Royal Thunder – Birmingham, Mama Roux’s - 27 November 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Friday, 22 December 2017 04:40

There’s no denying it: spirituality and the occult are making a big comeback in rock and metal. While both took pride of place in heavy music’s formative days, they largely fell out of favour as lyrical themes began to focus more on politics, social issues and personal demons, becoming the sole property of nostalgia acts, stylistic hold-outs and gimmick groups as heavy music moved on from its roots. But now, it’s coming back in a big way, championed by the likes of Ghost, Purson and Avatarium, all proving that the old ways can still sometimes be the best. Which brings us to tonight’s show – a triple-threat bill of doom-infused occult-ish rock and metal bands, playing in the birthplace of metal no less.




As a venue, Mama Roux’s is something of an oddity – essentially a warehouse space designed to look like a New Orleans street, it evokes a sense of theatricality which perfectly complements the sound of openers Kroh. Doom metal through and through, the band venture so deep into low-end sounds that their riffs show up on the Richter scale, their sound booming around the cavernous confines of Mama Roux. Despite being the opening act Kroh still pull in a respectable crowd, albeit one which is sadly diminished from the near sell-out they enjoyed just a month earlier at the release party for their new EP, ‘Pyres’. It doesn’t deter the band at all from putting on a fantastic performance however, the thunderous fuzz that accompanies each riff shaking away the cobwebs as the band burn through the heaviest set of the evening – not a bad way to start proceedings by any stretch. The band’s bass tone is so menacing that it seems to have its own presence and vocalist Oliwia Sobieszek is mesmerising, her sense of theatricality and ethereal tones perfectly distilling the essence of primordial metal.




Next up are fellow local doom-merchants Alunah, playing their first ever show with new vocalist Siân Greenaway. Whilst it’s not a “Sammy Hagar replaces David Lee Roth” situation, the fact is replacing any vocalist whom fans have come to know and identify a band by is no easy task. Yet, Siân hits the ground running, quickly stamping her own vocal style on the band’s back catalogue and showing that Alunah haven’t lost any of their characteristic sense of doom-laden melody. A doom metal Led Zeppelin to Kroh’s Black Sabbath, Alunah offer a more blues-inspired take on the style which shakes things up stylistically. The tremendous low-end of doom still registers through Alunah’s set, but we get flourishes of guitar which serve as a counterweight to the heaviness, getting the crowd bouncing along nicely. As far as first gigs go, Alunah couldn’t be in a better position, playing amidst a stylistically similar bill and to a hometown audience, putting on a strong set which showcases Siân’s vocal prowess brilliantly, even if the between-songs patter is decidedly (and understandably) light at this stage.


With two out-and-out doom metal bands backing them up, you’d be forgiven for thinking you know exactly what kind of band Royal Thunder are without ever hearing a note. And, you’d be totally wrong. Doom most definitely does seep in at the edges of their sound, but Royal Thunder inhabit a sonic landscape more in common with Jefferson Airplane or The Doors than they do Cathedral or Candlemass, blues-inspired guitar licks clashing head-to-head with a stunningly powerful performance from vocalist Mlny Parsonz to make something which sits on the fringe of rock and metal, but embraces classic pop sensibilities. The underground music scene seems barely capable of holding this band, their sound so much bigger and more stadium-ready than many bands who have made the jump up in the past couple of decades, the sense of histrionic performance making every note sizzle with intensity.


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Though each inhabits a decidedly classic-minded sonic landscape, there isn’t a single band on tonight’s bill that hasn’t released a record in the last twelve months. For Royal Thunder, their record ‘Wick’ makes a strong showing in the set, the band starting with album opener ‘Burning Tree’. Much as it did on the record, ‘Burning Tree’ serves as a headlong dive into the sound of the band, its rhythmic rolls and crashes capturing perfectly the power that this band possess. The stand-out however, is ‘April Showers’, a track which could give some of the best vocalists on the planet a run for their money, its Fleetwood Mac-ish marriage of power and atmosphere making it an absolute delight to finally hear live.


The setlist feels decidedly shorter than one would hope, but the quality is supreme throughout Royal Thunder’s show, the band not letting up for a single moment. When singing, Mlny is an entity to behold, holding the same level of burgeoning energy as Jim Morrison, Stevie Nicks or a young Eddie Vedder and yet once the song ends, the spell is broken and she is chatting to the crowd warmly. The band’s ear for engaging rock/metal/pop hybridism is immense, each member’s talents brought to the fore as they would have been back in the days of the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Thin Lizzy, when every member of the band sizzled – or else. The encore feels like it rolls around far too soon, but the band end on a hugely triumphant high, putting on a beautifully minimalist rendition of ‘Plans’ with Melny and guitarist Will Fiore the only members onstage. Stripping their sound back, the performance is massive, powerful and intimate all at once, straying deep into soul territory as the pair lay down a stunningly fitting end to the show.


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‘Wick’ has (quite rightly) made its way onto many critics’ lists for “Best Album of the Year”; its tones resonating with ears in a way that so few bands manage to now. But it is in the live environment where Royal Thunder really, truly come into their own; a captivating act with performances which fill the entire room completely, possessing excellent songs to boot, this is a band that stand out as one of the most exciting acts on the scene right now. Royal Thunder won’t play intimate venues like Mama Roux forever – this is a band that have the makings of something much, much bigger. Get on this ASAP.


PHOTO CREDIT: All photos by the author. © Über Rock.


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