I was given very specific instructions: resist the temptation to listen to A Sound Of Thunder’s new album, Tales From The Deadside, on computer speakers or sample parts of the album. Instead, I was told to acquire a good sound system and strap myself in for a full hour-long ride of audial adventure. So I sat myself down (admittedly in front of a computer), stuck in the physical CD to avoid losing any audio quality, and plugged in my Samson SR850 semi-open headphones, preparing myself for what was to come. I made an additional, unprecedented move: I decided to take notes and construct this review based entirely off of one listen alone. So, with this in mind, let us begin!
As I was reviewing the band’s last album, The Lesser Key Of Solomon, I noted how the album didn’t consist of a single story, as I had originally thought, but rather a handful of stories. By contrast, Tales From The Deadside, actually does follow one story arc, based around the Shadowman comics by Valiant Entertainment. So, unlike the idea of playing Pink Floyd’s Darkside Of The Moon in time with The Wizard Of Oz, or even partaking of quintessential concept albums like Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime, we are experiencing an audio-version of a graphic novel. This is certainly a new one for me!
I was well aware of the quality I could expect coming into this LP, as A Sound Of Thunder never does anything with less than 100% effort. Some of the notes I wrote to myself consisted of ideas such as “Nina’s voice is like silk,” “Josh, stop being so awesome,” and “Is that a saxophone?” Maybe there’s a reason I don’t usually take notes while listening. But regardless, vocalist Nina Osegueda performs from start to finish with a finesse and fiery passion that continues to marvel the mind; guitarist Josh Schwartz is a monster player in terms of both rhythm and solo guitar, able to summon notes from the bowels of Hell; while the rhythm section of bassist Jesse Keen and drummer Chris Haren provides a solid foundation for such a bold effort. I felt, upon this first listen, that Keen and Haren didn’t get to shine as much as was the case in some past releases, though I did notice the bass break away from the guitar’s lead on the final track, “End Times,” bringing a smile to my face. [Edit 10/31/15: After repeated listens to this album, I take back this last statement about a lack of shine. These two are absolute beasts on this release. My apologies!]
So, if the album follows the story of the Shadowman comic books, is it worth it? Well, as someone who’s had the lyric sheet pressed to his nose throughout the entire process, this is a yes and a no. On the one hand, I was completely enthralled by the story, wondering what was going to happen and how it could possibly end. Nina is really the storyteller on this release, progressing us forward with verse upon verse, though she has some help from a narrator that appears between each song to set up the following scene. A word of caution to newcomers to the band, while the overall product is fantastic, there are only a few tracks present, which, at first glance, feel like they could stand alone without being enjoyed as part of the bigger picture. “Tower Of Souls,” “Punk Mambo,” and “Tremble” were among these, and are some of the shorter songs on the album. In addition to this, without spoiling anything, the ending to the album feels almost like a “To Be Continued…” moment. As this isn’t their story, but one they’re relating to us, I wonder if A Sound Of Thunder will be making a follow-up to this release as the comic progresses.
A Sound Of Thunder’s Tales From The Deadside is a unique and wonderful release. As an album that consists of Spanish-influenced acoustic guitars, saxophone solos, addictively evil 70s guitar riffs, and just a bit of voodoo…well, needless to say, that’s an odd mix. The group has taken up an immense challenge in telling someone else’s story with detail and energy of their own. For those who are interested in an audible comic book journey, this is your destination! For those that are interested in getting into the group, I’d recommend exploring their earlier releases such as Out Of The Darkness and Time’s Arrow first, as these consist of good stand-alone tunes that will give you a taste of what’s found here. Despite my concerns about the accessibility of this release, I have no doubt that current fans of the band will fall in love with it. Tales From The Deadside is a monumental effort and A Sound Of Thunder has executed it with precision.