|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Canada|
|Year Released: 1989/1997||Artist Website: Thunder Rider|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 38:26|
When one mentions the term Thunder Rider, it immediately evokes images of something not only loud, grandiose and bombastic but epic and medieval at the same time. Think armored knights at full gallop or Mongol horsemen sweeping the plains. There are, of course, some metal connotations to be noted as well, particularly as they relate to the Montreal, Quebec based band of the same name.
Thunder Rider? No, not as well known as many but acclaimed in the metal community for the six song demo EP it released in 1989 under the title Tales Of Darkness & Light. The EP was later re-issued on CD in 1997 with two bonus tracks.
What we have in Thunder Rider is a joining of classic and epic metal with the occasional doom influence. The group stands out for the manner in which it takes a foundation of dramatic and melodic songwriting and mixes in crunchy guitars and lightning-like leads, a thunderous rhythm section and orchestral keyboards. Adding to the sublime environs are periodic angelic choir vocals and medieval instrumentation.
If you partial to Cirith Ungol, Warlord, Trouble, Omen and Manowar then Thunder Rider will be certain to appeal to you. Of course, classic metal fans will find a lot to like here – think Judas Priest and Saint – as will those into old school Christian metal along the lines of early Barren Cross, Bride, Messiah Prophet, Philadelphia and Messiah.
Thunder Rider puts its best foot forward on two of the albums more epic pieces, “Darkwing”, a haunting medieval flavored track, and “Galaxy”, an eight minute excursion into the ballad-ish and ethereal. The group can deliver some meaty hooks as well, as can be found on the traditional metal of “Death To Death”, “Executioner”, and “For Christ’s Sake”, or head in a more melodic direction for the catchy “Rain Dance”.
Thunder Rider is led by founding member John Darkwing. A talented multi instrumentalist, Darkwing very ably handles lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar and flute. Supporting him are a myriad of guitarists, keyboardists, bassists and drummers too numerous to mention (see the credits at the end of the review). Keep in mind that Tales Of Darkness & Light is a demo compilation made up of material from what over the years must have been an ever evolving line up.
Vocally, Blackwing brings a deep and clean mid-ranged presence brimming with emotion and occasional elements of the operatic. When singing in a lower key – such as on “Galaxy” – he almost bring to mind Jimmy P. Brown (Deliverance) or Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine). To say that he aligns with the music at hand would be an understatement. Arion Axmum handles the majority of the albums guitar duties, both rhythm and lead. Listening to his work on “Death To Death” (majestic feel to his soloing) and “Executioner” (snarling lead guitar) leaves the impression he is a player of more than above average ability. Keyboards are used to good effect throughout, particularly on “For Christ’s Sake” with its cool seventies style keyboard solo.
Production, as one would imagine for late eighties demo recordings, sounds a bit dated. Yes, you will find some hints of murkiness, although I do enjoy how the bass guitar is allowed to stand out cleanly in the mix.
While I would hesitate to label Thunder Rider a Christian band, its lyrics are written from a Christian perspective. Topics covered included the temporary state of this life (“Death To Death”), how there is more to life than meets the eye (“For Christ’s Sake”) and corrupt TV preachers (“Preacher”). Several songs also warn against the wrongness and depravity of evil- as opposed to glorifying it (“Electric Chair” and “Executioner”).
At this point the following question begs to be asked: And that is why Thunder Rider fell through the cracks of the eighties White Metal scene? You would have thought one of the better known fanzines such as White Throne and Heaven’s Metal would have given these guys some much deserved press.
The doom based riff and eerie keyboards at the start of “Death To Death” would not sound out of place on the first couple of Veni Domine albums. The song, otherwise, is traditional metal all the way, put over the top by a huge chorus hook – you will be challenged to keep this one out of your head! – and propensity towards gritty attitude and muscle laden brawn. “Death To Death” deals with the temporary state of this life:
End pain and suffering and grief
Kill death, for he is the soul thief
Death to death, we want to live forever
Death to death, we don’t want to die
Answer the prayers of those who will soon
Pass on to their final resting place
Please Lord, God Almighty,
Show us your tremendous strength
Send death to his death
Things take a bit of a step back with “Electric Chair”. No, far from bad but does not bring the staying power of the albums better material, with the main reason its lack of a solid hook to draw you in with repeated listen. The song does highlight quite the pronounced bass line, sluggishly mauling its distance at a driving mid-paced clip while mixing in some razor edged guitar leads. This one focuses on a prisoner condemned to die:
Your thoughts are scattered, throughout your head
For within moments, you will be dead.
As you walk down your last lonely mile
In the corner of your eye, you see Satan smile.
The commandment has been broken "Thou shalt not kill"
Your life flashes before your eyes
Now the truth is here, there are no more lies
The Lord frowns upon acts of violence
Your debt will be paid, in deathly silence.
Yes, I can see where the group is coming from, but am I out of line to suggest the overall impression left is a bit heavy handed? Where they miss the mark – at least in my opinion – is the very real grace of God still available to a person in such circumstances. I feel that Destra, on its excellent concept album Joe’s Rhapsody, does the better job addressing the issue.
“Executioner” is a monster track that will literally leave you breathless with its decisive tempo and forthright feel of its chorus. Think Saint or classic Priest. Occasional ghoulish laughter in the background helps give the song a “horror metal” or “shock rock” feel. Lyrics, again, are a bit unsettling as Satan is represented as synonymous to an executioner:
Over the crossroads, back streets of hell
Your journey is over, as time will tell
The executioner stands waiting, blood on his breath
Waiting to murder, and laugh at your death
Satan awaits, heads in his hand
Satan stands laughing, he’s won your soul
You’re the executioner now, death is your toll
Executioner - you did the crime
Executioner - you’ll do your time
Executioner - ringing your bell
Executioner - you’re ripping up hell
Once more, I understand the warning the group is trying to convey and they have the right idea. That said, I feel circumstances also warrant placing emphasis behind the meaning to I John 3:8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
“For Christ’s Sake” is as catchy as they get. The chorus, which the song immediately dives into after starting to a smooth keyboard introduction, is gutsy and gripping at the same time- it will pull you in in the same manner “Death To Death” does. Of note, the song makes the occasional foray into calmer passages upheld by a quietly played guitar, which adds a nice contrasting effect. “For Christ’s Sake” focuses on how there is more to life than the moment:
For Christ’s sake
Don’t you know that there’s more to life than this
For Christ’s sake
Can’t you see it’s all part of the devil’s trick
Put down that devil’s dust
Release yourself from Satan’s clutch
Put down that dragon’s breath
Free yourself, take that step
“Rain Dance” brings melody all the way. This is the one song that grabbed me on first listen, almost coming across commercial in capacity – do I dare say that? – but mixing in some complementary Native American rhythms and big doses of smooth vocal melodies. It all adds up to one of the albums more inspired listening experiences. What we have here is a song depicting the ruin of God’s creation:
The thunder clouds wail
As they shed toxic tears
Mother earth has no recourse
Her certain slow death draws near
Hear the silent cries
Of the animals and the trees
See their numbers dwindle
As they succumb to disease
a criminal offense
the facts are clouded
but there’s no lack of evidence
An epic medieval flair can be found on “Blackwing’. The song begins to a placid instrumental introduction prior to the rhythm guitar cutting in, moving its remaining distance as a haunting melody and traces of the acoustic stand in support of John Blackwing’s emotional vocal performance. Once more, the quality of the songwriting is very strong. “Blackwing” tells a story of good verses evil:
His heart was blackened
By his hatred for mankind
He swore he would be king
It was only a question of time
In his castle he would plan
His evil strategy
Creating creatures of darkness
Living death machines
But these dreams were not to be dreamt
as the tale is understood
for the evil threat of Blackwing’s attempt
was enlightened by the light of good.
and the people did rejoice
as the cloud ridden skies did clear
“Galaxy”, the albums longest at eight minutes, proves an atmospheric piece that borders on ballad territory. This one comes across ethereal if not outright sublime, highlighting an acoustic laced environs but joined with hints of flute and chilling female vocal melodies. The leanings toward the Gothic almost bring to mind Saviour Machine. If I had written the review when the demo was first released, “Galaxy” would have ranked with the better songs of the year. “Galaxy” seems to be talking about a journey through time:
I dream one day, I will touch the stars
One day, far away
And I shall travel the universe
Voyaging far and wide
In search of a light that burns so bright
Brighter than them all
If time were with me, with time I would be
The past I have lived, the future I will see.
Time has no wings, yet it can fly,
Soaring through the clouds
“Preacher” is similar to “Electric Chair” in that I might categorize it as merely good- at least when compared to the albums better material. It is a shorter (three minute) piece featuring a complementary church organ and killer start to finish bass line. In the end, this one comes across a bit anticlimactic, with the main problem being it follows (almost unfairly) the brilliance that is “Galaxy”. The televangelist scandals of the time are discussed:
Preacher, alleged teacher
Spreading the word of God
Tell us of your fraud
Profit by exploitation
Damned those who won’t comply
Just a small donation
Will grant the wings when you die
Clothe the Lord’s children
And tell them all your lies
Save the hunger stricken
We’ll fill their bellies and stifle their cries
Living the lives of kings
The best way to sum up would be to reinforce the quality of songwriting on Tales Of Darkness & Light. The album breaks down to six great songs and two that rate in the above average to good category. I also appreciate how Thunder Rider occasional imbues its material with medieval instrumentation and epic based flavorings- they were way ahead of their time in this capacity. The groups follow up effort, appropriately entitled Tales Of Darkness & Light – Chapter II, features more of the same but in a grander sense.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Death To Death” (4:31), “Electric Chair” (3:39), “Executioner” (4:09), “For Christ’s Sake” (6:05), “Rain Dance” (3:51), “Darkwing” (4:45), “Galaxy” (7:58), “Preacher” (3:14)
John Blackwing – Lead Vocals, Guitars & Flute
Arion Axmun – Guitars & Recorder
Steve Cox – Guitars
Sebastian Theriault – Bass
Nicola Desrocher - Bass
Nick Stilldream – Bass, Bass Synthesizer & Torus Pedals
Luke Van Leod – Keyboards
Pat Hammer - Drums