Tuesday, January 29, 2002 @ 9:03 AM
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The original rock warrior himself, Thor, is back with a vengeance with this cyber metal update on his unique brand of chariot-driven gladiator metal. A sort of sequel to his 1977 debut album, Keep the Dogs Away, Dogz II finds the mighty one dabbling in the nu metal sounds of the day, adding drum loops and some evil sounding synths to his muscular guitar-rock sound and the results are surprisingly good.
Those of you that remember Thor from his heyday in the mid-’80s when he graced the covers of Kerrang and Metal Hammer surely recall his muscle-bound, Conan-like Norse Rock image and thunderous Dungeons and Dragons inspired sound. Songs like “Thunder on the Tundra” and “Let the Blood Run Red” were underground classics back in the day and he was legitimately big in Europe and Canada….but never quite crossed over in the States. But good ol’ Thor even made his way into low budget films such as Rock n’ Roll Nightmare, Zombie Nightmare, and Recruits before fading away into the netherworlds. In recent years, the burly one has resurfaced with some mini-tours, a coupla compilation albums, and a scene stealing performance at Punk Magazine’s 25th Anniversary party at CBGB’s.
Dogz II is his first real studio album in almost two decades and certainly his first in the post-Korn musical landscape. The opening cut, “Deeper Shades,” is a heavy as steel rocker with a monster riff and larger than life production and comes creaming out of the gate like racehorse on fire. Jon Thor, as he’s now known, is singing as strong as ever, belting out lyrics scepters, dragons and nightmares like it’s 1985 all over again, but over a chugga chugga guitar line that could be right off a Rob Zombie album. In fact, much of this material, songwriting-wise and production-wise, sounds like it could be off a Zombie album. The title track is as good as anything off Hellbilly Deluxe…and that’s a good thing. “All My Might” is another winner, finds the bodybuilding manimal crushing his love interest with his big muscle of love. “Ward 81” adds some much needed groove to the affair, with its funky bass and Living Colour/24-7 Spyz funky metallic riffing. Thor sings his ass on this one and sounds as strong as ever though the psuedo-rap in the middle in a little scary. “Higher” and “Shout at the World” both have a mid-‘90s grunge/heavy alternative rock vibe ala Tool or Alice In Chains, albeit with a more overtly Thor kinda vibe. Lyrically, “Shout at the World” is really the centerpiece of the album as it finds Thor announcing his newfound sound to the world on lines like “Reborn, the second coming of the Thor/A new era of twisted steel/A new vibe, a new feel” over a heavy-as-shit wall of guitars. Meanwhile, “Glory” is a Celtic, folksy acoustic ballad that sounds like the kind of thing a minstrel might have sung at Valhalla…or something off of Spinal Tap’s underrated Break Like The Wind. In fact, much of this album sound like an album Tap might cut here in 2002, simultaneously trying to update their sound yet remain knee deep in hilarious tap muck. You gotta love it.
The big finale comes in the form of the bonus tracks, a three-song oeuvre dubbed the “Thunderhawk Trilogy.” The song “Thunderhawk” is a remake of a little known Thor tune that appeared on the rarities collection An-Thor-logy and is a genuine throwback to his “Thunder on the Tundra” ‘80s metal sound, complete with roaring crowd noises and the sound of rain and thunder. Surprisingly (or not too surprisingly if you know him), KNAC.COM’s own resident punk rawk n’ roller Frank Meyer makes an appearance on this tune playing some fiery lead guitars (complete with hammer-ons and tapping, his punk credibility be damned!) and lending his pipes on the hilarious chorus of “I am the Thunderhawk,” where he joined by his Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs producer Brian Kehew, who also produced the lo-fi track. “Danger Stranger” is a sidesplitting old school Thor sounding track that features a dead serious Thor reading spoken word lines like “Poison all the dogs and kill ‘em if they bark” with complete conviction. Brilliant! “Mr. Big” is another bass-powered hard rocker with some funky overtones but it’s probably the weakest of the lot here.
Surely producer Seth Riley is responsible for this dramatic update and overhaul of Thor’s sound and deserves much credit for his sonic skills. Thor steps up to the plate vocally and brings some of that steel bending, war-torn roar he was so famous for in his prime and Riley blankets it in metallic soundscape of distortion and pounding rhythms. And, you know what, bringing ol’ dragon slayer into the new millennium isn’t such a bad idea. I mean, shit, we could use theatrical acts like Thor, Manowar and Lizzy Borden in this post Sept. 11th world. And you know what? As weird as it sounds to try to make a ‘80s guy like Thor sound modern, it works. It just works. Listen to the title track and tell me it ain’t as good as about 90% of nu metal albums out right now. I dare ya, punk!