Grabbing the chance to wade into Royal Thunder’s world is always a bit of a pleasure. The Atlantan quartet are right up my alley often warping the softer edges of classic rock and grunge with deft psych touches to create a warm, unctuous sound. New album, Wick, has promised to offer something a little different though so we’ll see in which direction they’ve veered.

It’s a slow, melancholic start with Mlny Parsonz’ strong, part-growled vocal outpourings, saving the weak MOR melodies, rhythmic plodding and cloying, overwrought threads from anonymity. Happily, as the tempo picks up, to coincide with the rollicking force of “The Sinking Chair”, the disparate structures begin to mesh together and throb beautifully. Her vocal even kicks into growl mode and the twisted overdrive in Josh Weaver’s guitar really ram home the band’s intent and passion. It’s a right old rocker all wrapped up in bookends of feedback.

There’s elements of stoner plod, dirty pop and blues boogie in here, but it’s the rich vein of frazzled country that shines through strongest of all. The balletic “Plans” is pure Black Crowes, the over-dramatics and soporific nature of “Push” and “The Well” are tinged with Creedence and Fleetwood Mac, whilst the lilting kick and rattle of “Anchor” is delivered with a sneer, a swagger and a truckful of capricious intensity that only comes from extended Country & Western immersion – I bet they recorded it wearing ten gallon hats.

Ultimately it’s the weaker numbers, such as the loose-limbed “We Slipped” and the wheedling, naval-gazing title-track that leave this coming up short of their best material. Despite the clipped song structures, multi-instrumentalism and new clean lines they are sporting this, by no means, is an album that has strayed too far from the nest but it does come fired up by this strong sense of purpose. It’s interesting to notice that Parsonz found making the album a bit of a struggle. “It was a fight, but to hear it now, to see it finished, is so gratifying. I’m looking at it, going we’re done, it’s over, be free.” For me, the overwhelming sense from reading that quote is one of relief, rather than achievement. Let’s hope that the pieces fall into place a little easier next time.

(6.5/10 John Skibeat)