THUNDERSTONE is one of those bands where you consistently find yourself wondering, “Where did they go? Why don’t they put out more music?” or may forget about from time-to-time and then come across classic songs like “Tool of the Devil” or “Until We Touch the Burning Sun.” Either way, this band was formed in 2000 by Nino Laurenne and after bringing together an all-star line-up, has come out on top with their latest comeback release, “Apocalypse Again.” I have been silent about this album for far too long now, and I’m thrilled that I can finally share my opinions on it with you after listening to it on repeat for a few days!
01 “Veterans of the Apocalypse”
What a killer way to start an album. This song is the definition of what the Finns call “korvamato” (literally “ear worm,” but it means a song that’ll get stuck in your head for days). It has everything you want in an album starter, or a party starter, including classic ’80s metal guitar soloing seamlessly blending with the wailing keyboards, as well as a catchy chorus, and the whole thing is a tight package wrapped around some pretty clever lyrics about the ridiculous modern concept of “apocalypse scares.” Also, the inclusion of a Viking choir at the end was a really interesting choice – it feels like the only proper way to end this song, but you don’t usually hear the songs with the epic choir at the beginning of an album. This song is a bit of a surprise from a band like THUNDERSTONE, but in a good way. Needless to say, this song belongs in the opening slot on some setlists (hint hint)!
2. “The Path”
The first single! Man, I waited months to get a taste of this album in its mastered form and it did not disappoint. Pasi Rantanen’s voice is sounding as good if not better than he did 10 years ago and Laurenne is really at the peak of his game with the solo. What’s particularly cool about this song, as brought to my attention by Ville, is that the verses are fairly dark and gritty, but the chorus is rather light and poppy. You’d think the two wouldn’t mix, but they blend together seamlessly. If I have one complaint about it, it’s that Jukka Karinen on keyboards is doing a fantastic job, but he’s a bit quiet compared to some of the other songs where he’s much more prominently on display. Either way, this is a total feel-good song that should be on any power metal fan’s goodtime playlist!
3. “Fire and Ice”
This started out as my least favorite song on the album, but slowly began to grow on me the more I listened to it. “Fire and Ice” was the first taste we got from “Apocalypse Again” back in 2015, before the album had a name and when the other songs were just a twinkle in someone’s eye, so it’s pretty cool that if you enjoyed this song, just about everything you heard afterwards only got better. Going with my gut, this song feels a bit more like a traditional THUNDERSTONE song. It might’ve been the song’s lyrics that finally drew me in, cleverly describing the mingling pleasure and pain of relationships, or the slow build to the chorus, but either way, it’s earned its place on the album!
4. “Through the Pain”
All right, THUNDERSTONE, you found my weakness: the marching beat. Somehow songs with marching beats always tend to get me going (like “March of the Poozers” by the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT, or pretty much any SABATON song ever). The step up from gentle to heavy at 00:42 is just delicious, and, correct me if I’m wrong, but is there just a hint of that HEVISAURUS flavor in this song? It’s got a pretty standard catchy THUNDERSTONE chorus, and the lyrics continue that “devastating goodness” relationship theme that we got a hint of in “Fire and Ice.” The change-up in lyrics adds a nice twist before the C-part too! Usually those come at the end, so this song feels very fresh across all fronts.
5. “Walk Away Free”
One trend I’m starting to notice is very big tempo changes – this one starts off with a super “speed power metal” intro, and then drops down to a quite gentle part when it gets to the verses, and doesn’t build back up until after the chorus. This whole album has dynamics all over the place. I love the build-up to “dead men tell no tales.” It’s very dramatic and powerful. The solo is a bit more laid-back, but certainly isn’t without its shred. I love how Laurenne and Karinen share the solos and sort of “face off” against each other. No one is hogging the spotlight here – everyone gets a chance! I also like the touch of gravel in Rantanen‘s voice. It adds something nice to what would otherwise be a very traditional cheesy power metal fade-out.
This has such a cool intro – very old-school rock n’ roll, but that little keyboard wail just adds a perfect kick in the pants. And then Rantanen’s scream at the beginning? That’s all the proof that you need to know that he’s still alive and vocally kicking. And I love the very classic metal “yeah!” in the beginning. Having the chugga-chugga rhythm is cool with guitars, so it’s really neat to hear it in the keyboards for a change.
This track is perhaps the most traditional speed power metal song, particularly in the keyboards. This is only emphasized by the chorus, with lyrics such as “set me free, let me go on my way.” Lyrically, this one has a lot of the clichés, but with these guys, I bet that’s what they’re going for and they make it work. And regarding the power metal, Atte Palokangas is really nailing the style with the drumming. I can’t wait to see him do stuff like this live!
8. “Days of Our Lives”
More marching beats? This album was made to please me. Also, it’s cool the way the keys are integrated into the march at the beginning. I really enjoy how the vocals paired with keys sound just the right amount of dramatic for a song that shares a name with a soap opera. It returns to the heavy sound pretty quickly though, and maintains a strong dynamism right through to the chorus. Let’s not let Titus Hjelm be the unsung hero either – he’s come up with some of the catchiest lines/concepts for this album (such as this one), and he’s no slouch on the bass either.
9. “Barren Land”
The track length and progressive intro to this song scream “epic finale.” This song is just purely cool. The music is focused perfectly on where the lyrics need some oomph… or is it the other way around? Either way, having all the kick during “the journey of my life” is just so cool. I think if Timo Kotipelto had half the grit that Rantanen has, I might actually be able to listen to STRATOVARIUS. The speedy drums also give it a push that makes it feel faster than it is. Also, the quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? Brilliant. Jonathan Hutchin’s voice is just so dark and deep, it fits the rest of the wanderer/redemption-seeker lyrics so, so well. This is such a good way to end an album – I can see everyone at a gig with their hands and lights/phones in the air during the gloriously corny C-part, and then just losing their shit for the solos. I always talk about ending things on a high part, and this is definitely the way to go out!
I’m going to say that, without a doubt, “Apocalypse Again” is THUNDERSTONE’s best album to date. It has everything you need in a metal album: sweet solos (both guitar and keyboards), wailing gravely vocals, a perfect mix of gritty heaviness and poppy lightness, a Viking choir (in the korvamato no less), and an epic finale. Never before has a THUNDERSTONE album so easily gripped my attention and held on without letting go. I’m going to go ahead and give the whole thing a 9.5 or a full 5 stars, and put it as my first nomination for best album of the year!
Written by Bear Wiseman
- Veterans of the Apocalypse
- The Path
- Fire & Ice
- Through the Pain
- Walk Away Free
- Days of Our Lives
- Barren Land
Pasi Rantanen – vocals
Nino Laurenne – guitars
Titus Hjelm – bass
Jukka Karinen – keyboards
Atte Palokangas – drums
Sakara Records / Sony Music