THUNDERSTONE, Dirt Metal (2009, Sony)

The skull:
This skull has it all, and when I say, “all,” I mean “all the shit that drives me crazy.” It’s crammed full of gears, tubes, and other cheap biomechanical nonsense, and it’s completely brown but somehow not with dirt, which might have actually justified the brownness vis-a-vis the album title. Like the music within, this cover is totally competent, probably expensive, and thoroughly uninteresting, the kind of pointlessness only Scandinavian-branch-of-a-major-label money can buy.

The music:
Thunderstone started as a cheap Stratovarius clone, but over the course of a handful of albums they’ve evolved into a cheap Symphony X clone (minus any trace of that band’s progressive leanings). They’re a perfectly fine, if utterly generic, prog/power band, with a great singer, strong playing, solid songs, and no spirit. If you’re a diehard of the genre, and you routinely spin DGM, At Vance, Bloodbound (the albums without Urban Breed), or Masterplan, then you’ll probably love this. It’s really a pretty good disc, assuming you either haven’t heard much other stuff like this, or you listen to nothing else. I happen to own enough stuff exactly like Dirt Metal that I’m not likely to buy it, but I would probably grab the disc if I saw it for a couple bucks in a used bin. I might never listen to it, but I wouldn’t exactly be ashamed to own it. If I ever found myself in the mood for modern power metal like this, though, I’d probably reach for some Nocturnal Rites, if only out of habit, because this is more or less as good as anything that band’s done post-Afterlife. It’s just no better, which is the problem.
— Friar Johnsen


TOURNIQUET, Where Moth and Rust Destroy (2003, Metal Blade)

The skull:
You can’t fault Tourniquet for failing to address the title with their big dumb skull, as this guy here is indeed rusting through and beset by moth. The logo and even the white background are also falling apart, which earns the band bonus points for total thematic unity. None of that makes this cover any cooler, unfortunately. If I didn’t know this came out in 2003, I’d say it could have been done in some iPad drawing app, and I’m certain that it was knocked out with the minimum of effort by some friend of the band with a Wacom tablet.

The music:
Tourniquet were never very good, although for some reason I pretend that their 1992 release Pathogenic Occular Dissonance was alright. It really wasn’t, but it almost could have been. It’s got a nicely overwrought title that suggests some kind of tech thrash, and their singer back then was not bad, but Tourniquet’s brand of aspirationally progressive thrash has always come up short in the quality department. After their original singer left, a dude going by Luke Easter (which is a very suspicious name for a guy in a Christian metal band) took over, and while his snarly Mustaine-meets-Hetfield delivery isn’t bad, per se, it nevertheless comes off as cut-rate. The music, at least since their 2000 “comeback” (after a few years trying to make a go of selling out) is also vaguely Megadethian, following the pattern of the Friedman years without even quite reaching those middling heights. And at that, Where Moth and Rust Destroy is about good as it gets for post-Occular Tourniquet, although to be fair, I haven’t heard their most recent album. There are even some nice Dimension-era Believer influences coming through here, and a song about giant squids. As with a lot of Christian bands, Tourniquet seems to get by on the guaranteed sales at Mustard Seed stores or whatever; no secular thrash band this mediocre would be able to secure label support year after year. Well, maybe they could now, especially if they played up the squids and played down the Jeebus.
— Friar Johnsen