The great thing about heavy metal (apart from, well, most of the things about it) is how many different moods it can summon. From the most decrepit, wizened metal crone (hi, hello, how are you) to the most casual churchmouse of a listener, metal can carry us into majesty, celebration, foreboding, sorrow, anger, contemplation, strength, and about a million other waypoints in between. But because most of us aren’t built for just one thing all of the time, often the most successful bands are the ones that can gather those disparate moods together while maintaining a clear identity.
There’s a clear sense in listening to A Sound of Thunder that the focus is always on songwriting first, with everything else – solos, chorus melodies, instrumental breaks, and so forth – building off of that initial scaffolding. The immediately gratifying payoff of this approach is that every song on The Krimson Kult is a self-contained whole that sticks with the listener after just one or two listens. Think, for example, of the first time you heard Dio’s “Holy Diver.” Did it take much longer than those first five minutes to get the song wedged in your skull forever? There’s a somewhat similar alchemy at play in this album’s sort-of-title track, “The Rise of the Krimson Kult”: the band rolls out a killer riff that grounds the song (and they never rush it or fancy it up too much), and from there they build a dramatic narrative with an earworm chorus and subtly crescendoing accompanying touches like multi-tracked backing vocals and some unassumingly deft fills from drummer Chris Haren.
“The Rise of the Krimson Kult” also illustrates one of the most fascinating aspects of the album, which is the way in which it uses the many languages of heavy metal to talk about and reflect on the realest shit of the last several years. Although many of the album’s lyrics can be read on the surface as fantasy and spooky metal mysticism, you’d almost have to be intentionally obtuse not to recognize the allegory. The title track is the clearest case of all, serving as an outraged indictment of those responsible for the January 6th insurrection, with the “krimson kult” clearly representative of Donald Trump and his MAGA followers. The message takes an already heavy song and gives it a greater gut punch with the band’s withering eye turned towards these “children of the Klan.” The album’s other songs are slightly less pointed, but still work across multiple levels, with “Orb Weaver” spinning a tale ostensibly about a monstrous spider that could easily be seen as allegory for people peddling and profiting from conspiracy theories, and “Grave Troopers” paying tribute to health care professionals and other frontline workers who have continued to put themselves in harm’s way throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
But you may be thinking, “Hey, lyrics are fine, but also wasn’t there some fucking heavy metal up in here?” Friend, I see you, and a careful application of the scientific method has revealed the intrinsic presence of some fucking heavy metal up in here. Some of the sunniest tunes offered up on The Krimson Kult play up the vintage vibes, as on “Behind the Light” with its tambourine and cowbell backing an utterly infectious chorus, or on “The Golden Age,” which kicks off with a synth stab that sounds a teensy bit like Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” before it lopes into a bluesy shuffle absolutely guaranteed to move your hips. “Grave Troopers,” though, blasts out of the gate with such a fiery charge that you will assume, as I did, that A Sound of Thunder spent an unhealthy amount of time grinding up and snorting the first three Iron Maiden albums off an immensely regal mirror, given the snaky guitar harmonies and Jesse Keen’s admirable Steve Harris bass gallop.
Nina Osegueda continues to be one of the most underappreciated vocalists in heavy metal, and The Krimson Kult is a wonderful showcase for her tremendous range and charisma. A satisfyingly mystical tune like “Orb Weaver” allows her to hit both the upper and lower end of her range, while the manic, B-movie surf-metal schlock of “Beach Murder Party” (following in the proud tradition of past Sound of Thunder curveballs like “Queen of Hell,” “Kill that Bitch,” or “Punk Mambo”) lets her sneer and coo and cackle and scowl and scream rudely all over the place. Some of her most direct and pure singing, though, comes on the bewitching “Wizard of Crow County,” a twangy, Southern gothic piece that blossoms into a power ballad.
One of the most righteously heavy tunes on the album is “The Fury of the Anacostia,” which starts off with an ominous piano preview of the song’s main theme before taking off into a heavy blues stomp that wouldn’t have sounded terribly out of place on Sabbath’s Vol. 4. The song’s lyrics are among the album’s best, anthropomorphizing the D.C. area’s Anacostia River in order to talk about our planet’s rebellion against human pollution and environmental degradation.
The album closer, “Do It All,” is another swaggering shuffle, but the chord progression gives it an interesting echo of Bruce Dickinson’s “King in Crimson” before it fades into an outro of flamenco-flavored acoustic guitars and hand percussion. The generally darker tone throughout The Krimson Kult means that it pairs beautifully with recent albums from other American metal heavy hitters like Sanhedrin’s Lights On or Pharaoh’s The Powers That Be, but A Sound of Thunder is also an absolute no-brainer for fans of bands like Helion Prime, Tanagra, Unleash the Archers, or Seven Kingdoms. The Krimson Kult is both a fascinating left turn and a continuation of the band’s core strengths. More than any of that, though, it’s just a tremendous heavy metal album. Isn’t heavy metal great? A Sound of Thunder thinks so, and I hope you do, too.