Review: Sergeant Thunderhoof ‘This Sceptred Veil’

I’m not sure quite when the fact that Sergeant Thunderhoof have become such a great band dawned on me. Having mutual friends with some of the members and having a connection to one of the former bands that contributed members to them, I must confess that I took their existence for granted. It wasn’t really until 2018’s fantastic Terra Solus that I realised that the Somerset band were purveyors of some might fine massive grooving riffs, ranging progressive writing and hooks that encompass melody and thought provoking lyrics. To my shame.

Sergeant Thunderhoof 'This Sceptred Veil'

Not only have the band steadily produced three quality albums since their accidental inception in 2013, they have also recorded an impressive live album, a split LP with Howling Giant and contributed towards many complications, the most high profile (and divisive) being a cover of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting, a brave choice that personally I thought was an inspired piece of interpretation that remains on my playlist to this day, despite the pearl clutching of some of Bush’s more precious fans.

Recorded with Josh Gallop (Phoxjaw) at Stage 2 Studios in their geographical base of Bath and mastered by the Tony Reed (Mos Generator), the band’s latest album This Sceptred Veil comes off the back of a period of celebration through fatherhood and the dread of mortality and fragility of life that we have all felt acutely over the last few years, causing the band to explore darker and denser territory than on their previous albums.

Taking their muse from their home in the South West of England, and playing off John of Gaunt’s dying words from Shakespeare’s Richard III, Sergeant Thunderhoof launches into the opening track You’ve Stolen The Words, with a moody riff that walks the line between retro stoner and progressive rock. Featuring thumping drums from Darren Ashman, overlaid by spacey riffing from Mark Sayer, they set the scene before Dan Flitcroft’s otherworldly voice comes in sounding like a siren call from the beyond but with a gritty bite that punctuates the delivery.

Continuing the journey with their own Sergeant character, the band found inspiration in the area’s rich history to deliver a near mythical tale that touches on the ancient Isle Of Avalon and captures the ‘darkness, light, paranoia, fear and redemptive qualities’ that they acutely felt during the pandemic. Effortlessly transitioning between the hypnotic, virtual muscular hard-hitting rock, the epic opener sets out their stall from the first notes. If you liked Cloudbusting, it is the same mindset dialled up to the proverbial 11.

It feels like a cliché to invoke the notion that a band’s latest album is their best yet, but in the case of Sergeant Thunderhoof and This Sceptred Veil it is absolutely true…

Devil’s Daughter has a funky old school feel as it bounces in ready and willing to rock. Flitcroft’s voice again soars over this up-tempo number that somehow seems to capture the spirit of vintage Kyuss and Black Sabbath, crashing them into Cathedral and Thin Lizzy like playfulness. The lead work on the solo is just majestic and how they never step over the line into cheesy territory is a skill only they can explain.

The third song, Absolute Blue, is hands-down my favourite on the album, not because the quality falls off afterwards, but the haunting atmosphere is rich with blues heavy and soulful influence. Flitcroft delivers a smoky, introspective vocal before raising the bar with a lush chorus that is tinged with nostalgia, sorrow, and joy simultaneously as he sings ‘And I was sitting on my father’s shoulders… nothing else existing in that perfect moment…’. A lyric that would make a glass eye cry, even as the music gives way to more crushing heaviness and deft lead work.

After this, the powerful Foreigner with its racing urgent rush shakes you out of the wistfulness, showcasing the tightness between the band as they demonstrate the dynamic ability to suddenly drop into a deep groove and then launch seemingly effortlessly into lazy sounding melodies is, at times, just breath-taking. The grooves continue on Woman Call, propelled by a grinding baseline from Jim Camp, the vocals and lead guitar trade off once again to guide the listener, marionette like, on a funky ritualistically dance, rhythmically absorbed in a shamanistic bacchanal.

King Beyond The Gates is a more straightforward piece of mid-tempo rock that has a distinctly British feel to it; robust enough to stop the progressive meandering from becoming self-indulgent. The track is subtly built around deceptive hooks and melodies. After the more driving and aggressive Show Don’t Tell, the album ends on the double whammy of Avon Avalon, a twenty-minute, two-part conclusion to this complex and multifaceted saga. Part I is drenched in slow burning mystic atmospherics that the likes of King Buffalo have been doing so well on their last few releases, as the band builds the dramatic tension towards the operatic finish, they slow it down once more and do the whole thing again, but twice as epic in Part II, bringing this remarkable album to a close.

It feels like a cliché to invoke the notion that a band’s latest album is their best yet, but in the case of Sergeant Thunderhoof and This Sceptred Veil it is absolutely true. Everything the band has done before is writ large here, agonised over and refined to the nth degree, delivering a truly remarkable piece of art. Without a shadow of a doubt, it has already secured a place in my top releases for the year.

Label: Pale Wizard Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden