The Best Albums of 2015, #7

band017. Royal Thunder, Crooked Doors (Relapse)

Just how important is an album’s back story when it comes to appreciating the music? Some stories behind the creation of classic albums are so intertwined with the music that resulted that they become almost mythic. You can’t listen to Rumours without thinking of the turmoil within Fleetwood Mac. You can’t listen to Hysteria without being reminded of the catastrophes that befell Def Leppard. In the case of Royal Thunder’s third album, I had spent much of the early part of 2015 thoroughly obsessed with the thing. I’d even talked at great length with singer/bassist Mel Parsonz about the making of the record, and although she mentioned how it was primarily inspired about the dissolution of a relationship, she was reluctant to go into further details. Which was fine, i respected her privacy, and went on writing about how great Crooked Doors is. And it’s a remarkable record, a huge step forward for the band. Gone are all the sludgy, mildly doomy influences, as the almighty riff has been ditched in favour of texture courtesy guitarist Josh Weaver. It’s all beautifully done, and in the process it clears up so much room for Parsonz to develop her vocal melodies more, which she does to stunning effect time and again, displaying power and subtlety in equal measure. I had several months to get to know this record, and I had built up a very solid critique and defence of the thing. But then right before it came out it was revealed that the breakup in question involved Parsonz and Weaver. I had no idea; it was one of those things that writers who were cozy friends with the band knew about, but those of us who prefer to keep a critical arm’s length between artists and ourselves were clueless about. Anyway, once I learned the story, and once I read those lyrics in this new context, an excellent album suddenly transformed into a great one. Nowhere is that felt more deeply than on the heart wrenching “Forgive Me, Karma”, during which Parsonz’s inner conflict and anguish is almost too much to bear: “God, I’m gonna miss him / Things will be better when I’m free / I’ve never been good enough for you.” And all the while that “him” is in the background playing a supporting role. However there are moments where the two seem to release their pent-up frustration simultaneously: one would be vamping cathartically while the other would be letting loose his own tortured fills on lead guitar. It is the kind of visceral bloodletting you so rarely witness on a metal album anymore. Yet at the same time it feels healthy rather than toxic. It’s not a fight, but rather the both of them working through that deep pain via their art. Unlike Rumours, Crooked Doors is all about chemistry, not opposing forces. There’s regret, rage, and deep sadness, but also much love and respect between the two, and that ultimately is why this album works so beautifully and resonates so much within the listener. (Spotify) (YouTube)