|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website: Bride|
|Tracks: 17||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 67:29|
Tsar Bomba is the nickname for the RDS-220 hydrogen bomb developed by the Soviet Union in the early sixties, the largest and most powerful nuclear device ever detonated. Also known as the “king of bombs” and Big Ivan to its Russian designers, Tsar Bomba was dropped over the island of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Sea on October 30, 1961. The three-stage device yielded 50 megatons, the equivalent to ten times the amount of explosives used in Word War II combined, including Little Boy and Fat Man (the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively).
Tsar Bomba is also the title to the new CD from Louisville, Kentucky based Bride, the group’s thirteenth full length album and second on Retroactive Records. Released the latter half of 2009, the album received the title Tsar Bomba because, in the bands own words, “it is the Bride CD to end all Bride CD’s. This is our final CD as Bride”. What else can you say except it is obvious that Bride wishes to go out with a bang…
In all seriousness, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind when describing Tsar Bomba: First, Bride is not making an effort to follow any particular trend. Second, the group is also not focused on sounding like any era of its three decade history.
That said, without a doubt you will hear the influence of Bride’s past – including the metal based sounds of Silence Is Madness, straightforward hard rock characterizing the early nineties material, occasional acoustic lacings not unlike Drop and touch of hook and groove similar to Skin For Skin – just do not expect the group to reinvent itself or to be imitating whatever happens to be flavor of the month on MTV or FM radio.
What it ultimately boils down to is this: what does the album sound like? Bride. In a nutshell, what we have in Tsar Bomba is a band being true to itself – and its roots in the process – while attempting to make the best record (its swan song) possible. And you know what? I cannot help but think Bride succeeded in achieving that goal.
On Tsar Bomba Bride delivers a variety of styles – based upon a foundation of metal and hard rock the band is renown for – without becoming predictable.
Just check out “Industrial Christ” and “All We Are” with their huge commercial hooks and the all out metal of “Separate” and “Nothing Means Anything To Me” to understand my point. “Love Shine” and “We Are Together” bring some interesting verse-to-chorus (and back again) time changes and “Never” and “Look In My Head” a groove based hard rock approach. A Bride album would not be complete without a customary ballad, as is found on “Downward”, while “Rhapsodie Fur Ein Gitarre”, an acoustic instrumental of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, finds the band putting its creativity on full display.
The only constructive commentary to offer is that Tsar Bomba is a bit long winded in featuring 17 songs and nearly 70 minutes of music. Yes, 4 of the songs are short acoustic instrumentals but that still leaves a LOT of music to digest. But despite the length not once do I hit the skip button; however, there are some tracks better than others. With that in mind, I cannot help but think the album would have worked better if reduced to its 10 or 11 best songs. Hence, the final grade of 85% as opposed to the 90% I gave the previous effort Skin For Skin.
Dale Thompson continues to bring his gritty and raspy vocal abilities, a style he had been refining since the early nineties. No, you will not find him cutting loose with any Live To Die era falsettos here, but he does deliver an element of energy and power throughout, as found on “Industrial Christ” and “Love Shine”, while taking a smoother approach for “Never” and “Downward”. “Separate” even finds him cutting loose with a trademark scream.
The guitar work of Troy Thompson and Steve Osbourne represents one of the highlights to Tsar Bomba. A massive wall of rhythm guitar is laid down throughout – “Separate” and “Nothing Means Anything To Me” rate with the heaviest in the bands repertoire – but it is on the albums instrumental moments that the two put their best foot forward. Troy, bringing an edgy and bluesy style, and Steve, the more fluid and fusion-like feel, shine as they trade off on “Love Shine” or dive into some lengthy jams for “We Are Together” and “Nothing Means Anything To Me”.
Fast paced, up-tempo and just plain catchy are the first words that come to mind when describing album opener “Industrial Christ”. Determined in focus but bordering on commercial in capacity, the song brings a huge hook and interweaves it with Bride’s propensity for dominating guitar riffs.
A swirling morass of dark and swarthy guitars underscored by a chugging low end defined the full length of “All We Are”. Taking a more mid-paced focus than “Industrial Christ”, this one maintains the same high quality with its infectious – almost anthem-like – chorus and milieu bordering on the commercial.
I thought it would be best to cover “Love Shine” and “We Are Together” at the same time since the two share similar musical directions.
Both start quietly in calmly drifting through their verses as a tempered guitar touches up the backdrop. Upon reaching their respective choruses, however, that is where the two diverge. “Love Shine” takes the more aggressive and heavy heading (with the rhythm guitar at the forefront of the mix) while “We Are Together” moves in the more melodic direction (with the rhythm guitar making its presence felt but not to quite the extent). Irregardless, no matter how you add it up both are quality songs.
“Never” can best be described as straightforward hard rock: put it on Kinetic Faith or Snakes In The Playground and it would sound right at home. No, this might not be the albums catchiest piece – at least when compared to the first two – but holds up nonetheless with its unremitting impetus and occasional hints of groove. I particularly enjoy how the song makes a couple of time changes to a more low key direction in which a pumping bass line makes its presence felt.
“Separate” ranks with the albums finest. The song begins to a joining of acoustic guitar and polished backing vocals only to kick into a full blown hard rocker as initiative grows. Dale takes over with a scream and we are off to a deluge of riffs bordering on the thrash-like while the chorus – quite gripping – is delivered with significant punch. The soloing, in contrast, reflects a fusion-ish feel. Amazing.
The quality is upheld on “Nothing Means Anything To Me”. The song begins its first minute instrumentally in trading off between quieter passages and others upheld by a monstrous rhythm guitar. A guitar driven onslaught takes over as “Nothing Means Anything To Me” moves ahead, conveying as heavy a sound as you will find but failing to come across overbearing due to the pronounced melody upholding the caustic scene. The chorus is expertly done while Troy and Steve trade off throughout an extended instrumental jam.
The sledgehammer guitars continue into “Last Thing I Feel”. With a heavy duty bass line dominating the landscape, this one puts in place a bottom heavy feel and joins it with a tasteful touch of groove. The end result is the heaviness of the two preceding it and the same type of notable hook. The chorus, for instance, is certain to remain in your head for some time: “Let love be the last I feel!” (repeat four times with a punchy bass guitar in the background).
“Downward” is the albums lone ballad- and what a ballad it is. But how does it measure up in comparison to Bride’s best in the area? Very favorably I might add, delivering a piano based direction for its verses (similar to “Goodbye” from Snakes In The Playground) but adding an emotional flavoring upon reaching its chorus (not unlike “I Miss The Rain” – also Snakes…).
“Look In My Head” represents another top of the line piece. This one rollicks at an upbeat tempo its distance, certain to command your attention with its hook-laden chorus and non-stop groove comparable to “Last Thing I Feel”. A stretch of fusion-like soloing gives way to a passage with a near doom-ish tincture to it.
The up-tempo “When I Was A Kid” delivers a boogie-flavored sound – particularly during its spirited chorus – but does not necessarily stand out for the strength of its music (I might rate it a step below the albums better material). Rather, it is the songs instrumental moments that put it over the top as Troy and Steve descend into some cool southern rock influenced harmonizing.
“Rhapsodie Fur Ein Gitarre” is an acoustic instrumental interpretation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The song works perfectly with its artistic sensibilities in capturing the spirit of the original while allowing for the group to add its own unique interpretation. At this point there is only one question to ask: And that is how much begging, pleading and groveling did it take from Steve Osbourne, who arranged and performed the piece, before brothers Thompson relented and agreed to let it appear on the album?
“We Are The People” closes the album in the form of a straightforward hard rocker. Standing out with its big drum sound and equally heavy guitars, the song brings all that works well on Tsar Bomba: solid hook, driving impetus, tastefully done lead guitar and Dale’s ever present grit and attitude on vocals.
The best way to sum up would be in the form of a question: Is Bride finished? Is this REALLY the group’s swan song effort? Only time will tell but I cannot help but think that 3 or 4 years down the road Dale and Troy are going to get inspired to begin work on new material. And you know what? I hope they do because on Tsar Bomba Bride proves in no uncertain terms it has plenty of creative gas – in terms of songwriting and musicianship – left in the tank. I think these guys still have a couple of good albums left in them.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Industrial Christ” (4:30), “All We Are” (5:11), “Prokofiev” (:20), “Love Shine” (5:29), “1973” (:27), “We Are Together” (4:40), “Never” (5:57), “Separate” (4:48), “Nothing Means Anything To Me” (6:05), “Bach Minuet” (“59), “Last Thing I Feel” (4:37), “Chopin Nocturne In E Flat Minor” (:34), “Downward” (5:52), “Look In My Head” (4:40), “When I Was A Kid” (4:15), “Rhapsodie Fur Ein Gitarre” (5:02), “We Are The People” (4:03)
Dale Thompson – Lead Vocals
Troy Thompson – Guitars
Steve Osbourne – Guitars
G.D. Watts – Bass
Jerry McBroom - Drums