In the latter half of 2014, I took my wife to see the Landless Theatre Company's prog metal production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Not only was the show fantastic, but it also introduced me to the vocal powerhouse that is Rob Bradley. From there I learned about Rob's band Aries and their album, Rise. Towards the end of 2015, I was surprised and more than a little disappointed to hear that Aries was no more. My disappointment, however, was short-lived. For hot on the heels of the news of Aries' demise came the announcement of Rob's new project: Thrillkiller and their four-song debut EP, Time.
I took some time to read over my Aries review and listen to Rise in an effort to submerge myself back into the frame of mind I was experiencing in October of 2014. Since Thrillkiller is a brand new project for Rob (and Aries' guitarist Maxim Sobchenko, also aboard), I figured I should compare and contrast the two to determine what, if anything, has changed since Aries. I discovered that in some areas the music has changed quite a bit, while in others hardly at all. Allow me to explain.
With both Aries and Thrillkiller, the main draw for me was, and remains, the vocal talents of Rob Bradley. Rob has simply got such a great voice and impressive range that I cannot help but bow down to his prowess; he is going to kick ass no matter what he is singing. The old cliché about listening to someone sing the phonebook feels relevant here. Do they still make a phonebook? The point I am staggering towards is that the vocals on Time are pleasantly familiar, yet also a distinct step forward.
So what is different? Aries appealed to the old-school rocker from my past; I likened Rise to a melding of early Judas Priest with Mindcrime-era Queensryche. The music on Rise recalled what was good from the music of that period, but without the cheese-factor that would come to haunt that era. It was just good ol' hard rock and roll.
On Time, Thrillkiller has taken up the mantle of a more contemporary rock sound. I feel almost silly saying "contemporary rock sound" when, at least from my metal-centric perspective, it seems that straight-up rock has all but become extinct in mainstream music. We have discussed this on the podcast in the past, but it seems that in the U.S. popular music is fairly well dominated by rappers like Kanye West and pop singers like Taylor Swift. The Foo Fighters seem the lone bastion of hard rock heavyweights left in the ever-flowing current of the American music mainstream. Given the current landscape, the word "contemporary" might just as well be replaced with a milk-carton photo and the words "last scene." But I digress.
You will have to forgive me for not having a more recent example for comparison, but the one band that comes to mind, particularly during the track, "Passion Killer", is Matchbox Twenty. That's right; to me, the 90s still seem like yesterday. But compared to the 70s/80s Priest reference, I am still moving us forward in time, so let me have my usage of contemporary. Another band I might hear a little bit in these songs is Maroon 5. I do not hear particular songs, but Rob's broad vocal range certainly allows him to cover territory that is also the stomping ground of Adam Levine. Imitation? Hardly. Peers? Most definitely. You know how certain singers have a sound to their voice where you can always pick them out from other singers? Rob has this edge he puts on his voice that I would know anywhere.
While Rob and Thrillkiller have updated their sound, I feel like they have also upped the ante regarding technicality and songwriting. The songs have polished pop sensibilities, but they don’t sacrifice the core of what in the end are still rock songs. The guitar playing (presumably performed by Maxim) still manages to keep things unpredictable with killer riffs and passionate solos. I hope there is a full-length album in the works because I can’t wait to hear what these guys do next.
My tastes these days certainly lean towards darker and heavier music, but as I am always quick to point out, unlike my podcast-brother Buke, I do have vast horizons of music that I enjoy outside the realms of metal. If I am not wrecking my neck to the latest Cattle Decapitation album, then I might be chilling out with some Miles Davis on vinyl, or perhaps some Frank Sinatra. Metal came from the blues, so you know I love some B.B. King or Muddy Waters. Classical was metal before metal was, so I can get behind that too. My wife has helped me learn to appreciate pop music from the 80s. So while the focus of METALHEADS may seem like I have blinders firmly in place, just know that I do in fact appreciate good music of all types and styles. As such, I feel both confident and qualified to recommend Time by Thrillkiller. My wife likes it too. Just saying.