Thunderor – Fire It Up Review

Two months into 2022 and Thunderor have already released the best album cover of the year. Part Painkiller, part Jester Race, all airbrushed metal glory. Thunderor is the NWOTHM pet project of Skull Fist drummer JJ Tartaglia who is joined by ex-Skull Fist guitarist Johnny Nesta and ex Annihilator bassist Oscar Rangel. After reading the press release, one can imagine the moment Tartaglia saw Manowar’s “Return of the Warlord” video and traded his skateboard for a chopper and his Vans for a pair of studded boots. Says JJ “If you’ve ever felt a longing for escape, a thirst for adventure, wrapped in romance and danger, well what are you waiting for? Get after it and let THUNDEROR be your soundtrack!” While never quite elegant, Thunderor’s prose has its charms. Does Fire It Up live up to its mani-fist destiny and killer cover artwork or is Thunderor just rumbling in the distance?

Fire It Up has two key factors working in its favor: good songwriting and fun. It took a few spins to get into this album but once I did, each listen felt like a little road trip down memory lane. Fire It Up clearly wears its influences on its leather vest. “Heading Out to the Highway” is even the second line sung. The lyrics are mostly silly but contagious, falling back on tried-and-true metal tropes of independence, romance, escape and, of course, riding your motorcycle. While I don’t love the production on this album (more below) you can hear the fun the band is having in every note and drum fill. The catchy songs and solid hooks blend spiritedly to deliver a rollicking and economical rock record that never passes out on your couch and overstays its welcome.

Whether or not you enjoy Fire It Up will likely depend on how you feel about JJ Tartaglia’s voice. Initially, I found his high-pitched delivery distracting and annoying. But it grew on me. While there are plenty of upper-octave screamers in the metal pantheon, JJ’s more feminine voice is closer to Prince than Geoff Tate. For the most part, it works with the bands pop-influenced leanings. Songs like “How We Roll” benefit from JJ’s crisp and clear delivery, especially on the chorus. The only song his voice falls flat in is “Cold Tears.” The 80s style power ballad attempts an emotional build-up but fizzles out rather than peaks. JJ’s voice is best left to regaling his highway adventures rather than the aftermath of his breakups.

The production of the album is bright, but its homemade qualities leave it sounding much thinner than its source material. The band self-recorded Fire It Up, boasting that it was done “naturally.” I want to give them kudos for doing it themselves but it’s like having a talented friend give you their bedroom demo. It sounds impressive but lacks the dynamics of a professionally mastered album. The mix is loud and, in your face, but without the” juice” that characterizes mid 80s rock. I give them credit for using keytars and synths without letting them become overwhelming or distracting in the mix. The guitar playing is tasty and serves the songs well, but I would have loved more gain and crunch to Nesta’s tone. “Into the Storm” is a playful nod to Yngwie Malmsteen and the days when bands included short minute and a half instrumentals between songs to help reset for the next tune. The song pacing on Fire It Up feels natural and the album breathes nicely. “Dangerous Times” features an extended synth section that fits the song perfectly and will inspire you to reach for your lighter. Thunderor never cram too much into their songs, instead, they flow effortless from track to track at a steady 750cc hum that leaves you ready for the next stretch of road.

If you’re looking for a solid rock record that’s equal parts pop and metal, Fire It Up could be your jam.  The songs are well crafted, catchy and fun road companions. Take it on your next drive or spin it at Saturday’s kegger. Thunderor takes not being serious very seriously. They recaptured the spirit of 80s rock staples like Ozzy to Journey but also managed to put their own stamp on it. Not many throwback NWOTHM acts succeed in putting this much character in their sound. If they can elevate their production values and juice up their mix on record #2 they might create some real thunder.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Boonsdale Records
Releases Worldwide: February 25th, 2022

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