Thunder Horse – not to be confused with the former Dethklok tribute band – are back. The third album from the Texan rock/metal quartet sees them refine their sound, taking a tighter grip on the reins and cranking things up a notch to ensure that this latest record is their best and most brash yet. The result of this is After the Fall – an excellent entry into the band’s already raucous discography.
After the Fall flaunts a wealth of influences in its music, all of which are shackled to one another in a cast-iron bond that doesn’t restrict creativity so much as guarantee a sense of synergy. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to doom/psych bands in my youth (a fact I’ve more than made up for in my adult years), but classic rock and blues were staples of my childhood. As such, the audible reminiscence of stalwarts like Deep Purple conjured in Thunder Horse‘s grandiose arrangements – not to mention southern-tinted, hazy solos calling back to ‘90s-era ZZ Top – won me over almost immediately.
However you categorise Thunder Horse – stoner, doom, psych, classic rock, bloody good – you’ll find evidence of it all here. Enormous, lumbering riffs entwine with plaintive melody, buckets of foreboding attitude spill forth, and flutters of unpredictability creep out from amidst crisp, tight musicianship… and that’s just on the titular opening track. However, unlike some musical tendencies in the stoner/psych realms, Thunder Horse have not produced a particularly upward-gazing record: After the Fall has atmospheric, ethereal moments, but they are frequently interjected by brooding slabs of guitar that mercilessly hurl you back down. It’s an absolute rollercoaster, being lifted skyward one minute only to have your face slammed into the ground and dragged along asphalt the next.
That said, for all the snarling riffery and boisterousness, After the Fall should not be discarded as mere one-trick fodder. Thunder Horse do mountainous riffs well – very well – but there’s a greater employment of dynamics and songwriting chops this time round that help the band stand out from peers, as well as exceed what they accomplished on 2021’s Chosen One. Shifts in tempo contribute heavily to this, and Jason West’s drum work is key: he commands his kit with precision and power, but, as is the case on songs such as the menacing “Apocalypse”, West also knows when to refrain and allow the soundscape to shift in the hands of others. It’s an attentiveness shared by the band as a whole and it pays dividends.
Of course, the percussion is but one ingredient for success here. Dave Crow’s galloping basslines assist magnificently in driving each song forward while bolstering the mid-range of this wonderfully mixed album. Moreover, while the rhythm guitar is often evil enough to deliver a glowering kick to the face by itself, the work of Todd Connally on lead guitar is fantastic. If the summer heat isn’t blistering enough to cause problems where you are, don’t panic: the searing solos that Connally spits out during surging crescendos and festering, quieter passages throughout the album serve as a more than adequate replacement. “Monolith” and “Aberdeen” are particular highlights, though each and every one really strikes out from the speakers thanks to a slick tone. They’re also full of character: we’re not subjected to mindless, monotonous shredding that serves an ego, but rather lead work that serves the song’s vibe while showcasing proficiency. They’re crafted and executed with maximum swagger – the kind that will definitely rub off on your stride if you happen to be walking as you listen.
All of the above combines with the resounding vocal work of Stephen Bishop, who also handles vocals in Pitbull Daycare. Given that Connally and West are also linked to that project, it’s no wonder Thunder Horse sound so unified and confident in their music. Here, Bishop can be found hollering into the void across the the record, matching the fiery nature of the instrumentals with his forceful delivery. Sombre midpoint “The Other Side” gives brief respite from this with its acoustic guitar and tuneful singing replacing the usual walls of uproar, but it’s very much temporary before Bishop and the others return to their high-volume commotion.
All good things must end eventually, though, and everything mentioned above builds up to “Requiem” as Thunder Horse lash one final helping of monstrous noise upon the ears. It’s a belter, too; even as you near the end of these forty minutes, the stallion that is After the Fall stands strong right up to the record’s petering conclusive seconds. It’s all still here until the very end: the intensity, the swagger, the sinister grandeur, the furious fretwork, and the unshakeable reality that you’ll soon be choosing to head back and start the journey all over again.