“Time’s Arrow” marks the third studio album for Washington D.C. based metal quartet, A Sound of Thunder. Many bands seem to find their groove with the third record and that may be true for ASOT, though the songwriting for the album began before the group’s 2012 effort, “Out of the Darkness” even hit the market. They’re kind of prolific like that. In fact, they have already completed songs for album number four and “Time’s Arrow” doesn’t even see release until June 4, on the band’s own Mad Neptune Records.
A Sound of Thunder shopped the record to numerous labels, most of which were very receptive, but the feedback was similar from all: “Your sound covers too many styles, it needs to fit into a box we can package and promote.” For guitarist Josh Schwartz, vocalist Nina Osegueda, drummer Chris Haren and bassist, Jesse Keen, boxes are too confined to hold A Sound of Thunder.
A Sound of Thunder’s sonic signature is an amalgamation of various metal genres. It encompasses the likes of proto-metal, traditional metal, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and even power metal. Ultimately though, A Sound of Thunder is simply a metal band, and the product of generations of influences colliding to birth a brilliant new child. One can readily hear the influences of bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Deep Purple, but there are so many more flowing deeply beneath the current, including Hawkwind, who we’ll get to later.
“Time’s Arrow” clocks in at just over an hour, with 11 songs. It was preceeded this spring by the taster EP “Queen of Hell” which featured a special version of the song “Queen of Hell” with Benedictum vocalist Veronica Freeman joining Osegueda. There was also a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Trashed”, and the tongue in cheek, “Hello Nurse”. The EP acts as a nice table-setter for the album, and is a most own in its own right.
The album opens up with “Powerplay”, a track that really pulls in the classic NWOBHM feel with Josh’s crisp guitar work. This is a great rhythmic and driving song, with shouted background vocals on the chorus. The bass and drum breakdown before Schwartz’s melodic and fitting guitar solo adds just the right touch. New listeners get an immediate blast of Osegueda’s immense vocal prowess. She is among the new wave female fronting metal vocalists who eschew the typical symphonic, Gothic, and metalcore tags. She is Bruce Dickinson with an X chromosome.
The title track began its musical journey five years ago as a seedling in Schwartz’s brainpan, and it came to fruition as the underpinning of a short story by Haren. The song is an epic beast clocking in at almost 10 minutes. “Time’s Arrow” marks the centerpiece of the album despite being the second song in. It is packed with mammoth melodies, a hooky chorus, stellar individual performances, an intriguing lyrical theme, and huge vocals. Then there are the subtle nuances throughout. In short, it hits just the right note at every turn.
This week the band released the first lyric video from “Time’s Arrow” for the track, “I Will Not Break”. This might be the only song on the album short enough to fit a radio friendly format, but A Sound of Thunder doesn’t write music to fit inside a box. Bassist Jesse Keen kicks off the song which has an overall dark Arabian foundation to its sound. Lyrically, it’s a song about self-reliance, self-empowerment, and being your own person at all costs. Anyone feeling bullied should herald this one as a personal anthem. Offered Schwartz, who is the band’s primary songwriter:
“Jesse actually wrote the middle section of “I Will Not Break”, I think with something very heavy and aggressive in mind, and I went and made it all trippy by adding the keys and backwards guitar solo.”
“Broken Bridge” opens with a slow acoustic intro, then drops into a very modern stuttering riff followed by spiraling dual guitar that recalls classic Queensrÿche. The song bursts with flowing melody. Osegueda doubles her vocal line giving two stunning perspectives that culminate in one infectious harmony. Schwartz lays down some inspired work here as well before he closes it out with a haunting piano and keyboard outro.
As I wrote in my review of the EP, “Queen of Hell”, begins with a dramatic build of chanting “hail, Queen of hell!” The guitars then set the pace before the Queen herself, Osegueda lays down a spine-gripping, throat-ripping howl. Keen and Haren keep the rhythmic propulsion driving the song forward while Schwartz’s guitars do battle with the mammoth voice of Oseguada. Old school Judas Priest meets Gamma Ray, classic Black Sabbath meets Hammerfall: Traditional meets power metal. The fact that Osegueda’s voice alone crashes down like a sound of thunder; one massive sonic tornado and 1000 unleashed hell hounds, only adds to the glory of the beast.
Nina gives us her best ethereal vocal line on the haunting quasi-ballad, “I’ll Walk With You”. It doesn’t remain at a slow tempo for the duration, but it carries that angsty, melancholy feel throughout. Another strong and memorable melody line. Lyrically this is a nice Walking Dead love story.
Next up is the ballsy Sabbathesque, “My Disease”. Former Iron Maiden and Wolfsbane frontman Blaze Bayley duets with Osegueda adding a unique twist to the song and the album. Keen throws down a bold bass performance, and once again Schwartz is stellar on guitar. Haren’s drum work is at its most powerful, showing off his underrated talent. Honestly, while Bayley is wonderful metal vocalist, Osegueda simply overpowers him, making his presence here feel a touch unnecessary.
“Wastelands” fearlessly straddles the fence between traditional and power metal, ultimately championing the classics as it does on the Rush/Deep Purple-ish breakdown. I’d love to hear what A Sound of Thunder might do with a Hammond B3.
The band snakes into a bluesy Whitesnake style groove on “End of the Road”. Like most every track on the album, what truly elevates this song is Osegueda’s voice. She takes the brilliant performances of her gentlemen three, and pushes it all over the edge. Wait, did I ask what ASOT might sound like with a Hammond B3? Well my wish is granted as we get a real taste on the song’s Deep Purple inspired breakdown. The last three minutes of this song are one of my favorite parts of this record.
Closing it all out is Schwartz’s tribute to one of his favorite bands, Hawkwind, with “Reign of the Hawklords”. The group, which is still making records (they released their 25th studio album in 2012), is renowned for its progressive space rock style of sound. That influence embodies the ethereal fluidity of “Reign of the Hawklords”. A Sound of Thunder takes the classic Hawkwind style and brings it gracefully into the present, paying respect and homage without dipping into melancholy triteness. Longtime Hawkwind member, Nik Turner even makes a guest appearance on the alternate version of the song, which will appear on the vinyl version only. His flute performance and presence add further depth to the track. Trivia note: From 1972 to 1975, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister was the band’s bassist. He would be fired after an untimely drug bust and would go on to form Motörhead based on the last song he wrote for Hawkwind.
While A Sound of Thunder created the music it was the fans who made its production possible; raising over $10,000 through the band’s Kickstarter program. This allowed fans to get special package deals, and have some input into the packaging, including helping with the vinyl version of the disc. The money was used to complete the recording and production of the album. The band was humbly appreciative of every pledge and show of support and worked extremely hard to give it back tenfold with this record. I think they succeeded.
“Time’s Arrow” is easily A Sound of Thunder‘s best and most inspired album to date. They continue to set their own bar higher, and so far they’ve made the growth from one level to the next a seamless journey. A Sound of Thunder has been one of those under-the-radar gems that only the fortunate few have discovered. “Time’s Arrow” is the perfect time for the uninitiated to jump on the bandwagon as it is a shining example of what metal should aspire to in this era of often uninspired sonic drivel. As powerful and impressive as it is on first listen, this album bears repeated listening to truly grasp the grandeur and depth of the record. One really should get their hands and ears on the vinyl version.