I have to admit that I wasn't expecting an album by Thunderstick to cross my path in late 2023. Its title is ironic, given that this drummer used to wear a mask to perform back in the eighties, when he drummed for Samson; during lockdown, the rest of us merely caught up. I'm not yet working in a cage though. He did that as well. I should add that all that was just before I found rock music in 1984, as he'd left Samson by that point and was realising a solo album that I don't recall. Well, he's worked here and there in the decades since, and he put a new version of his own band together in 2016 with an album, Something Wicked This Way Comes..., following a year later. Six years on and here's a second one.
It's a generous album, running almost eighty minutes but I believe everything is new material but for two late tracks, so I guess it's a double album. It didn't start well for me, with a drag of an intro with dismal voicework that sounds like it should either back a shot on VHS horror feature or serve as the entrance music for a local wrestling heel that we can boo over. However, Torn 'n' Twisted is a decent enough opening track proper and Snakebite grabbed my attention, especially through the lead vocals of Raven Blackwing, about whom I know little, except that she is not the "polygamous ninja" of that name locked up last year in Utah. She's a generation older and hails from Kent.
She's good on Torn 'n' Twisted, delivering a powerful vocal over a relatively straightforward heavy metal song with a good guitar solo. However, she utterly nails Snakebite, which is really a heavied up old school rock 'n' roll song. It highlights how she's really a rocking blues singer reminiscent of someone like Joanna Dean and she provides a serious energy to this band. She doesn't roar all the time but, when she does, as on Those Daze, for example, we pay attention, and, once we're paying attention, we start to realise a lot of what else she's doing when she's not being emphatic.
It doesn't always work. There's a soft intro to Warhead—well a soft song, really, that serves as the intro to the near ten minute epic Warhead and I wasn't sold on any part of it, hers included. When it kicks into higher gear around the four minute mark, she immediately owns it and there's all the nuance and depth that it needs. It isn't just her sounding weaker on that soft intro either, as the backing music echoes her voice so closely that it stops every time she does and that feels all sorts of wrong.
And it isn't that she can't do soft, because she does it to start out the very next song, Snowfall in Space, where it works very well indeed. Later, Dawn of the Crystal Night is a real stalker of a song and, while the guitars rule this one, a good part of its success is Blackwing's soft vocal. She's even more nuanced on I Close My Eyes, the ballad that wraps up the album with yet another excellent guitar solo. So she can absolutely do soft. It's just that that intro song to Warhead feels weak and dare I say out of place.
It's good to hear those strong guitar solos, because this seems to me to be an album of two halves. The first half is mostly hers and the band often seem to be happy with that, dotting a strong guitar solo here and there. I'm a big fan of Snakebite, which delves into slide guitar but it's the standout of the first side. There are other highlights there to be found, but it's fair to say that most of them are her, all the way to her duetting with herself to close out Snowfall in Space. It's when we reach Thunder, Thunder 23, which is nine songs into this behemoth of an album, that it feels like the rest of the band decided to share that spotlight and it's about time.
This one's a blistering old school metal track with a much faster pace than anything earlier on the album. The drums dominate from the outset, Thunderstick making us wonder why he didn't speed up like this a little sooner. Blackwing is good too, but everyone else is finally up there with her. The guitars are joyous, both in the riffing and the solos, courtesy of Pete Pinto and Dave Butters, along with a string of guest guitarists. It's a well crafted song and everyone steps up to the plate, with a strong result.
Valkyrie Warriors follows suit, as does Go Sleep with the Enemy (I Dare Ya), so obviously a worthy single. I'm happy to see that the band thought so too, releasing it that way after Torn 'n' Twisted and before Snakebite. What's frustrating is that, for the most part, the most complete songs are deep into the second half of the album. Snakebite is early, but the album comes alight for me with Thunder, Thunder 23 and continues in that way through most of the rest of the songs, including the softer ones that close it out.
That means that this is a decent album and it's still growing on me, but it's longer than it needs to be. Ditch the intro and Warhead and a couple of the songs that feel like filler and there's a strong and tight three quarters of an hour of new music. Well, mostly new because there is that pair late on that were on Something Wicked This Way Comes... too, Go Sleep with the Enemy (I Dare Ya) and I Close My Eyes, but I hadn't heard them there and they're excellent here. Welcome back, folks!