Tuesday, February 2, 2010

THOR "LIVE IN DETROIT" (Ektro Records)

Awhile ago i remarked to a coworker that i loved it when the cover of a book told you exactly what the book was about. The cover in question showed a cyborg brandishing several assault rifles while bareback riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex up to the wall of a castle while archers and gunmen manning the walls readied weapons of their own. Everything in that book was spelled out, right there. That book knew its fan base and was giving them exactly what they were looking for. I had a similar reaction when this gem cropped up in a used bin at Cheapo. The cover tells you everything you need to know about Thor. It's metal, of course, probably '80's era, and more than likely of the "power metal" variety streamlined by the mighty Manowar. What really sold me on this, though, was the fact that it was released (reissued, actually) by Ektro, which is the label run by Jussi from Circle. Ektro's release are incredibly varied and esoteric but there's a crippled arm that seems to release just weirdo metal reissues, criminally overlooked gems from the metal underground that never got the attention they were due. And so it is with Thor, a band i had never heard of until tonight but whose catalogue i now feel it necessary to seek out and obtain at any cost.
A quick trip to metal-archives.com informed me that Thor had a looooong and storied career (still going today) with an assload of releases to their credit, the most lauded being their mid '80's output (as expected). Looking like the viking version of Twisted Sister it's fairly obvious why these guys never made it big, but listening to this record i'm a little saddened that they didn't. This was recorded in 1985 and it's fucking stunning. The first thing you hear is the ROAR of the crowd (and i mean ROAR-there must be 20,000 people at this show at least, more than you would ever expect to be at a Thor concert) and the dulcet speaking voice of lead singer/frontman/titular figure Jon Mikl Thor, stating how happy he is to be in "Detroit Rock City". He must be, as the band proceeds to tear through 10 ripping songs of fantasy metal that sound exactly like KISS's immortal classic. There isn't a single original riff on this album but when they're so goddamn good it doesn't even begin to matter. If you bought an album with a giant snake-car on the front engaged in a skirmish with vikings and hill warriors you pretty much know what you're going to get. The lyrics are typical power metal fare, some songs dealing with lofty topics like dragons, battles and immortality ("Thunder on the Tundra", "Let the Blood Run Red", "When Gods Collide"), others dealing with more mundane but no less essential concerns like rocking ("Rock the City"), lust for the ladies ("Hot Flames") and bare-chested machismo ("Anger"). Every track is thrown down with relentless energy and commitment by the band. They obviously believed in this music and any amount of irony that might have been hidden in these songs is slaughtered by the band's absolute devotion to their craft. As cheesy as this shit is, and as many times as i smiled and even laughed while listening to it, i couldn't deny how fucking hard i was being ROCKED at the same time. The way these guys play to the crowd is electrifying. Every live cliche is indulged. By the end of the first track, it's already time for Jon Mikl to introduce us to the band and let us know that the next song was a big hit in Europe "last year". By the time we get to track four, the previously mentioned epic "Rock the City", we're treated to a stupifyingly jaw-dropping four and a half minute unaccompanied guitar solo (face melter beyond belief) followed by a call and response chorus with the Detroit audience, whom Thor has heard "...are the loudest audience IN THE WORLD." In a perplexing contrast, when Thor asks the crowd if they ever read KERAANG magazine, he's greeted by an equally loud and puzzled silence (apparently KERAANG hadn't made headway in the US by that point. I'll bet if Jon Mikl had asked if anyone had ever heard the thunder on the tundra-despite the fact that was the track just ripped to shreds-the crowd response would have been deafening). You'd think it'd be hard to deliver six more tracks after that keep up the same intensity and fervor, but they do. These guys play like they mean it, like someone had Gary Gygax tied up in an adjoining room and were going to kill him if Thor didn't bring it at the necessary level. They knew this fame was fleeting. They had the material, they had the chops (and fuck do they have the chops-these guitars solos are impeccable and cool as hell) and they had the desire. KISS wrote that god gave rock n'roll to you, but it was Thor that brought it down from the mountain to the people. Fuck yes. Impossibly good metal, my highest recommendation.

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