Album Review: RANGER Speed & Violence
If you were expecting any amount of originality from Ranger’s second full length, you’ll definitely want to check that expectation at the door. In fact, it might be more prudent to push that expectation out into the hallway, toss it down the elevator shaft and roll it out past the sidewalk and into traffic. Since forming in 2009, this Finnish quartet haven’t had an original idea and probably wouldn’t know one even if it sidled up behind them to deliver an en masse reach-around while whispering sweet nothings in their ears. Hell, the band that preceded Ranger from 2008-09 was called Turbin and you can bet that moniker had far more to do with saluting the dude who used to front Anthrax than it did religious/cultural headgear, even if the spelling did tip us off.
But the existence of a band like Ranger and an album like Speed & Violence – of course, the ampersand; speed metal is arguably single-handedly responsible for keeping the symbol relevant and in use – continues the age-old debate about how high originality, or at least attempts at originality, should be held in regard when opining about a new release that deliberately throws back to the past. In the case of Speed & Violence, everything about it screams 1984 through to 1986. The cover is a rip on Exciter’s Heavy Metal Maniac. The title is a rip on…well, the majority of speed and thrash metal albums that were released between 1984 and 1986. If you were to peruse the song titles without actually listening, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was their garage days revisited. Not the least is the fact that Ranger’s style oozes 1984-86 with healthy helping of influence taken from the likes of Exciter, Razor, Whiplash, Onslaught, Hallows Eve, Fistful of Metal-era Anthrax and so on and so forth. Where the difference for this band lies is in two categories. Firstly, the record’s actual sonic quality, which thankfully traipses along the same path of Reign in Blood in the eschewing heavy reverb for a drier, more down-to-earth sound. Secondly, the leads of Mikael Havisto and Ville Valtonen have obviously incorporated an advanced skill-set and some thirty-odd years of inspiration and influence than the original wave of 80s shredders.
Speed & Violence, in that sense, may not offer much on the unique side of the scale, but their take on speed metal is spot-on, loaded with vitality, brimming with energy and, as one might expect, doesn’t scrimp on the speed. The lead-off title track blazes out of the gate like Dan Beehler, John Ricci and Alan Johnson themselves hopped on a plane to Helsinki to light a fire under the band’s ass. Rapid fire two-beats (with flubs and timing screw ups left in for that au natural feeling), a nasally snarl, gang vocals, harmonized arpeggio run during the bridge section and tendonitis-inducing single string ripping make up this both homage and opus. The only downside (unless you’re still scratching around looking for sounds you've never heard before) is vocalist/bassist Dimitri “Dimi Pontiac” Lamberg’s high-pitched screams which are obnoxious in their ear-piercing quality. “Without Warning” follows along the same tack but with a Eastern European (think Poland’s Kat, Hungary’s Pokolgép and Rotor, and Tobias Lindqvist's Terminal side project) feel to the chorus. The intro to “Satanic Panic” is about as close to a direct rip off of the intro to Slayer’s “Black Magic” as you’ll ever hear before rallying into a meat and potatoes rager. And so it goes, on and on like this for the duration where the songs of Speed & Violence can be easily traced back to a specific influence, but the songs themselves are top-shelf quality, well-written and constructed speed metal.
In this case, Ranger’s lack of originality doesn’t work against them so much as it gives them a reference point for comparison. In the same way that people have lost their loads over bands like Enforcer, Speedtrap, Volture and Cauldron, the same adulation should be bestowed upon this bunch for their injection of vim and vigor into a subgenre in which recognition is easy to come by, even when going through the motions. Now, all that needs to be done is to convince Lamberg that his attempts to break glass with his pipes are misguided and ridiculous, if not entirely detrimental to the eardrums of anyone listening on headphones.