Album Review: RAM Rod
There is a saying that imitation is the highest form of flattery, a truism which can certainly apply to the music business. After some great innovator ascends to the pinnacle of stardom, there soon appears a host of bands who occupy the same sonic format, either out of pure worship, attempts to replicate said stardom, or out of the honest to goodness osmosis that drives all real forms of music forward. Some of these bands do not or cannot evolve, while others find that they have so much more to offer. In the case of RAM, Sweden's traditional metal warriors, comparisons to Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate have followed them around since they first formed back in 1999. Pressing on through lineup changes and four studio albums, we arrive at the release of Rod, available via Metal Blade Records on November 3rd.
First off, there are far worse ambitions a heavy metal band can have than setting out to create music which is in its guts the very essence of heavy metal. RAM has done an admirable job of sticking out from the crowd, due in no small part to the stellar vocal range of singer Oscar Carlquist. Where their first few albums were decent to very good, it was 2015's Svbversvm which truly planted this band at the forefront of modern "classic" sounding metal bands. Will the – once again – oddly titled Rod advance these Swedish lads even further into renown?
One thing RAM has had a knack for and continues to sharpen is their ability to craft really hooky vocal lines and memorable melodies, placed perfectly within their rollicking tapestry of both shredding and classic metal sound. On Rod, these elements are once more synthesized into an enjoyable whole. Opener "Declaration of Independence" features a rolling bridge/chorus with delectable riffing guaranteed to please fans of old school metal. An honest production, with zero unnecessary diluting affectation, shows drums and bass guitar combo Morgan and Tobias Petterson laying it down hard, the right way.
The opening clutch of songs continues a quite enjoyable ride. A lot of metal music being highlighted nowadays dwells in a much more experimental, doom, sludge, or blackened realm. Power metal or "traditional" metal, at one of the commercial nadirs of its nearly 40 year history, is languishing a bit by comparison. At times residing a bit too much in the frilly-shirted, falsetto realm of outdated fantasy tropes, it can also manifest in the more gritty twin guitar harmonics of Dawnbringer, Hammers of Misfortune, or Iced Earth. On Rod, the spirit of imaginative power metal is being focused through a crunchy attack that isn't too cheesy for its own good.
Crank up "On Wings of No Return". Double bass drumming and the ax attack of Harry Granroth and Martin Jonsson bite hard and don't let go. Its a bit street, a bit epic, and certainly a high caliber listen. "Gula" slows it down a bit, the mid-paced gallop setting the stage for a virtuoso vocal performance once again. The way the adventurous bridge section manifests in the grim portent of the chorus sets a nice mood, contrasting with the high spirits of the prior tune.
For proof that Carlquist has honed his larynx into Halfordian territory, get a load of the chorus on "A Throne at Midnight". The man can wail, with the placement of his highest register invoking the precise amount of tension within the song.
This of course sets the stage for the meat and potatoes of the album, that being an epic tale of the Ramrod. Perhaps not the most intimidating or serious moniker for an album-wide central character, but then, RAM is not pulling any punches. They are what they are, which is unapologetic heavy metal. The back half of the album contains the tale of Ramrod The Destroyer, in six parts. Two of these parts are – and this may just be the curmudgeonly opinion of yours truly – needless narration interludes spoken by the heavily distorted voice of the main character. Its much better when these parts are mixed into the songs themselves, such as on the pulse-pounding "Ramrod the Destroyer: Part 2 – The Ignitor", one of the album's strongest songs. On "Ramrod the Destroyer: Part 3 – The Cease To Be", we hear the most ballad-like vocal from Carlquist throughout a more somber tune, while on "Ramrod the Destroyer: Part 5 – Incinerating the Storms", he once more is screaming high, bold riffs dancing behind with double-bass percussion satisfyingly on the prowl. The outro is a good one, all Manowar-styled drawn out wailing guitar with some cavernous drumming in the background.
Its usually here where the reviewer will say that the album described above isn't here to "reinvent the wheel", and while that can be said of RAM, at this point one has to consider them just a damn good heavy metal band with a damn good knack for songwriting. No, Rod isn't post- this or that, it isn't going to spawn new genre terminology, or attract the bearded PBR wielding set, but what it is going to do is bang some heads, raise some fists, and remind us what pure heavy metal music is all about.
Score: 8 / 10