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Album Reviews : Espionage – Wings Of Thunder

By on July 20, 2016

espionage wings of thunder“Make those bastards bleed!”

A quote following the bridge of the opening and title track, “Wings Of Thunder”, it feels a fitting phrase to open this review with as well. Melbourne traditional heavy and speed metallers Espionage are back with Wings Of Thunder, their brand new EP, and they want it to be known that they are here to kick some serious ass!

Their first full release since last year’s debut self-titled EP (the “Legions of Shred” single aside), the EP opens to the heavy pour of rain and the crack of lightning – setting the stage to what feels like a late ’80s B-movie horror flick. Soon we’re met with the crack and snap of a drum, followed by the rip-roaring one-two punch of Denis Sudzuka on lead guitar and James Shelverton on drums. Being their first official record without past member, guitarist Oliver “Ollie” Raabe (who left the band in December last year to pursue other ventures), I was immediately taken aback by how refined and sharp Espionage sound here – now being a three-piece as opposed to a four. No doubt is this in part to the excellent production value of this EP, of which credit there goes to Chris Themelco at Monolith Studios – who produced, mixed and mastered the album there. Monolith Studios is currently churning out some of the best Aussie records you’ll find right now, and Wings Of Thunder is no exception.

One of the other qualities to the title track that is made immediately evident – and of which is a constant throughout – is the progression and improvement made by bassist/lead vocalist, Andrew ‘Frosty’ Morris, in his vocals. Whilst he was never a bad vocalist to begin with, his style across Wings Of Thunder feels smoother here; polished. There has been a very clear effort on this EP to better his craft, and that shows both in his mid-tempo vocal approach and his higher pitches. There is good range there, and it is both infectious and understated enough that it stays with you, yet allows Sudzuka and Shelverton to never lose their moment of spotlight, either. That’s a big factor to this EP: balance. It sounds like a simple concept, but it isn’t always as smoothly achieved as one might hope. There’s good balance not only in the dynamic between each of the three members, but also to the layout of the EP, the ‘catchiness’ of the songs, and so on.

The aforementioned note about balance is made evident again when the second track “High Riser” chimes in with a gorgeous guitar lick, demonstrating through this song and the two to follow how this EP continues to build in scope and broaden itself. A record thats landscape feels wider the more you listen to it, this continues with the third track on the record, “Running Out Of Time”. I decided early on that this song was my favourite of the EP, and for good reason. With a driving riff that holds a touch of the mysterious behind it, “Running Out Of Time” is a song that displays Espionage at their best; allowing for an amalgamation of both their traditional heavy metal and speed metal stylings. It also holds the most engaging chorus of the EP, an ascending series of notes that is just begging to be performed live. Backing vocals are also handled here in a way, which, while not wholly unique, feels interesting and work well for the EP. Perhaps the biggest gripe I have is the moment in which Morris breaks his vocal mould and goes for a more crusty approach, a la Blackie Lawless. Whilst W.A.S.P. has been listed as one of Espionage’s key influences, its insertion doesn’t work quite as well as it should, and it is about the only time listening through Wings Of Thunder that I was pulled out of my musical reverie. Still, that being said, I can respect Espionage for also not playing things too safe. It just needs a bit more work to flow and slot in as smoothly with the rest of the record as the other vocal movements do.

It must be said that James Shelverton is a fantastic drummer. It is shown at a number of times through the EP, no least of which comes with the final track of the record, “Never Surrender”. Shifting speeds and tempos seamlessly, this man can work a kit! Just listening to his drum work alone and his use of the snare and bass drum, it is virtually flawless. “Never Surrender” gives us a further example too of what a shred-lord Denis Sudzuka can be – that guitar solo! Wow!

This is an EP that is straight-forward in its approach, but aims to please. Wings Of Thunder is by no means a revolutionary record; it doesn’t break the mould of countless heavy metal bands that have come before it, but what it does achieve is enough to set it that bit above its peers to be worthy of note. In a scene saturated with death and thrash metal bands, acts like Espionage come as a breath of fresh air. There’s homage here to the glory days of the 1980’s of course, but then there’s a significant modern aspect and style Espionage bring to their music as well that separates them from becoming just another poor imitator. The drums are never flat, the bass slots in strongly around the vocals, and the guitar solos and the way they transition from Morris’ high-soaring vocals feel like an art form all their own.

This is an EP more than worth your time.

Tracklist:

  1. Wings Of Thunder
  2. High Riser
  3. Running Out Of Time
  4. Never Surrender

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.