it. The whole thing feels too open-ended and structurally lacking to be seen as successful. But with each subsequent listen, Wick begins to take hold, and what’s left is an album that’s definitely flawed, but at its best can provide some stunning moments that could go toe to toe with the pioneers of such a style. And in no small part, this is down to Parsonz’s vocals, a swirling, lucid howl of a voice that works in such a way as to drive the instrumentation rather the other way around. Just take lead single April Showers, which downplays its weaving guitar and bass to let the strident vocals drive the melody in what is the best example on the album. Then there’s Plans, the starkly raw ballad that blurs away any defined edges of the melancholic guitars and drums to allow Parsonz to do her best wailing Janis Joplin impression to fully accentuate the sense of loss that permeates the songwriting of the entire album.
It’s an interesting style, and with the fuzzier, less sharp production style, it’s as close to a truly authentic recreation of that heady, ’60s psychedelic rock sound as you’re likely to get. The open-endedness does succumb to its least desirable conclusion eventually though, particularly at the end with The Well which goes for an esoteric bluesy rumble but just ends up plodding, and We Never Fell Asleep which doesn’t know how to end so sees the album tail off with a minute-and-a-half of blurry, saturated world music vocalisations. It’s enough evidence to imply that Royal Thunder aren’t completely comfortable with their more hazier, more restrained style just yet, even if the rest of the album does do a lot in terms of both skill and variety, like the wonky, roiling drumbeat of Tied, the hip-swinging grooves of We Tripped or the meaty blues-rock riffage of Turnaround and The Sinking Chair that factor some much-appreciated pure power into the equation.
And yet, that’ll probably be what puts off fans of classic rock from investigating Royal Thunder. Theirs is most certainly a throwback sound, but one that’s pulled off with a lot more tact, using it as something of a base to build their own, more diverse sound on instead of just aping older bands wholesale. Even if it does require some effort to reap the rewards, Wick sees Royal Thunder trying something new for a slew of acts who are frequently harangued for their lack of interest in anything outside of set-in-stone influences and paying off handsomely. Sticking with Wick is the only way to get the full benefit.
For fans of: Stevie Nicks, Big Brother And The Holding Company, Blues Pills
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Wick’ by Royal Thunder is out now on Spinefarm Records.