Review: Thunderstick – Something Wicked This Way Comes

First noticed playing with a developing Iron Maiden in the seventies then moving to Samson (being instrumental in finding a very youthful Bruce Dickinson), Barry Graham Purkis became the figurehead of the newly emerging NWOBHM scene. This was done by creating an alter ego Thunderstick, a masked persona known not only for his wild style of playing his drums but doing so from inside a cage and terrorizing audiences.

He went on to form his own highly theatrical band in the eighties. Fronted by a female rock ’n’ roll wildchild, Thunderstick the band was a perfect “Beauty and the Beast” combination, playing live and recording for five years until it folded in 1987.

Thirty years later and Thunderstick is back, with a new line-up but sticking to the formula of drums, bass, two guitars and a female vocalist. In fact, one reason for dusting off the drum heads was the passing of original vocalist Jodee Valentine at the too-young age of only 55. Says Purkis:

Jodee’s passing hit me really hard and I wanted to do something in her memory. There are some songs that we were playing live first time around that had never been released, coupled with some new tracks that have been written purely for this album. A new line up. A new album. A new era.

So have the band recaptured that 80s feel? Well, put it this way – the first time I was checking the album out right through, the wife popped her head in and told me to “Turn down that old 80s stuff you’re listening to – I’ve just put the kids to bed”. Good enough for me.

The fact that most of the songs were written back in the day, just never recorded, probably helps maintain the old-school feel, and it’s to the band’s benefit that they’ve not tried to modernise anything. There’s a reason that albums of that era are deemed classics, and it’s down to the fact that they were so good back then. They defined a musical generation, so why mess with a milestone?

While some songs are better than others, the one thing that Thunderstick maintain is that wonderful sound that harks back to those early years. This album could have been released in 1987 and fit right in with its peers of the time. Lucie V’s powerful vocals pay worthy tribute to Valentine while Purkis has collated a talented crew of musicians to wrap it all together.

There are three new songs, one of which is the lead single “Go Sleep With The Enemy (I Dare Ya)” which is actually one of the best. Strangely, the first band I thought of when I heard it was The Darkness, a band that’s built a reputation on following in the footsteps of acts from the late 70s and early 80s. I’m not sure who this similar-sounding track compliments the most – Thunderstick for sticking to their influential original sound, or Hawkins for being able to hit notes high enough he could be confused with Lucie V…

“Encumbrance” is the second of the new songs and it’s surprising to discover this as it actually sounds more old-fashioned than any other track. Pushing back to a more 70s tone, it’s got quite a trippy central section and I’d not have been surprised had someone told me it was one of the band’s oldest original numbers!

The final new song is “I Close My Eyes” which ends the album, and the lyrics for this were written by Purkis specifically for Valentine. It’s no surprise to learn that it’s an acoustic-led track and by far the most mellow of the ten which make up Something Wicked… It’s a fine way to wrap things up. Soft and plaintive for the first two thirds, with a soaring, beautiful guitar solo before the final verse and chorus.

Thunderstick weren’t a band I’d encountered before this release, but listening to this album I can completely understand why they could be regarded as having been so influential back in the day. Playing Something Wicked… is like opening a doorway back to when rock and metal was at its newest and most raw. I’m sure old-time fans will thoroughly enjoy it, and younger fans would be doing themselves a favour to check out this modern-day slice of history.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is out now and available through bandcamp and the band’s online store plus all major streaming services

Thunderstick: facebook | twitterbandcamp | webstore

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