I was late to the party on Royal Thunder, discovering them in 2013 only after running into their 2012 album “CVI” on some site’s list of the year’s best albums. Listening to the sample track, I could immediately see why someone would hail that record as list-worthy. Heavy, moody, blues-laden rock with an amazing female vocalist over the top—what’s not to like?
Fast-forward two years, and that female vocalist, Mlny Parsonz, has gone from amazing to sublime. In interviews I’ve read, she is humble and underestimates her talent as so many great artists do, but everytime I hear her voice on this album it reignites total awe in me. Thing is, while she has grown about ten times stronger, the band actually grew lighter in sound. “CVI” was never metal, but it could be heavy and was often quite dark. When “Time Machine” opens “Crooked Doors,” on the other hand, is it disarmingly (even alarmingly) poppy. So much so, in fact, that it threw me for a serious loop and left me very perplexed about this album overall. I really wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I felt there was some mystery to be unlocked, so I persisted. When the veil was finally drawn aside, I realized the rewards here are virtually endless.
“Time Machine” is a great song with a rollicking chorus, but “Forget You” is where the disc first really sinks in its teeth. Parsonz is an electrifying force here, her tone seething with emotion, particularly on the line, “You better run for your life.” Much of this album’s lyrical content was based on Mlny and (then-husband) guitarist Josh Weaver’s time in a Christian cult. They escaped it, but the profound effect it had on her is palpable, supercharging these songs with tension and grit. “Floor” is one such song, and one of my absolute favorites, storming forward at a furiously energetic pace. It is quickly matched by “The Line,” which has the most amped-up and riveting chorus of the whole record. While Parsonz is a vocal giant throughout the entire album, she is nothing short of a wrecking ball here, causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand up everytime I hear this track.
Even after “Crooked Doors” began to draw me in, it kept a few surprises in check. “Glow” is a song that didn’t stick at first, seemingly passing without notice; but in time I realized just how excellent it is. That’s mainly due to its final moments where once again Mlny is the star, belting out the lyrics with a crazy level of intensity. And then I struggled for a time with the final three tracks: “One Day,” “The Bear I,” and “The Bear II.” That was largely because, as much as this record shows a musically kinder, gentler Royal Thunder, these songs take an even broader step in that direction. “One Day,” while seemingly light in tone, ends up being one of the best showcases of all for Parsonz’s remarkable voice. By the end she is so wound up that her passion is shooting out of the speakers like lightning bolts, threatening to boil your brain. “The Bear I” is even more of a departure, a straight-up blues ballad that provides a different forum in which she shines again. “The Bear II” is marked by tinkling piano and cello, a quiet song much aligned with material from Antony and the Johnsons. In this setting, Parsonz almost sounds like an entirely different singer, but she is equally stunning. It is an unexpected end to this profound album, yet in time it proves to be a fitting one.
I was fortunate to see the band live in June, and they were incredible. Clad simply in black leather pants and a white button-down shirt with rolled sleeves, her black hair hanging in her face and a sheen of sweat glistening on her forearms, Parsonz was a certifiable rock goddess. There are plenty of female-fronted hard rock and metal bands, and some great ones at that, but Mlny goes unmatched in terms of pure vocal power and sincerity. “Crooked Doors” would be nowhere near the same without her.
Enter the doorway: https://royalthunder.bandcamp.com/album/crooked-doors-deluxe-version