Whenever an established band parts ways with their original vocalist and brings in a replacement, long time fans rightfully get concerned. How will the new singer impact the band’s sound and style? Will he fit in or change the dynamic too much? That’s the situation facing Finland’s Thunderstone for their fifth album, Dirt Metal. After four pretty solid albums of Euro power metal with original frontman Pasi Rantanen, Dirt Metal starts the era of Rick Altzi on vocals. With this new era also comes the much dreaded and despised shift in sound and approach as well. Are you scared? Are you on edge yet? Read on.
Sure to jump right out at Thunderstone fans is how much more striped down and simplistic Dirt Metal is compared to past Thunderstone outings. Rather than the traditional Euro power metal sound formerly employed, Dirt Metal moves toward a more Americanized and rougher heavy metal sound that at times veers near John Bush-era Anthrax or lighter Pantera without completely forsaking the basic and recognizable Thunderstone sound. Another stylistic change comes in the addition of sporadic death metal vocals (“Star”). Although these changes are a noticeable departure from albums like Tools of Destruction and Evolution 4.0, the new sound works pretty well and Rick Altzi has a voice well suited for the punchy, harder material. Likely to make things somewhat easier for older fans to digest is that Rick Altzi’s voice is not too far removed from Pasi’s, although Altzi does have a rougher style and delivery overall.
Thunderstone’s new style is perhaps best exemplified on the title track. Featuring heavier guitars than older albums and a straight forward, simple structure, the song has ample power and edge while maintaining the traditional Thunderstone emphasis on memorable and catchy choruses and hooks. Similar to the title track, both “Star” and “Counting Hours” are direct, no nonsense metal songs that don’t follow typical power metal conventions and have much more in common with traditional heavy metal. However, when the choruses come in, the old Thunderstone sound and style still shines through.
Personally, I like the new style and approach Dirt Metal showcases. Especially admirable is Thunderstone’s willingness to shake up a standardized power metal blueprint badly in need of shaking up these days. Ultimately, it will be risk takers like Thunderstone and Disdain who save power metal from completely going stale by using such experimentation. However, for all the new elements and experimentation on Dirt Metal, the last third of the album really seems to drag and lose focus, with the last four songs not being as compelling or memorable. “Deadlights” and “Dodge the Bullet” are particularly uninteresting and seem like filler.
Basically, Thunderstone has delivered a decent album with some interesting new elements added to the core sound and they clearly took some chances here. Neither the new style nor new singer Rick Altzi radically hurts the root Thunderstone sound, although the songwriting does let them down as the album progresses. Ultimately it’s tough to guess whether the power metal fanboys of the world (of which I am NOT one) will pull up their skirts and flee this heavier version of Thunderstone or embrace them. If these guys were too Euro Power Weenie for you in the past, give them a try now. If they were exactly how you liked them, you still might not hate the changes. If they were too heavy for you before, why are you on this website?