RAM - Death 4/5
2. Comes from the mouth beyond
3. I am the end
4. Release me
7. Under the scythe
9. Flame of the tyrants
The New Wave of Swedish Traditional Metal has really gained traction in recent years. Indeed, the sheer number of high-quality old-school metal acts emerging from Sweden of late has been staggering. Especially are impressive to this observer are the factions of Mercyful Fate disciples (i.e., Portrait, In Solitude) and the speedy NWOBHM enthusiasts (i.e., Katana, Enforcer, Steelwing). What makes RAM incredibly cool are that they combine both of these approaches, sorta like countrymen Wolf, which makes them an amalgamation of the finest elements that Sweden has to offer underground heavy metal. The underground has taken notice, it seems, as RAM’s recently released 3rd opus, ‘Death’, marks their Metal Blade Records debut. (By the way, kudos to Metal Blade for signing bands like RAM, In Solitude and Portrait. I don’t care if their motivations are to capitalize on the Ghost phenomenon. These bands rule, and thanks to Metal Blade their latest CDs are all readily available on both sides of the Atlantic.)
Just to make my own biases clear from the outset, I understand that some listeners were less than enamored of RAM’s sophomore CD, ‘Lightbringer’, which saw the light of day in 2009 on AFM Records. Perhaps the diversity of the songwriting was offputting to them, or the slight retreat from the Mercyful Fate style in favor of a brighter classic metal motif, but I viewed ‘Lightbringer’ as a triumph of Swedish metal excellence. Although I enjoyed the CD from front to back, I became positively obsessed with the 9-minute epic song, “Suomussalmi (The few of iron)”, which told the story of the badly outnumbered courageous Finnish forces turning back the Soviet invaders advancing on the city of Oulu during December 1939, in the Winter War. That track is arguably the greatest traditional metal epic of the last decade, so if you’ve not heard it, check out ‘Lightbringer’ for that purpose alone.
So what do main songwriters Harry Granroth (guitars) and Oscar Carlquist (vocals) have in store for us on RAM’s Metal Blade debut offering? More of the same, really. And that’s a good thing. The songwriting is again diverse and interesting, although always firmly rooted in the dark, mysterious, twin-guitar-driven Mercyful Fate-meets-Iron Maiden sound. If anything, ‘Death’ hearkens back to the band’s vicious 2005 ‘Forced entry’ debut, with just a touch of that ‘Lightbringer’ brightness. For heaven’s sake, just listen to that sinister classic metal riff that kicks off proper CD opener, “Comes from the mouth beyond”. Genius. As usual, the cuts that immediately grab my attention are the speedsters, of which there are at least 3 gold-plated numbers this time around: “Under the scythe”, “Defiant”, and video track “Flame of the tyrants”. The combination of the magic riffs (courtesy of axemen Granroth and Daniel Johansson) and Carlquist’s characteristic raw but melodic pipes is simply awe-inspiring on these tunes. Toes will be tapping, heads will be banging, and metalheads around the world will be smiling, guarandamnteed.
That’s not to dismiss the remainder of ‘Death’ as fluff. No way. RAM are quite adept at the midtempo and slower-tempo bangers as well. From the slow-burn intensity of “Frozen” to the bludgeoning “I am the end”, RAM deliver the old-school Swedish metal goods on song after song, without ever relenting. Perhaps these songs are a bit less immediate than their high-velocity counterparts, but they are “growers” whose charms become readily apparent on repeated listens. If there’s a weakness on this CD, it lies in the rather quirky manner in which it begins and ends. Track 1, “Death”, is nearly 3 minutes of spacey, proggy, creepy synthesizer stuff that is way out of character for RAM. Skip-worthy, I’m afraid. We just wanna rock! And the CD closes with a lengthy, somber guitar dirge, “1771”, that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early Candlemass CD. To be sure, “1771” is haunting and beautiful, but it drags a bit and concludes the proceedings on a decidedly low-energy note, with the chiming of a bell ringing out into silence for the last 30 or 40 seconds.
The Cliff-Notes version of this review is as follows: If you enjoy any of RAM’s previous work, then ‘Death’ is a no-brainer. If the new crop of occult Swedish heavy metal sounds (In Solitude/Portrait) appeals to you, then ‘Death’ is automatic. And if you’ve never heard any of this stuff, but you dig the highly-regarded Swedish metal band Wolf, then RAM just might become your new favorite band. No matter how you slice and dice it, RAM are smashing the vanguard of the old-school darkened Swedish metal scene. Let’s hope that ‘Death’ is only the beginning for RAM, and that their reign is long and prosperous.
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