Personnel: Mlny Parsonz (vocals, piano, upright bass); Josh Weaver (guitar); Evan Diprima (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Joey Jones.
Recording information: Aria Recording Studio.
The sophomore studio outing from the Atlanta-based hard rock unit doubles down on the bluesy, psych-fueled classic rock vibe of its predecessor, 2012's excellent CVI, but there is an inescapable patina of melancholy that coats Crooked Doors. Breakup albums are nothing new, but outside of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, they rarely involve bandmembers who are trying to maintain a working musical relationship amidst the wreckage of their romantic foibles. Bassist/vocalist Mlny Parsonz and guitarist Josh Weaver work through their angst in different ways (Parsonz through her enigmatic lyrics and Weaver through his deft guitar work), but they both arrive at the same conclusion: Love Hurts. Parsonz's air raid of a voice (an intoxicating amalgam of Pat Benatar, Ann Wilson, and Joan Jett) leads the charge, but it's the band's penchant for pairing meaty stoner metal with brooding, swamp-kissed psychedelic rock that holds the whole thing together. More atmospheric than their regional contemporaries Baroness, but just as keen on opening up the blast furnace doors when an exclamation point is needed, Royal Thunder spend much of Crooked Doors skillfully dancing around the almighty power ballad (the Nazareth radio standard mentioned earlier looms large throughout), but not truly succumbing until the very end. Even with the brakes tapped at midtempo, the band casts a powerful spell, and the evocative two-part closer "The Bear" is as heartbreaking as it is spare. After pounding along on the dashboard to the epic seven-minute opener "Time Machine," the nervy, slide-driven "Glow," and the gritty and propulsive "Floor," it comes as a shock to hear everything stripped away to the bare essentials, but the song's relative austerity manages to convey the obstinate ache that accompanies the end of a relationship better than anything else on the album. ~ James Christopher Monger