Even by heavy metal's innately freaky standards, the artist known as Thor was an absolute superfreak! Straight-faced Norse god impersonator, semi-professional bodybuilder, on-stage wrestler, all-around performance artist (known to bend a steel bar between his teeth!), sometime actor, and, oh yeah, even occasional rock & roll singer, Thor (full fake name Jon Mikl Thor) was a Vancouver, Canada, native with a flair for both theater and music. Although most heavy metal fans would only become aware of his antics in the mid-'80s, the roots of Thor's act hail all the way back to the early '70s, when the still teenaged winner of the Mr. Junior Canada bodybuilding title decided to parlay his sudden celebrity into a full-on character based on the ubiquitous Viking god of thunder.
Amazingly, it worked, and after short stints doing everything from playing in bands to starring in a Las Vegas revue dressed in gladiator gear to working as a nude waiter in Hawaii, in 1976 Thor landed a booking on The Merv Griffin Show! This exposure proved enough to help him secure a recording contract, and, along with then-bandmembers John Shand (guitar), Terry McKeown (bass), and Bill Wade (drums), record a debut album the following year. Curiously entitled Keep the Dogs Away, its poor man's imitation of Kiss and Alice Cooper's hard glam style (self-labeled as "muscle rock") didn't exactly set the world on fire, and relegated Thor and his ever-changing cast of bandmembers to a club-playing existence for years to come, with only the occasional independent EP (1979's Gladiator, 1980's Striking Viking) to document their music.
In fact, Thor's career wouldn't heat back up again until 1984, during an era in popular music's trajectory that was far more propitious to his over the top shenanigans and lingering songwriting mediocrity. That year, a series of singles released by the tiny Albion label generated enough press and consumer interest to draw the attention of on-the-rise metal label Roadrunner, which in turn quickly issued 1985's not-totally-embarrassing "warrior metal" album Only the Strong. Unfortunately, this too sold far too poorly to keep the band -- then completed by guitarist Steve Price, bassist Keith Zazzi, drummer Mike Favata, and, most memorably, backup singer Pantera -- from being dropped, and follow-up albums like the same year's hastily packaged Live in Detroit, 1986's Recruits -- Wild in the Streets, and 1987's Tritonz were all released by ever smaller indie labels, and to ever greater public indifference. (It didn't help that the last two were also issued under different names: the first using the Jon Mikl Thor moniker, the second a meaningless alias of Tritonz.) Thor also made a remarkable, if similarly unsuccessful, stab at film stardom with his starring role in the 1987 movie Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, easily one of the oddest and most bafflingly entertaining rock films ever released.
Thor's career was effectively over at this stage, but he surprisingly returned to sporadic recording about a decade later, having since released 1997's Thunderstruck: Tales from the Equinox, 2001's Dogz II, 2002's Triumphant, and 2005's Thor Against the World. In addition, two collections cleverly (ahem!) named An-THOR-logy have emerged: the first, from 1997, being a CD, and the second, from 2005, a DVD collecting the sights, the sounds, and the smells of Thor's first decade of existence. A year later, Thor released Devastation of Musculation. By this time, Thor was seemingly comfortable with his status as a cult object (though his press suggested he still believed his break was lurking somewhere around the corner), and he continued to make the sort of music that kept his small but devoted following happy. Released in 2008, Into the Noise reunited him with guitarist Steve Price, and 2015's Metal Avenger showed he was still capable of delivering his trademark "body rock." In 2015, Thor and his band were the subject of a feature-length documentary, I Am Thor, and they ventured back to the studio for 2017's Beyond the Pain Barrier. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia
- Vancouver, British Columbia, Cana