Ravage (MA, U.S.) - The end of tomorrow 4/5
1. The halls of madness
2. Reign fall
3. Freedom fighter
4. Damn nation
5. The shredder
6. Into the shackles
7. In shattered dreams
8. The nightmare's hold: part 1
9. The nightcrawler
10. The nightmare's hold: part 2
11. Grapes of wrath
12. The end of tomorrow
Holy improvement, Batman! Ravage's 2005 debut CD, 'Spectral rider', was favorably reviewed in these parts, largely because this reviewer has a soft spot for youthful U.S. bands playing traditional Iron Maiden-styled 80s metal. On 'Spectral rider', Ravage had the necessary enthusiasm and were a rare find (especially at that time), being a young U.S. act playing Keep It True/Headbangers Open Air styled metal. Unfortunately, the writing and performances were on the mediocre side. Last year, the band's 6-song self-released EP, 'Freedom fighter', piqued my interest by showcasing considerable maturation in all categories. This summer, Ravage successfully made the jump to Metal Blade Records (which releases very little in the melodic/traditional field these days, other than Falconer, Powerwolf and Lizzy Borden) with 'The end of tomorrow', a 12-track CD that culls 4 cuts from the 'Freedom fighter' EP, and tacks on a great cover of Judas Priest's classic "Nightcrawler", a snazzy instrumental intro, and 6 new original songs.
It's not the easiest thing in the world to describe Ravage's music because their style is in many ways "typical". To these ears, they sound more European than American, definitely strongly influenced by the glorious 80s, but with updated (not to say super-modern) production values. They've toned down the Iron Maiden influences since the 'Spectral rider' days, but there are definitely guitar breaks and occasional melodies that will bring to mind Steve Harris's merry mates. The Judas Priest influence is more pronounced now, in terms of the sturdy Tipton/Downing riffing style, but 'The end of tomorrow' feels more like Iron Savior's take on the classic Judas Priest sound guitar-wise (or maybe even Running Wild at their most Priestish) than it does Priest themselves. Throw in a pinch of the Swedish true metal revival bands (Wolf, In Solitude, Enforcer, and so on), and add a welcome dollop of thrashy energy (see "The nightmare's hold" or "The shredder", which dips briefly into blast beat mode), and you'll have a pretty good idea of Ravage's sound. It's not unique or groundbreaking by any means, but Ravage are purveyors of a species of heavy metal that I hold dear, so I welcome it. The sticking point, if there is one, may lie in the somewhat unorthodox vocals of Al Ravage. A harsh critique of Al would be to say that he can't sing, but a kinder, fairer characterization would be that he compensates for his limited range (a bit like Blaze Bayley crossed with the guy who sang on the original MD.45 recording) with his obvious love of the music, and is at least a serviceable singer, which is all these straightforward songs and vocal lines really call for anyway.
What ultimately makes 'The end of tomorrow' a worthy and recommended listening experience are the strong songwriting and dynamics. Songs like "Freedom fighter", "Damn nation", "The nightmare's hold," and "Into the shackles" are simply well-constructed tunes with addictive riffs and memorable choruses. The "Nightcrawler" cover rocks most mightily. And thanks to the balance of speedier, more aggressive parts with midtempo melodic parts, Ravage manage to avoid getting caught in a sonic rut as they did on 'Spectral rider'.
It should be stressed, however, that Ravage isn't going to be everybody's steaming mug o' joe. For some, the band may be too standard and unremarkable in their approach to a well-worn musical genre where there is little innovation happening today. Others may find the vocals to be a deal-breaker. But if you're like me (that is, a listener who lives and breathes traditional/true/old-school heavy metal) and if you're okay with the acquired-taste vocals (which I am), then 'The end of tomorrow' should be an absolute no-brainer of a purchase. Also, be advised that Ravage are on tour in the U.S. as I type this. I'll be seeing them at the Pathfinder Metal Fest in Marietta, Georgia, later this month. Keep an eye out for them in your area, and if you get a chance definitely check them out. Ravage's no-frills old-school metal should be incendiary in the concert setting, and should make for a fun beer-soaked night of heavy metal glory for even the most humorless metal killjoy.
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