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Esoteric and unusual epic metal - 85%

Jophelerx, July 9th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1989, 12" vinyl, Dance Plant

While most of what I listen to can be considered at least relatively obscure, most of it falls within one scene or another; USPM, thrash, DSBM, goth rock, trad. doom; however progressive a band might be, they almost always fall into one specific genre or two. Thunder Rider's strange, majestic release Tales of Darkness and Light could technically be considered epic heavy metal, but it really doesn't sound like any band, epic heavy metal or otherwise, I've ever heard, and that's something I very much like about them. It almost never happens, but once in a great, great while a band will come along with a sound so different from anything else out there that it's difficult to ascertain where they even drew influence or in what genre they belong. Germany's Existence is one, who also happen to be epic heavy metal but sound very little like Thunder Rider or more "traditional" epic heavy metal (Manilla Road and/or Manowar-inspired stuff). Maelstrom is another, I suppose; it's a bit easier to classify, but really, who ever heard of neoclassical/technical/progressive power/thrash with death metal influences (no, I'm not joking)? The problem with these bands is that they often tend to suck or at least be uneven, since they're pioneering an entirely new sound with virtually no basis from which to draw inspiration. Thunder Rider, though, manage to succeed much more often than they fail, thankfully.

The band makes heavy use of keyboards to increase the atmosphere of the songs, through rarely to carry the primary melody; this certainly isn't europower or Dream Theater keyboard wanking, it's done fairly tastefully, despite being prominent at many points throughout the songs. In this aspect they remind me of a darker, more metallic Lordian Guard, although Thunder Rider still don't sound extremely metallic despite riffs that one would never confuse for rock or anything else. The thing is, the riffs aren't that weird, it's just the structure and the way they interact with the keyboard and vocal lines that makes the songs sound unusual. For one, the guitar tone is pretty smooth and thin, and the riffs often drop out in favor of a keyboard interlude or some atmospheric leads or something. Along with vocalist John Blackwing's inimitable nasally bellow, this works to create a very ethereal atmosphere, sort of like Sacred Blade/Othyrworld but not enough that I'd really say the bands are particularly similar; that's just the closest comparison I can make in regards to the atmosphere.

Thunder Rider also share some similarities with the obscure band Stormbringer (IL) in that they make use of relaxed, laid-back leads throughout to provide a sense of calm that melds well with most of the riffs, which are typically dark and spacey. "Rain Dance" even uses an organ to effect in some places and reminds me a bit of Hawkwind, from whom the band may have drawn some influence, but as I said earlier, it's so far from anything else I've ever heard it's sort of hard to say. Anyway, the album is a bit uneven, but really that's just par for the course with these sorts of bands. The problem here comes when the band tries to be more traditional; "For Christ's Sake" features a pretty generic glammy chorus that just doesn't fit with the style at all, and has keyboard interludes that go on way too long. "Electric Chair" is also a bit too light on the riffs at times, and Blackwing adopts a whiny tone in some places that sounds like a second-rate Geoff Tate. However, when the album works, it's really on fire.

"Blackwing" is a galloping space epic that has tremendous basswork and a fantastic acoustic passage with Blackwing singing beautifully (even a flute solo!); this song reminds me a lot of yet another obscure band Longings Past, which is really probably the closest comparison I could make to the band overall, what with the dynamic songs, atmospheric riffs, and at times story-like progression. The main difference is that Thunder Rider sound a lot more dark and spacey, but Blackwing does sound quite a bit like Longings Past frontman Jimmy Shellberg; they're both quite nasal and passionate, with an almost narrating quality, though Blackwing is a loud and booming baritone while Shellberg is an awkward, warbling tenor. "Galaxy" is another highlight, possibly the best song here, with an introspective, melancholic bent to it that's heightened by epic choruses in just the right spots, scattered flute sections, and great acoustic riffs. Overall, Thunder Rider are a really fucking strange band, but I'd recommend checking them out, they'll certainly be interesting and I'd say quite enjoyable, at least to the sort of person who likes weird epic metal.