Thunder Seven (Dailyvault.com)
I have always had a great deal of admiration and even sympathy for rock and roll power trios. For the ones that were able to succeed in the AOR world of the late 70’s and 80’s, one title was commonly thrown their way — “thinking man’s rock.” This title may have been given partly due to the fact that within the chemistry of a three-man unit, there was simply no room for someone to solely concentrate on the lead vocal responsibility and ultimately the camera. With this being the era of MTV’s birth where image became everything in music, “thinking man’s rock” unfairly started becoming uncool.
Perhaps one of the best rock trios of this era were the Toronto, Canada-based band Triumph. If they weren’t the best, they were surely the most underrated. Anchored by lead guitar whiz Rik Emmett, the lead vocal duties of the band had always been split between himself and drummer Gil Moore. And while we are talking about the terms of “best” and “underrated,” those adjectives also fit when analyzing Thunder Seven‘s importance amongst the other eight studio LP’s in the Triumph catalog.
When comparing Thunder Seven to the band’s previous work, one thing that stands out is the heavier tone of the recorded songs. I’m relatively sure that this was the result of the album being recorded in the band’s newly constructed Metalworks studio and subjected to a new acoustic dynamic.
This was a good thing as it really suited Gil Moore’s driving hard-rock vocal style and also induced Rik Emmett to showcase a vocal style that muddied his trademark traditional falsetto pitch on the song “Rock Out, Roll On.” The end result was an eerie message from Rik warning that the “ghosts of Woodstock” were still haunting the next of kin and holding back the future of rock n’ roll. The message within the framework of this song is convincing enough and a credit to the band’s experimentation with the dark, plodding production strategy they employed. During the song “Cool Down,” Emmett’s vocals mirror Robert Plant during Led Zeppelin’s heavier days, again deviating from the soaring vocal sound commonly associated with him in the past.
Thunder Seven also featured two of the most prominent charting songs for the band – both with Moore handling the vocals — “Spellbound” (Billboard Mainstream Rock, #10) and “Follow Your Heart” (Billboard Mainstream Rock, #13). I remember as a kid first hearing “Spellbound” how drawn in I was by the opening synthesizer work. Almost twenty years later, I can now tell you how dated those same synthesizers make the song sound. “Follow Your Heart” is the looser-flowing and more pop-sounding of the two songs. The title of the song is a great cliché, even by today’s standards, to build a song around.
Interestingly, the best song Triumph ever wrote that never saw the light of day was this album’s “Time Goes By.” Talk about a soaring introduction and a great bass line by Mike Levine that cascades into a dark and beautiful melody. While the song brings back Rik Emmett’s high pitched falsetto, it also highlights his songwriting ability to the fullest and fits in the inspirational line, “We all bear witness as history unfolds; Let’s hope tomorrow can deliver on the promise that she holds.” When I claimed Triumph fit into the category of “thinking man’s rock,” it’s words like this that define my claim.
“Midsummer’s Daydream” is a brilliant acoustic piece by Emmett with an almost classical sound. The fretwork exhibited here showcases Rik Emmett as a guitarist for the ages and one that didn’t have to rely on the chemistry of a band to be a success.
The diversity of the songs on Thunder Seven should be cemented by the power of Moore and Emmett dueting their way through the song “Killing Time.” With Emmett’s high pitch and Moore’s heavier voice, the chemistry of this song comes across amazingly, the vocals as fluid as the tightest big brother/little brother bond ever seen. It was the first time the two had ever collaborated in such a way on a song.
Looking back on Thunder Seven in this day and age, it’s apparent that MCA missed the boat promoting this album. Thunder Seven had so much to offer to such a great number of people without alienating any particular musical taste. MTV was a marketing vehicle moving at full steam and hard rock bands were commonly filling arenas while on tour. Looking back on it all, something obviously misfired causing Thunder Seven to become one of the forgotten gems of the 80’s.