Munroe’s Thunder – The Black Watch Review

Former Metal Church / Trans-Siberian Orchestra and current Vicious Rumors vocalist, Ronny Munroe makes his long-awaited return this month with the debut of his Munroe’s Thunder project. Nearly 6 years in the making, The Black Watch is a loose concept album dealing with Scottish and English history and Ronny’s ancestor’s roles in it. William Wallace, Mary, Queen of Scots, and the wars for Scottish independence are touched on as the backdrop for the project’s ambitious and interesting blend of metal and hard rock, marrying strong Rainbow and Deep Purple influences with the prog-trad idioms of Savatage. Clearly a labor of love, the album is inspired by and dedicated to this late wife, Joy, who tragically passed away after a heroic struggle with cancer. The resulting album is definitely large in scope and both regal and rowdy in presentation, and despite a few minor missteps along the way, it’s quite impressive and entertaining. Are you ready for metal history class, kiddies?

After a mood-setting intro, the 7-plus minute title track roars out of the gate with much verve and old timey metallic glory. Ronny sounds great singing over 80s-centric metal riffs with a epic sheen and you get dragged right into the nitty gritty of a castle siege. Catchy, punchy, and loaded with interesting details and mood shifts, this is a grand table setter and is best experienced at ear-bleeding volumes whilst brandishing an oversized sword (or broom in a pinch). It’s one of the purest metal moments on the album and it brings the thunder. “Awaken the Fire” is the first example of the project’s blend of metal and hard rock as Rainbow and Deep Purple vibes are given off by the Hammond organs and simple, beefy riffs over which Ronny growls and wails in very Dio/Jorn-ish fashion. The hybrid style works very well and the song has balls aplenty and ample hooks. Even the abrupt shift into 80s radio rock keyboards somehow works. “Gray Hall” is an album highlight, sounding like a crazed mash-up of Deep Purple and Bruce Dickinson’s highly overlooked solo album Skunkworks. The chorus has hooks that dig in deep and Ronny blows the castle doors off with a huge performance. This is followed by the album’s power ballad, “Babbington Mary” and this too is a big victory. Melancholic and beautiful musically, it’s elevated by Ronny expertly shifting his vocals from soft and emotional to powerful and punchy to insure the song feels dynamic while packing an emotive wallop. The guitar work is delicate and poignant and the whole enchilada sells itself like a QVC schill and you will be buying.

Other big points include the over-the-top “Thirty Years War” where enormous Savatage influences collide with 70s hard rock ideas and a very Jorn-like delivery for an overwrought but enthralling stronghold rocker. “Echoes of the Dead” is the heaviest, most aggressive piece and it rocks an Iron Maiden meets Jag Panzer style that kicks righteous arse. There are no weak songs, but “Brace for the Night” suffers from overweening keyboards, and “Dead Man’s War” has a chorus that doesn’t stick well and also suffers from a bit of bloat. The production is very good and feels quite retro. The master by Threshold’s Karl Groom is the icing on the cake and everything feels warm and inviting.

Ronny Munroe has always been a somewhat underrated vocalist in my opinion, and his albums with Metal Church weren’t all that well-regarded. That was not his fault, however, as the band’s writing had already tailed off before he came aboard. The man certainly displays all his gifts across The Black Watch, showing his range, power, and versatility like never before. At times he adopts a very Dickinsonian vocal approach, and other times it’s all about the Jorn-isms. He’s impressive and he owns the material with skill and force. David Mark Pence and Justin Zych deliver a boatload of impressive guitar work spanning genres and eras effortlessly. One minute you feel like you’re deep in Deep Purple territory and the next it’s all 80s metal fire and ice. The solos are quite impressive and just over-the-top enough to smack you in your fat face. Oliver Wakeman (Ayreon, ex-Yes) goes all in with his keyboards and for the most part, he’s a big asset, lending a regal, old school charm to the material. The performances are all airtight and make The Black Watch a way more interesting spin than one would expect going in.

The Black Watch is a very entertaining opus packed with a lot of unique bells and whistles. It’s probably unfair, but as I listened to this over and over it kept hitting me that this is what I wanted from Jorn’s Dracula: The Swing of Death. It’s great to see Ronny Munroe back in business with such a solid release and if there was any doubt that he’s among the elite of metal vocalists, this will put that to rest. If you’re looking for something a bit out-of-the-ordinary and interesting, Munroe’s Thunder have a lovely little (huge) surprise for you. You did Joy proud here, Ronny. Kudos.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: RFL Records
Releases Worldwide: November 11th, 2022

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