(TheBRHM.com) Canada has a strong reputation as country that generates primo rock and heavy metal. We got the likes of Rush, Anvil, and Razor from the Great White North. Another long-time act from Canada is Thor, a band that takes its name from frontman Jon Mikl Thor and has been around since 1973 under different names.
What Is Thor?
While the other bands are well-known for the quality of their releases, Thor exists in an area that is somewhat like Anvil and Razor but with more of a cult following. The band is better known in parts of Canada, Japan, and Europe but it’s never really been a massive headlining band even with a lead singer like Thor.
Now, that isn’t to say that Jon Mikl Thor is a tremendous singer. For the music the band produces—old school heavy metal and 80s-style U.S power metal—his vocals work. It’s the kind of voice you’d expect from a lead character who battles giants, dragons, and wizards and has seen medieval or fantasy wars.
It’s more as if Conan the Barbarian had a band than Thor, honestly. The best band I can compare it to is a less-successful Canadian version of Manowar. Jon doesn’t have Eric Adams’ vocal strength from the 80s and 90s but he has a grasp of showmanship that he has showcased since he was a regular on TV doing strongman feats.
An important part of his background is that he is a former championship-winning bodybuilder becoming the first Canadian to win the Mr. Canada and Mr. USA championships. According to Wikipedia, he has won over 40 titles in his bodybuilding career. Afterward, he parlayed that success into acting and music. He would appear on television programs to perform with his band and do acts such as blowing up water bottles with his lungs or bending steel bars.
Now in his early 70s, he continues to record music with his most recent full-length release being 2021’s Alliance. We’re rewinding the clock to 1977 to look at the band’s full-length debut Keep the Dogs Away. While it managed to go gold status—in large part due to Thor’s celebrity—it was viewed poorly by media. His fame played a role in this as despite having a music background and experience in bands, the project was seen as gimmicky.
Great Album Debuts: Thor – Keep the Dogs Away
Things kick off with the titular track which is heavy but leans more hard rock. Honestly, the album as a whole leans hard rock but there’s some heavy metal in the mix. I’d liken it to an album like Riot’s debut Rock City where it was very much heavier hard rock and speed metal but never heavy metal.
Side A gives you a nice mix of anthemic tracks like the catchy title track and the corny “I’m So Proud” and window-fogging backseat bangers like “Catch a Tiger” and “Tell Me Lies”. There’s also a strong track in “Sleeping Giant” which follows “Keep the Dogs Away” which I believe Thor did a really good job on.
To be honest, if the album was all “Keep the Dogs Away” and “Sleeping Giant” this would’ve been an album to notice. Hell, if just the A-side was all-business, that would’ve shivered my timbers. However, it’s the late 70s and hard rock albums typically included at least two ballads or love songs.
It makes me wonder if this was the same observation Venom lead singer and bassist Cronos had in a statement to a magazine about his band’s style:
“Our music is Power Metal, Venom Metal, Black Metal, not Heavy Metal cos that’s got the chicks.”
Anyway, the B-side is more my pace—or as close as the album will get. It’s pretty much how the whole album should’ve gone down. We’ve got some hard rockin’ tunes such as “Superhero”, “Wasted”, and “Rosie” and some heavier tracks such as “Military Matters” and “Thunder”. Both are very much hard rock but if they had been on a full-on heavy metal album they wouldn’t be out of place in the late 70s or early 80s—especially if the band was moving from hard rock to metal.
As a whole, the album sounds appropriate for its time. It isn’t dated or groundbreaking but it’s a very solid hard rock album that honestly didn’t deserve the dunking it’s gotten over the decades. I will say that it’s understandable why it was initially dismissed as a gimmick album but I think that the stage persona of Thor added to performance and the music.
Theatrics aren’t necessary but often we do want things to appear as it sounds and to sound like how we see it. It’d be like putting audio of Dragonforce over King Diamond or GWAR if it was how it states on the box. It’s something we’ll revisit in the “Strength of the Opener” portion but the album is worth a listen and clocks in at under 36 minutes.
Strength of the Opener: “Keep the Dogs Away”
You know what? The title song was actually a good opener for this album. You kind of expect the title track to at least be good wherever it is on the album but this worked as the opener. It wasn’t a dry, plodding song or anything and it matched the imagery of the album cover.
If an album was called Hamburger Havoc and had the Grimace and the Hamburglar holding up a wrecked McDonald’s with Mayor McCheese as a hostage as the album cover, I’d expect the title track and/or opener to be absolutely chaotic. Anything else would be uncivilized.
So, the opener really nails it. The only substitute openers I see on the album are “Sleeping Giant” and “Thunder”.
Staff Writer; M. Swift
This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.