30 Years Ago: Triumph Release Their Seventh, Pivotal Album
In November 1984, Triumph released their seventh album, the aptly named ‘Thunder Seven,’ during what turned out to be a pivotal time in the Canadian power trio’s career.
The record also celebrated Triumph’s first decade (officially marked on the following year’s double live ’Stages’ album), in which they had risen from border-crossing Canadian upstarts in the late ‘70s to arena-conquering rock heroes in the first half of the ‘80s. Look no further than their near-headlining slot, behind only Van Halen and the Scorpions, at the historic US Festival in August 1983.
The stage was set for Triumph to extend their winning streak into 1984, as they set to work on a follow-up to three straight platinum records without giving much thought to changing their successful formula -- other than their increasing reliance on synthesizers, just like many bands of the era.
Like most every Triumph album before it, 'Thunder Seven' split its focus on the dual dimensions of the band's signature sound — straightforward hard rock and artsier experiments — beginning with the forceful but undeniably catchy heavy metal of ‘Rock Out, Roll On’ before moving on to ‘Cool Down,’ which features a bluesy acoustic intro, and the anthem-like singles ‘Spellbound’ and ‘Follow Your Heart.’
If anything, ‘Thunder Seven’ found the band stepping up the prog by committing all of side two to a conceptually linked suite of songs, alternating between the mid-paced melodicism of ‘Time Goes By,’ ‘Killing Time’ and ‘Stranger in a Strange Land,’ and bridge-like interludes such as the Emerson, Lake and Palmer-inspired ‘’Time Canon,’ frontman Rick Emmett’s classical piece ‘Midsummer’s Daydream’ and the closing instrumental, ‘Little Boy Blues.’
The inspiration behind all of these song came from the collective perceptions of singer-guitarist Emmett, drummer-singer Gil Moore and bassist Mike Levine. They considered humanity’s clumsy efforts to balance nature and technology as the 21st century approached, best reflected in ‘Thunder Seven’'s Borg-meets-Da-Vinci’s-Vitruvian-Man cover art.
Even so, none of this seemed capable of rocking the smooth-sailing Triumph boat, but perhaps a little more “rocking” would have been a good idea, because ‘Thunder Seven’ wound up missing the platinum plateau achieved by its immediate predecessors and signified the end of an era for the group.
The group's sales hiccup was enough to convince the trio’s longtime record company, MCA, that the time had come to force the use of outside writers, who, in theory at least, would help the band produce a hit and modernize their sound.
Instead, on 1986’s ‘Sport of Kings,’ this approach led to inconsistent songwriting, increased division within the group and the acceleration of a deteriorating environment that drove Emmett out of the band after 1987’s ‘Surveillance.’ In a way, ‘Thunder Seven’ serves as Triumph’s last hurrah.