THOR wsg Frank Soda & The Imps, DJ Slim Keg. Tickets available via casbahlounge.ca
The first new album from Thor since 2015’s Metal Avenger, Beyond The Pain Barrier is a more straight ahead traditional metal album. As such, there’s less of the glam rock/punk influence side of Thor’s work on display this time around, and more heavy riffs and an overall darker sound to this latest offering from Deadline Music. This time around, Jon Mikl Thor (on lead vocals) is accompanied by John Leibel on lead guitar, Matt McNallie on guitar, Ted Jedlicki on bass and Tom Croxton on drums, but there are a few guest spots on the record that we’ll note as they occur.
The first of the twelve tracks that make up the album is Tyrant, a raging five minute blast of surprisingly angry metal with a trash-style vibe to it uncommon in Thor’s discography. That said, it works and it works damn well. The track is about as political as Thor tends to get, ranting about the horrors of a potential nuclear war, but of course with the mythological slant you’d expect if you’re familiar with Jon Mikl Thor’s past records. This is very likely the angriest Thor track ever recorded! Matt Hodson of Chaos Frame and Lance King’s band handles the solo here, it’s impressive. On this one track, drums are handled by Will Maravelas (and he also contributes a second guitar solo).
The Calling, a shorter track then the first at just under three minutes, is more in line with what you’d expect from Thor, at least lyrically as the words to this track conjure up images of warrior heroes preparing for an epic battle. It’s still very much on the heavier side of things (really, this whole album is) but it’s a bit more epic and anthemic in its tone and its style (check out the video for it posted at the bottom of this review). This track features another great solo from Hodson and another one from Mark Ehlers of Deep Sleep Operator. George Call of Clovenhoof provides some backing vocals here alongside someone named Fang Vonwrathenstein.
The title track, the three and a half minute long Beyond The Pain Barrier, is just rock solid classic metal. It’s played tight and fast and it features a pretty seriously catchy chorus and some appropriately epic lyrics about fighting and lightning and swords and other awesome stuff. Great guitar work here too, riff heavy and slick. More backing vocals from Call on this track.
The only power ballad on the album (though it’s hardly the type of schmaltzy love song associated with power ballads) is the four and a half minute When A Hero Dies and it serves as a great showcase for Jon’s vocal range. It offers him the chance to croon but also to really just belt it out. At times it sounds kind of like Motley Crue’s Home Sweet Home in its tempo and pace, but it’s definitely a Thor track through and through, especially once you listen to the lyrics and take in their themes of perseverance, camaraderie and the loss of friendship. In as many ways as this track sticks out from the rest of the album, it’s also one of the best – just for different reasons. Long time Thor collaborator Frank Soda plays the solo on this one.
On Golden Sea gets us back in slightly more familiar ‘METAL’ territory for a four minute with a galloping rhythm and pace that starts off as mid-tempo and more or less stays there for the duration. If it doesn’t shred the way the first three songs do, it’s super catchy (and kind of romantic – yep, this one is a love song, but it’s a love song done Thor style so it involves voyaging across the golden sea and being guided by stars and stuff like that). The end gets heavier and there’s a pretty slick solo here (once again performed by Mr. Soda!).
Phantom’s Light is the most experimental song on the album. It’s almost jazzy in the opening bits but about ninety seconds into this six minute slab of heaviness the band kicks in and bulldozes the listener. The riffs here are positively Iommi-esque and therefore worthy of your ears. There are also moments here where, before the chorus kicks in, Jon just goes off behind the mic in really wonderfully bizarre ways, twisting his voice and conjuring up some macabre imagery. Ehlers hands off another kick ass solo on this track.
The second half of the record starts with Twilight Of The Gods, a four and a half minute track that is basically classic metal personified. It’s not a doom track or a speed metal track or a power ballad, it’s just pure sonic heaviness in the grand sonic heaviness tradition. This is probably the fastest track on the record in terms of the guitar playing, it’s almost symphonic at times, while the vocals anchor it and keep it from going too far off the rails. And of course, as you’d expect given the title, the lyrics tie into the classic Thor themes of mythical Gods and giants and monsters – no hammers, but we get a laser for good measure. Hodson solos here again, and it’s killer. Call does more backing vocals on this one too, while Chris Osterman of Iron Kingdom handles the impressive guitar solo.
The three minute long Galactic Sun harkens back to the Thor of the eighties with its huge booming drum sound and sing-along style chorus. The guitar work isn’t as heavy here, it’s lighter, but it’s still slick and tighter. This one is probably the most traditionally ‘fun’ track on the album, not quite as dark as some of the other material, and lyrically it’s more hopeful and upbeat. There are even some nice harmonies here.
Up next we spend three minutes with The Land, a track that, lyrically at least, travels back to the days when strong men travelled across the sea by boat unsure of their destination with only a map to guide them. But as we know, voyages like that didn’t always go so well and on this track Jon explores a character stuck on one such fateful journey. This one gallops a bit as well, sounding a little like Iron Maiden at times, but without ever ripping them off – it just has a similar vibe. This is pretty much CLASSIC THOR in sound and tone. Matt Macnallie’s guitar solo probably left blisters on his fingers.
Deity In The Sky again sees the band channeling the classic sound with a track that builds nicely, conjuring up a mystical, magical sound and allowing Jon to really howl once the chorus hits. At the same time, the basic riff that provides the backbone to the track is heavy enough to get heads banging and fists pumping. Seriously heavy drums from Croxton on this track as well, which when combined with Jedlicki’s bass playing gives this a seriously heavy rhythm. Listen for a killer solo from Marty Gummesson of Thundermaker on this track.
The penultimate track, the three minute Thunder Road, is (for better or worse) not a Bruce Springsteen track. Nope, it’s about the need to have a ‘woman to run beside me’ and how hard said woman is to find. That’s right, Thor needs a thunder girl! He says as much in the first verse. Well, it stands to reason that if you’re looking for a thunder girl you’d probably cruise Thunder Road in hopes of finding one and sure enough, before the song is over Thor has found a warrior woman to climb the mountain with his heavy load. Interpret this as you want. She’s got a sword too, which is pretty rad and she ‘holds my hammer so doggone tightly’ so yeah. At any rate, this is the one track that does have a bit of the punk/glam vibe that’s been a part of Thor’s sound since the Keep The Dogs Away. If this song doesn’t move you, you’re dead inside.
Last but not least, closing off the album is an epic seven and a half minute track called Quest For Valor. It opens with a quick instrumental bit before Thor does a spoken word things over some heavy riffs about the horrors subjected to a peaceful kingdom that reached out to a convoy for help – this, of course, leads to those on a quest for valor helping out and, well, things get complicated from there. This is basically a mini-rock opera set against a fairly traditional metal sound. Vonwrathenstein does backing vocals again on this song. It’s a lot of fun and VERY theatrical, making it a great way to finish off a really solid album.
Great stuff. It’s rare that someone who has been doing this for over four decades is able to put out an album that is completely in tune with the artist’s past while still managing to sound fresh and exciting, but that’s exactly what has happened with Beyond The Pain Barrier.