While wandering around Baltimore Comic Con last fall, I happened upon a large vendor table playing metal music and loaded with vivid artwork.
There I met guitarist Josh Schwartz from A Sound of Thunder, a metal band based Northern Virginia who had just released an album and accompanying comic book.
Josh is a nice dude, they’re a local band, and they’re clearly into storytelling through their music. So of course I picked up the album. And it’s fantastic.
It Was Metal is the seventh album from A Sound of Thunder. As usually occurs when I find a band with an impressive discography, I must ask…
Why have I not heard of these guys before???
Led by vocalist Nina Osegueda, A Sound of Thunder describe themselves as “siren-fronted power metal”. I can think of no better tagline for their heavy, driving riffs and Nina’s incredible vocal range.
“Then they rose and took flight”
The album opens with “Phantom Flight”, which leads in by exchanging guitar riffs and drum fills a couple of times before launching into a hammering rhythm and melody.
Osegueda’s voice enters like a fire alarm during an earthquake — she calls over the raging music, refusing to be drowned out. This is a testament to both her incredible vocal projection and the quality of the sound production:
“A hidden nightmare turned reality one day / Falling from the sky, the gods came out to play”
Contrasted by guest vocalist Mark Tornillo’s more classic metal growl, Osegueda trades verses with him, describing a terrible battle during which the gods wreaked havoc on the human race.
An interlude of guitar solos and drum build-ups ensues, allowing the frenetic sound of the first verse to breathe. Then our human champions return with an ancient technology to finally defeat the gods:
“Against all reason, against the odds / We dared to stand against the gods / We tore down walls so we could see / United by humanity”
“Transformed by sacrifice”
“Lifebringer” continues the frenetic pace of the album, introducing us to the warriors of light, “Clinging to their honor, though justice was denied”.
They must find Lifebringer, a sword forged from starlight, in order to bring hope and peace to their people against tyranny. Again, our heroes are all but defeated, searching for one final glimmer of hope to bring them salvation.
The third song begins on a less hopeful note. “Atlacatl” introduces us to a “legion with a cause / Bringing iron, steel, and gunfire / And the white man’s twisted laws”.
“Atlacatl” tells a story, which straddles the line between history and myth, of the titular warrior chieftain of Cuzcatlan, a pre-Columbian state which existed in what is now El Salvador. Refusing to surrender to the brutality of the European invaders of his land, Atlacatl threw himself into a volcano.
“It’s electrifying and unifying”
The titular song of the album, “It Was Metal” follows an instrumental interlude in which a harmonica whines over a steady beat and distorted guitar chords. These two songs together seem to pay homage to the legacy of the metal genre, and “It Was Metal” explicitly so.
It tells of the evolution of metal from the earliest days of human civilization, when a savage “caveman discovered the fire and the thunder / The strongest of them knew / It was metal”.
But A Sound of Thunder clearly pay close attention to musical history, as the song continues, describing the supposed riots caused by Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” symphony in 1913, and Robert Jonhson’s “Cross Road Blues” of 1936, thought to have changed blues, rock, and music at large forever.
“And now you can hear it pounding / There’s joy in the screams /
We tell our stories with ear-splitting glory / Metal reigns supreme”
As a brief side note, I’ve had to look into each of these historical references (and others to come) to gain a fuller appreciation of A Sound of Thunder’s message, but that has only enhanced my enjoyment of their music.
“But roots grow stronger still, unseen among you all”
“Obsidian and Gold” opens with a lullaby acoustic guitar and strings overlay. Osegueda’s verse is haunting, telling of the long passage of time, and leading the listener to hope and wait, anxiously, for the return of an unnamed traveler.
The song picks up with a more deliberate guitar riff and drum rhythm, but still slower than we’ve heard to this point. The lyrics also level off, describing the return of an ancient power to rule over all.
I honestly can’t decide if this song is more optimistic ordering of the universe, or conspiratorial submission to an unknown power. The song makes reference to Desdinova, an ancient being who alters the course of human destiny, and not necessarily for good. I’ll let you dive into that Wikipedia labyrinth if you so choose (just page-search Desdinova). I just know that this is one of my favorite songs on the album.
The point is, the storytelling of A Sound of Thunder’s album already reaches depths that rival bands like Rush, whose progressive song and album compositions span decades.
The seventh song on the album, “Second Lives”, also opens on a more ethereal note, with Osegueda nearly chanting: “I hear the dead / So why can’t I hear you now?”
She understands that “life is too beautiful to last” but questions what comes after. Can her love for the unnamed lost soul she clings to exist into the afterlife?
“Will this longing for your touch solidify / Or does love disappear when you die”.
These lines in the refrain are punctuated by Schwartz’s pained guitar riffs, emphasizing the desperation of Osegueda’s plea.
“And the enemy will tremble when they see our symbols raised”
“Els Segadors” is an intense and triumphal cover of the Catalan national anthem. (Osegueda is apparently of Spanish and Salvadoran descent.) This song even gained the attention of someone in Spain, and A Sound of Thunder performed at a festival near Barcelona last autumn.
The song is sung both in Spanish (using the original lyrics of the anthem) and English. While the English translations are more poetic and explicit in their calls to war, A Sound of Thunder’s song captures the spirit of the Catalan anthem. Have a listen to the actual anthem compared to the cover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-BdN3ZiH2w.
However you might feel about movements of nationalist self-determination in this postmodern world, the song fits perfectly with one of the overarching themes of the album: the oppressed rising up against tyranny.
But this musical revolution that A Sound of Thunder is waging throughout their songs is not just for one group. They consistently speak of Humanity or the Human Race fighting back against tyranny, whether it is in revisionist historical contexts, or against ancient cosmic gods.
“Tomyris” tells another historical tale bordering myth, of Queen Tomyris of the Massegatae. (Of course I looked into this.) The writings of Herodotus tell of a people east of the Caspian Sea who attracted the imperial eye of Cyrus the Great of Persia. He killed Tomyris’s son in battle, and the warrior queen took her revenge.
The feminist quality of the song is hard to miss: “No man was her equal / Who could ever rule beside her”
Tomyris answers that question by leading her armies against Cyrus and killing him in battle. Once again, we have a mythic figure leading her people to victory against a would-be despot. Tomyris would kneel before no man.
“Charles II” continues the theme of tyranny over an oppressed group, describing the way King Charles II of England paid people to exhume the skulls of Irish dead to drink an elixir that would ostensibly help him live longer.
“And if he ever met the men whose corpses he befell / We will never know, but pray they kick his ass in hell”
“Travel across time, change the world you know”
The final song, “Fortress of the Future Race”, tells of a shattered world and a civilization on the brink of collapse. But our heroes, who have fought against tyranny across space and time, and in many forms, have one last chance to travel backward and undo the damage wrought by their oppressors.
“We are the future / We control the past / The final destiny / Eternity is ours”
I must admit, I regret not purchasing the comic book that A Sound of Thunder wrote and had illustrated for this album, as each chapter is a vignette to pair with its song. I’ll have to pick it up next time I see them.
However, I think It Was Metal stands on its own as a narrative composition, taking the listener on a seemingly obtuse journey that, taken in whole, shows us that oppression and tyranny can be defeated. Hope can ring true, and heroes can rise to the occasion.
“Voices echo through the night, searching for someone to guide them on their way”
It would be overly simplistic to hear A Sound of Thunder’s music, listen to their lyrics of death and war, and reduce their songs to bloodlust and noise.
Not only are their songs well composed, with imaginative solos and interludes and heart-pounding riffs, but the lyrics have both narrative and emotional substance.
If most of the songs refer to specific conflicts between oppressed and oppressor, then “Second Lives” drives the true meaning and connectivity of the album home.
Speak the language of the soul
I understand my role
It’s a lifetime of knowing what’s real
Take my hand now if you can
No one else can understand
What it’s like when you can see
But cannot feel
This constant fight against tyranny is not merely war-mongering. It’s about survival, about honoring the legacy of the past and striving towards a stronger future. I like to believe that this album is driven by love, searching for a reality that understands and admits the suffering of the past–of human existence–in order to build a better future.
All lyrics quoted from A Sound of Thunder’s website: https://www.asoundofthunderband.com/music