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By Jay Roberts, Massachusetts Contributor
Wednesday, January 18, 2023 @ 7:58 AM

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The Black Watch

RFL Records - 2022

The MUNROE'S THUNDER album The Black Watch came to fruition as part of a promise singer Ronny Munroe made to his late wife J-Von (Joy) Hughes Munroe. She was, as the liner notes state, the driving force behind not only the album but the band that recorded it.

The Black Watch is a concept album that follows the life and times of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Black Watch was the people responsible for guarding her and Munroe apparently has ancestors that were part of said group.

With guitarist David Mark Pearce, who produced, mixed, played guitar, bass as well as co-wrote most of the album, as his main collaborator, Munroe spins out the hard and fast music and vocals as the true to life tale unfolds. (It should be noted that Pearce played keyboards on one track while Oliver Wakeman is credited with playing piano, keyboards and Hammond organ on the album as well).

The title track is a heavy and fast burst of metallic fury. The music is strong and in your face while Munroe's vocals take on a gripping and ripping throaty tone at times. It's a flat out killer song in all aspects and gets the album off to a great start.

I liked the way the music went on "Awaken The Fire" but I have to admit that with the lyrics being pretty repetitive all the way through, I was a little less enamored of this track as a whole.

But The Black Watch rebounds quickly from that little dip with the song "Gray Hall". Man, you want to talk about an absolute monster of a track. The music will tear you up with Pearce, guitarist Justin Zych and drummer BJ Zampa are just on fire here. And while this album is based in reality, even the song title conjures up a feeling that this would make a great fantasy novel at the same time. I know that may seem a little weird but I guess that's just how my mind was working as I listened to the album.

J-Von Hughes Munroe makes a vocal appearance on "Babbington Mary". The song is a mixture of acoustic balladry combined with a chorus of a more explosive heavy rock sound. It's interesting to hear a more extended vocal take from Ronny Munroe where he's not providing the more powerful roar his voice has. As I listened, I liked the softer parts of the song so much I kind of wanted to see how the song would've developed had the chorus been less of a rocker delivery. Still, damn fine song overall.

Given that The Black Watch is a concept album, it isn't so odd that the songs would tie together to form one big whole. But for me, I thought the songs "Brace For The Night" and "Dead Man's War" formed their own little duology amidst that greater picture. There's a great musical soundtrack for "Brace For The Night" which is heightened by the addition of the keyboards (or is that the Hammond organ, to be honest I am not sure, my ears may have been playing tricks on me at the time). But "Dead Man's War" is one of my favorite individual tracks on the album. After a relatively brief slow start, the song seems to grow exponentially faster and heavier. The lyrical content was outstanding in its own right but the way Munroe delivered them vocally gave those lyrics a real smooth flow throughout the song.

The album heads into the final stretch with a couple of softer tracks at this point. "Falkirk" is a brief number (less than 2 minutes long) and Munroe's minimal lyrics are accompanied by a spare musical background. But for "Thirty Years War", the softer side of the music is balanced out with a more metal delivery for the song's chorus. But before you get there, the piano that is the focus of the early part of the song gives the song a dramatic tone you might not have been expecting. It adds a bit more depth to the song in full and I found that I really enjoyed the way it came out. As the song hits the guitar solo, the pacing becomes more amped up until the final couple of lyrical lines where the piano focus comes back into play as the song fades out.

Of course, as that song fades out, the album reaches its final act in a crescendo of metallic fury. The song "Echoes of The Dead" is explosively fast and that carries with it a renewed sense of the heavy as well. The band is perfectly in step with each other and Munroe's vocals once again carries the story forward. The 2nd guitar solo from Justin Zych is fantastic!

The final song on The Black Watch is "The Executioner" and revolves around the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. But the song is told from the viewpoint of said executioner. And it is, if you'll pardon the rather unfortunate and unintended pun, a killer tune! Fast moving, the music is heavy but the way Munroe portrays the title character is imbued with a sense of unrepentant evil. It brings the person to life, even if he's not exactly someone you'd be sympathetic towards. What really drew the song together in full was that the song's chorus was actually kind of cool. It's pretty memorable and flows in the kind of way you'd expect from a song that wasn't quite so dark in tone. The chorus comes into play three times during the song and each time, I found myself singing along.

I've been a big fan of Ronny Munroe through his time with METAL CHURCH, his solo albums and some other projects he's been a part of. So while I found that there were a couple of tracks that didn't quite strike a spark with me overall I thought that MUNROE'S THUNDER's The Black Watch was a dramatically intense examination of Mary, Queen of Scots and provided plenty of kickass metal for listeners to enjoy.

4.4 Out Of 5.0

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