A Sound of Thunder: The Lesser Key of Solomon
Sometimes, you get hungry, but you can’t decide what to eat. You want a cheeseburger, but you want pizza too. Then someone brings up Mexican food and all you can think about is getting a big sloppy burrito with a side of refried beans. Then you drive by the local Chinese restaurant and want to eat sweet and sour chicken. Then you park in the Wal-Mart parking lot and cry because life is hard and you can’t figure out what to eat. What if there was a food that was all of those things combined? A Chinese sweet and sour refried pizza burger of sorts? Sometimes that happens in music too. Sometimes I want to listen to Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Accept, Manowar, Liege Lord, Metallica, Pentagram, Trouble, and Thin Lizzy all at the same time. For fans of heavy metal who want a smorgasbord of heavy/power/doom/speed/hard rock in one album, A Sound of Thunder delivers with thunderous competence.
A Sound of Thunder reside in the DC area, and are trekking the independent route. The Lesser Key of Solomon is the fourth album they’ve released, and represents a bit of a stylistic change from their more heavy/power style demonstrated on Time’s Arrow. The artwork perfectly represents what you will hear when you listen: a dark, mysterious adventure. While storytelling and lyrical flow have always been a staple, they really outdid themselves with this album. Every song is a story, and the story enhances the music in a bombastic and dramatic fashion. The band is never afraid to one up each other with a solo/drum fill/dramatic scream, but maintain cohesiveness in crafting the appropriate moods to represent the lyrics. A Sound of Thunder easily transitions between various heavy metal related genres to provide generous diversity and keep the listener interested throughout the entirety of the album. Even though each song can stand alone as a piece of music and a story, the album is an absolute pleasure to listen to as a whole.
The first thing one will notice about the band is Nina Osegueda. Like Dio, Nina is an absolute powerhouse of a singer despite her height. Nina howls like a vengeful wild witch cursing your family because you looked at her funny. On previous albums, Nina certainly showed that she deserves the title of the Queen of Hell. However, The Lesser Key of Solomon is easily her best performance yet. The diversity of the songs on the album allows Nina to really show off her range of emotions in her singing. From the hellish screams on “Udoroth”, to the tragic and powerful “Elijah”, and to the adventurous “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb”, it is clear that Nina doesn’t belong to the one trick pony “I am woman, hear me roar” class of belting every song with the same voice. Nina masterfully handles the album’s subject material with passion, grace, and fire.
Of course, no singer would have any ground to stand on without being backed by the rest of the band. Fortunately for Nina, she has three incredible musicians that elegantly match up to her talent. On guitar, Josh Schwartz gives us huge riffs, big hooks, and dazzling solos. He PERFECTLY fits the music with a warm, crunchy guitar tone that is never too heavy and always appropriate. Bassist and Keyboardist Jesse Keen stays right in the pocket for the groove, then comes out for a bass solo, harmony, or melody at just the right moment to add some extra spice with a delicious sound deftly mixed for maximum flavor. The keyboards are used expertly as well and are, again, mixed perfectly so that they’re not overpowering, as is often the case in the more symphonic styles of power metal, but instead support the music and provide the listener with a bit more detail. On drums, Chris Haren tells us when to bang our heads, and he knows quite well when to command us. Chris takes a more simple approach to drumming. Rather than overloading us with fills at every corner and distracting from the music, he plays very supportive drums and, like everyone else, flows from style to style with dexterous ease. If there is one thing to say about this band as a whole, it is that they are all extremely talented, diverse musicians who know when to shred, when to support each other, and how to write as one unit instead of four musicians competing for attention.
By this point, you get that the band is great at what they do. So are a dozen other bands, but can they write music? Oh, they most certainly can. As I’ve said so many times already, this album goes all over the place in a delightful way. Central to the songwriting of the album is a horror/doom atmosphere, which is also reflected in the lyrical content. The majority of the songs float around standard heavy metal, with some tracks diving deeply into power or doom metal. If you’re hungry for riffs, prepare for a gluttonous feast courtesy of Josh and Jesse. Because of the diversity of the album, some listeners may hook onto certain tracks faster than others, and may even dislike some of them. A lot of the songs don’t immediately click, but are “growers” that increase in value with repeated listens. The album is a bit front heavy, with the most dynamic and intriguing tracks dominating the front half and leaving the latter half a bit to be desired. I wouldn’t say that any of the songs individually are duds, but there are certainly times when one can become a bit bored.
As an entire package, The Lesser Key of Solomon is a great album that is not to be missed, especially by fans of heavy/power metal. Between Nina’s vocals, Josh and Jesse’s dynamic duo of guitar/bass riffs and solos, Chris’s consistent drumming, and the mostly excellent songwriting, A Sound of Thunder has given us a solid release. With standout tracks like the fiery “Udoroth” (with an incredible music video accompanying it!) or the epic “Elijah“, this album deserves a full listen. This is an exciting band that has proven they can consistently write great albums, and I look forward to hearing many more from them. Do not flush on this album.