Finland is stuck in the mythological middle ages. Well, at least that's what it's most famous bands would lead you to believe. Power metal groups such as Stratovarius
and Sonata Arctica
typically cast something of an inane look on their respective genre in general. Let's just say that high-pitched vocals, keyboards, and lyrics that could easily have come out of Richard Garfield's fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering
don't always appeal to listeners. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with Finland, power metal, or any of the artists associated with either of them. Still, it would be a nice change if Finland produced a band who not only sticks true to power metal's roots, but also breaks free from the typical mold of D&D nerd approval. Thunderstone could easily be considered just such a band.
Formed in early 2000, Thunderstone was originally a project to accommodate the solo artist aspirations of guitarist Nino Laurenne. Laurenne's demo drummer Mirka "Leka" Rantanen eventually helped to convince him to create a full-fledged band. Upon the recruitment of bassist Titus Hjelm, keyboardist Kari Tomack, and front man Pasi Rantanen, Thunderstone was born. The group's name originated from a legend connected to everything from Norse to Greek to Chinese mythology; the legend of the thunderstone, which, across many different ancient pagan religions was said to be the work of each culture's respective god of thunder. The thunderstone is said to be a working of pure stone and thunder (obviously) together into an all-powerful axe. Thunderstones were said to have fallen from the sky, to be discovered by heroes in their time of need. Naturally, this is just a tall-tale, but the idea of a stone axe that channels the power of thunder and lightning is a tantalizing prospect, and makes for an appropriately fitting name for a power metal band.
Interestingly enough, that's about as deep into the realms of fantasy and myth that Thunderstone go. No, on their self-titled debut, the band managed to craft vivid pictures and imagery by way of extremely well-written lyrics. You'll read nothing about Hobbits, or summoning mana, or saving the princess here. What takes place of the typical power metal wordplay is a lyrics sheet of deep and oftentimes evocative meaning. When you couple the extremely high-quality lyrics with the operatic vocals, light-speed yet textured guitar work, slashing keyboard, and rhythmic bass and drums, you have yourself a very taught, enjoyable package, one that’s a rare breed for this genre of heavy metal. One of the most welcome surprises that Thunderstone
offers is the larger-than-life vocal work of vocalist Pasi Rantanen. Unlike most typical power metal vocalists (even the ones that hail from bands that Thunderstone is said to "imitate"), Rantanen actually has some balls. You can hear it in his voice, which doesn't fall into a state of irksome whining as you may expect. Instead, Rantanen proves to have an amazingly dynamic range, and comes across as having a bark that's as
strong as his bite.
Laurenne keeps the technicality alive with his string-slinging on Thunderstone
. Brilliant solos complete with sweeps, tapping, and pretty much any other trick in your basic shredder's book of magic is employed from the album's beginning to end for your sonic pleasure. It isn't just mindless speed for speed's sake, though, mind you. Laurenne's playing showcases marvelous bursts emotion throughout. Laurenne also mixes things up, breaking out clean and lightly overdriven electrics or even beautiful acoustic sounds to compliment his head-banging speed riffs. Titus Hjelm, on bass, competently plays his role of second banana to Laurenne. While his playing is neither as noticeable or inspiring as his band-mates' , Hjelm still makes his presence known when the time is right, and manages to hold Thunderstones blitzkrieg of sound together at the seams. Keyboardist Kari Tomack plays a slightly less prominent role when compared to most power metal keyboardists. That's not to say that he isn't an integral part of Thunderstone, as his ethereal command of both electronic keyboard tones and the piano help to draw the listener into an engrossing world of colorful pitches and notes. "Leka" Rantanen's fiery banging on the drum kit adds a sense of bottom and to the atmospheric soundscapes that Tomack and Laurenne create with their respective instruments. When you combine Thunderstone's excellent musicianship and instrumentation with the breathtakingly beautiful bursts
of full-out orchestration, it's easy to see that Thunderstone
is a musically astonishing album.
The first track, "Let the Demons Free" kicks off with a fantastic guitar riff from Laurenne. This is quickly joined by a powerful drum beat with P. Rantanen's vocals overlaying in a reservedly dramatic fashion. The song marches through its paces, giving the listenener a fantastic preview of what's to come on the album. "Let the Demons Free" was the perfect way for Thunderstone to open their debut album, as it incorporates of the elements and unique traits that make them such a fascinatingly good band. The second song, "Virus" has an extremely 80s video game sound to it, particularly due to the central keyboard lines that come courtesy of Tomack. As interesting as it is to say, this is the type of song that you might expect to be in an a Japanese anime cartoon of the past. "Virus" is the first track to inject a certain progressive sense into Thunderstone's music. It makes for a great one-two punch after the spectacular opener "Let the Demons Free." Next up is "World's Cry," which keeps the progressive touches of its predecessor in place, but instead trades thrashing speed metal riffs for angst-ridden lyrics and a powerful sense of atmosphere. "Me, My Enemy" is a song that easily could be considered a tribute to Sonata Arctica
, one of Thunderstone's greatest inspirations. It's the weakest song on the album, both lyrically and musically, but that's comparing it to the rest of Thunderstone
. The rest of the album is of such an exceedingly superb nature, better-than-average tracks like "Me, My Enemy" seem tame by comparison.
At eight minutes and thirty six seconds, "Will to Power" is the longest song to be found on Thunderstone
. From the enthralling introduction to P. Rantanen's assertion of "I am here to rule the world
," "Will to Power" is an epic progressive-power metal masterpiece that comes in perfect placement on Thunderstone
's continuity. "Weak" is one of the most beautiful selections on the album, thanks mostly to the incredible piano lines from Tomack. The piano on this song is comparable in depth and scope to that of Yoshiki's from legendary speed-metal band X Japan
. "Weak" is a truly incredible song which features some of the greatest lyrical content on Thunderstone
. "Eyes of a Stranger" gets the album rocking again with straightforward metal sounds. It's yet another solid song to add to Thunderstone
's already impressive track list. "Like Father, Like Son" rocks you like a hurricane at the speed of light, grasping your attention and holding onto it throughout. It's a perfect change of pace for the album to go through as it completely revitalizes your interest in Thunderstone's music. "Voice In a Dream" is similar in many ways to "Virus." The most evident of these similarities is that they're both excellent songs. Creating a black-hole like atmosphere, "Voice In a Dream" is much like a hallucination caused by a fever, only driven completely by fantastic guitar riffs. Everything about the song flows together with perfect coherence and synergy, making it yet another standout listen from Thunderstone
. The album concludes with "Spread My Wings," an acoustic song with an uplifting sense of well-being. The intelligent and encouraging lyrics about moving on end Thunderstone
on a moment of brilliance and comfort.
Thunderstone couldn't have made a better debut album. In the commonplace world of similar quality amongst power metal albums, their self-titled debut races ahead of the pack with enthusiasm and a great sense of personality. The only real drawback to it is that it's still power metal, and as such, won't appeal to everyone any which way. Thunderstone are an incredibly talented band, and their performance on this album merely accentuates that fact. Since this album's release, Thunderstone have channeled their potential into pure inspiration, creating two more brilliant albums. Still, their debut is as of this time, their finest moment. Thunderstone have surpassed even the myth of their namesake in musical terms, and are on their way to becoming veritable legends as pioneers of a new age of power metal.