Second chances in music—as in life—are rare. In a gated ecosystem that is set up to prevent even first chances, getting a do-over hardly ever happens. Perhaps no one in 2023 appreciates that more than the members of Royal Thunder. After losing a key member and eventually collapsing entirely under the weight of excess, the beloved Georgia trio have reunited and returned with their first album in six years.
For vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsonz and guitarist Josh Weaver, the title of their fourth record tells the tale: Rebuilding the Mountain. “There was so much shit that piled up over the years,” Weaver explains. “And because of all the drinking and partying, the business aspect got pushed aside. Our emotional bullshit got pushed aside. There’s just so much that got covered up in all this noise, and we just imploded. I think we all needed to grow up and mature.”
The first step? The members of Royal Thunder got sober. “For me personally, it’s not about picking up where I left off in this band,” Parsonz says. “Instead of connecting with who I was and how I was—and what I was doing to my life and our band—it’s about trying to discover who I am now in Royal Thunder. It’s almost back to square one for me in a lot of ways. That’s where I’m at with the new album.”
The album’s first single, “The Knife,” was released in late 2022. Like all of Royal Thunder’s best material, it’s atmospheric, soulful and instantly memorable. Unlike that same material, which had running times hovering around the five-to-six minute mark—and sometimes as long as eight or nine—“The Knife” is fully realized in three and a half.
“I feel like we used to play super-long songs to get a point across,” Weaver says. “But over the years we’ve just simplified things and can get to the point a lot quicker. ‘The Knife’ is a good example of an accessible song that shows a simplicity that maybe hasn’t been there in the past. It was cultivating and waiting to mature.”
Lyrically, “The Knife” is one of the darkest and most unflinchingly honest songs Parsonz has ever written. “I was in a bad place during quarantine,” she says. “I was doing coke and getting drunk almost every night. I was spiraling out, and it got to the point where I wanted to die. I was hurting, and all I could do was toe the line of throwing everything away. So, it’s about blinding myself and getting in my own way. But I’m also saying I don’t need that shadow self anymore. And I’m not only talking to myself. Maybe someone else out there will get it.”
The beautifully melodic second single “Fade” is similarly unsparing and introspective. “That song is about owning the mistakes that I’ve made,” Parsonz says. “It’s about how you can feed yourself this energy that maybe has to do with being addicted to pain or heartache. It’s about avoidance and greed and trading toxicity for toxicity. And a lot of regret. I’m apologizing for my mistakes, but also realizing that sometimes I’m not able to apologize for this trail of destruction. And I think I’m coming around to why.”
From the clear-eyed excoriation of opener “Drag Me” and swirling anguish of “Now Here-Nowhere” to the mournful reflection of “Live To Live” and personal reckoning of closer “Dead Star,” Rebuilding the Mountain captures the journey of three souls who now treasure every minute they have.
Recorded at West End Sound in Atlanta, Rebuilding the Mountain was engineered by Tom Tapley and Miles Landrum and co-produced by Royal Thunder and Tom Tapley. It marks the first time the band has recorded live in the studio.
Ultimately, Rebuilding the Mountain is Royal Thunder as perhaps they should have been all along. “When we started this thing, I always felt like it was something bigger than us,” Weaver says. “It was an awesome spiritual force in my life. It’s a very sacred thing, and we just kinda pissed on it for a while. Now, to have it back, we realize how special it is. The only way we can do this is to do it right. If you’re part of something that makes you alive and inspires other people and inspires you, I feel like it’s almost your duty to do it.”