I’ve been a huge fan of THUNDERSTONE since their first album came out in 2002 – it was a beautiful slice of keyboard driven power metal, and for the next five years and four albums I nursed a huge man-crush on Pasi Rantanen and his amazing raspy vocals. However, in 2007, he left the band, and while Rick Altzi was an able replacement, it just wasn’t the same, and I completely lost interest. When Pasi returned to the fold in 2013, I was beyond thrilled, but the band was mostly silent after that. Luckily, that silence has ended and in a big way.
Apocalypse Again (out April 15 on AFM Records) shows that the band hasn’t lost a step and is ready to pick up right where they left off nine years ago. The music has a heavy keyboard focus courtesy of Jukka Karinen alongside the usual guitar worship from Nino Laurenne. A major strength of the album is the dueling leads between the two, as well as some really sick solos from both. The drumming from Atte Palokangas is tight, whether he’s pounding the double bass like he’s trying to run a sprint or finessing his way through some of the more progressive parts. Pasi is in fine voice and sounds like he never left the band. There’s no discernible degradation from 2007’s Evolution 4.0, and I could listen to him sing the phone book with absolutely no disappointment – his voice remains that good.
Is this a perfect album? No. It’s really good, even great, but there are some things about it that just didn’t work for me. Titus Hjelm’s bass playing is woefully underused and it feels pretty low in the mix in a few of the songs. Not a major thing, but I miss that chug that the first four albums had in abundance.
The songs are mostly great, but “Higher” really did nothing for me. It starts with a slow tempo and occasionally speeds up past ballad status, but doesn’t really feel like it gets going until Jukka’s prog rock-ish keyboard solo when things go absolutely nuts. The placement right in the middle of the album kills some of the momentum, but it quickly recovers.
The disc is full of all the Finnish power metal tropes – soaring choruses, insane synth and guitar performances, and the ever-present double bass drumming. Pasi Rantanen is back with THUNDERSTONE and all is well with the world. This is essential listening for fans of the band or any European power metal from the last couple of decades.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Apocalypse Again”, “The Path”, “Days Of Our Lives”, “Barren Land”