Thunderstone have been around for 15 or so years and for most of that time they’ve labored in the shadow of fellow countrymen Stratovarius. It’s not hard to see why either, since their debut was such a carbon copy of their bigger, better peers. Over time they developed a bit more of a unique identity and proved themselves capable of crafting rollicking Euro-power tunes with big payoff choruses. When frontman Pasi Rantanen left for greener pastures they brought in the well traveled Rick Altzi (At Vance, Herman Frank, Masterplan) for 2009s Dirt Metal and shifted to a more hard rock oriented sound similar to Allen/Lande or Miracle Master. Said shift gave them more separation for their contemporaries but likely alienated many of their fans in the process. Five years later Pasi is back with the crew and they’re out to reconquer their small corner of the Euro-power market. But can this reformed version compete with the pirate shirted legions of thirsty ale raiders currently sailing the seas of cheddar?
Yes and no. Apocalypse Again starts out quite well with “Veterans of the Apocalypse” which is like a time warp back to their The Burning album, and Pasi’s raspy roar sounds as good as it did back in the band’s infancy. Yes they still sounds like Stratovarius but a good song is a good song and this one easily qualifies as such. The chorus has that Euro-pop quality the genre demands and the music is just heavy enough to feel manly. Album single “The Path” is the highlight, featuring a great performance by Pasi and a huge hook come chorus time, and though it’s a bit too restrained for its own good, it will still earn many a replay from power metal mongers.
Follow ups like “Fire and Ice” and “Through the Pain” show a more stripped down, laid back Thunderstone focused on crafting memorable songs and they succeed with both attempts. The music is lower energy than most Euro-power but the memorability factor counterbalances the lack of blazing riffs and thundering double bass abuse, while Pasi puts the material over with some impassioned vocals.
They infuse aspects of their Dirt Metal period on “Higher” which rocks with funky organ fills and a Spiritual Beggars vibe, and they deliver some speed and aggression on the throwback “Wounds.” However, the album fades somewhat for the last third, with “Days of Our Lives” (really?) feeling flat and lacking in bite. Closer “Barren Land” goes for some of Avantasia‘s epic excess over its nearly 8 minute run-time, but doesn’t have much sticking power and ultimately drifts by without leaving much of an impression.
It’s great to hear Pasi back with the band as he’s always been one of my favorite Euro-power vocalists. That’s because he’s atypical for the genre and doesn’t spend the majority of the time singing from his scrotum as he tries to shatter wine glasses. He has a husky mid-range holler that would be more at home on a grunge or hard rock platter but he makes it work in this medium too. He sounds impressive throughout and the newly restrained pace of the songs gives his vocals more space and room to breathe. Guitarist Nino Laurenne isn’t overly flashy and along with keyboardist Jukka Karinen opts to keep things fairly simple and direct. Dragonforce this certainly ain’t, and that’s generally okay, but there’s a tendency to let some songs float by on the poppy keyboards while the guitar disappears much like they did on Stratovarius‘ Nemesis. This leaves the music feeling too weak and restrained and one is left wishing for more muscle and grit on songs like “The Path.”
All in all not a bad return to the power metal arena, but Apocalypse Again isn’t quite earth shaking or essential listening. Fans of the band’s classic era should be pleased and the first half is worthwhile, but overall it’s too soft, sedate and safe for me with a few quasi-clunkers. Dial up the power next time, boys and I’ll definitely be back.